Our Family’s (2nd) Year in the South of France
Kids and Castles - Our year with kids in the South of France

My French Week

JM and his fluent French went back to California this week leaving me alone with my struggling preschool-quality attempts to communicate. It was a week of ups and downs language-wise, but I survived.


  • Gardener here. We had an exchange of pleasantries which went very nicely – mostly because he didn’t need anything.
  • Picked up the bread order at the village cafe. Got (very willingly) upsold to a pain au chocolat for Tuesday’s order.
  • I went grocery shopping and didn’t embarrass myself.

So far so good. I can do this.


  • Cold this morning, so drove the girls to the bus. 4-way flasher on for some reason. Can’t figure out how to turn it off.  Isn’t there a huge red button somewhere to press?  Drove around all morning with the hazards flashing before I figured it out. Embarrassing.
  • Gardener wants to talk to me today. Something about the olive trees and what he normally does. Really absolutely no idea what he’s talking about (gardening vocabulary not covered yet in Rosetta Stone). No actual communication happens, but assuming it doesn’t matter.
  • Contractor is supposed to come by at 11:30 to see about some insulation. Look up the word “weatherstripping” on Google Translate so I can suggest it. Translation given is bise. But bise means kiss!?!? Decide not to mention weatherstripping – just in case.
  • Contractor does not show up. He calls at noon and talks a lot and very, very fast. I manage to say in French “I don’t speak much French, please speak slowly” and he said “D’accord” (O.K.) and talks even more, even faster French. I did catch the word heure (hour) so figured it was safe to assume he was rescheduling. I asked him to “repetez l’heure” (repeat the hour). I think I heard 2:00, and aujourd’hui (today). I’ll know in a few hours if I was right.
  • 3:00 and contractor is still not here. Bummed that I did not understand. But at 3:10 he calls to reschedule again. This house may never get insulated but I’m getting lots of practice booking appointments in French.
  • We have been invited to dinner with a local family who speaks about as much English as I speak French. I was worried it would be awkward and difficult, but didn’t  want to pass up the experience. Turns out I had a great time. We mostly covered the basics that we had the vocabulary for – where we live, the kids, the weather, the school, the food, and so on. Every sentence is an effort to say/understand, so it takes the entire evening to get through what would normally be a 20 minute conversation. But they are quite patient and the food is excellent. We both put our French-English dictionaries on the table to look up the occasional word, mostly vegetable words I don’t know in English either (what is escarole anyway?)


  • Take the girls shopping. As we check out we trip the security alarm, which upsets L so she is absolutely no help when the guard comes over and asks me to take off my jacket. I panic, and completely forget every word of French I ever knew. It’s shaping up to be the beginning of a really, really bad situation, but he just snips off a tag  inside my jacket and we’re done. Easy-peasy.


  • Go to the cafe to pick up the bread. Chat a bit in English with a woman from England. After she leaves, an older lady who has been having a coffee makes some comment to the rest of the cafe about not speaking French in France. Normally I would just get my bread and leave, but I get up my courage and say that I can speak French if she prefers, but it’s very difficult for me.  She ends up talking with me in French, and turns out to be quite delightful. Am proud of myself for trying – and very, very relieved that I didn’t inadvertently start a village scandal.


  • Insulation guy finally comes and brings a buddy.  He does not grasp the concept of speaking slowing and using small words. No matter what I do he just talks with more words and speaks faster. Not going well at all. He is just not understanding me and I am not understanding him. The buddy is no help at all. He keeps saying something with the word “anglais” and then laughing. I finally grab my laptop and open Google Translate and we type notes back and forth. It works, but overall a very discouraging interaction.
  • Pick up the kids at the bus. For the first month the other moms who were waiting would say “Bonjour” and then talk to each other while we waited. But one day I asked for them what French kids did for their teachers at Christmas, and now every day we chat a little bit. The 3-4 minutes it takes to wait for the bus lets us cover one topic, and I spend some time each day planning for that short interaction and checking the vocabulary. Today we talk about our plans for Christmas. It’s nice.

It’s Saturday and I have survived!!!  But I will be very happy to see JM on Monday.

7 Responses to “My French Week”

  1. vered says:

    Hehehehe (that’s Ido laughing as we were reading this together)

    Hahahaha (that’s me laughing)

    That comment by the older woman about speaking French in France – you handled it beautifully.

  2. Valerie says:

    I’m so proud of you! Way to go!

    (You didn’t sign anything with the contractor, did you?)

  3. Bob says:

    Thursday. Well played. Very well played.

  4. Veronica says:

    You did great! Don’t feel bad about the contractor — there are some people (mostly men I’m afraid) who either take pleasure in speaking faster and faster to enjoy your confusion, or just can’t grasp what it’s like to be struggling with a foreign language and can’t make the effort to be clear. Very typical artisan interaction I’m afraid 🙂

    Good work with the lady in the cafe! Although she doesn’t sound _that_ delightful, given that she said something mean about you assuming that you wouldn’t understand.

  5. Lise Patenaude says:

    I agree with Veronica on the contractor incident. Did he not speak louder as well as faster?
    And, yes, very good job with the lady in the café.

  6. em says:

    I’ve met contractors who seem to delight in trying to confuse me even when we are speaking the same language. They seem to think that if they throw jargon at me, I’ll be impressed with their knowledge and too embarassed to ask questions (they are very wrong!). Last time that happened, the guy’s partner kept rolling his eyes 🙂

    and I also have my doubts about the delightful lady in the cafe, though i realize this definitely one of those cultural differences you are there to learn about. can you imagine someone taking offense here because two native ukranian speakers spoke to each other in ukranian when they ran into each other in a public place?

    much congratulations on surviving your week!

  7. patti says:

    Given how Friday went, aren’t you relieved that you decided on Tuesday against mentioning weather-stripping? 🙂

    Wednesday … made me giggle sympathetically. It appears that my sense of humour has a tiny little mean streak. But only because you described the situation so amusingly.