I like to think I’m cooler than an android’s urethrae in subzero temperatures, and yet not speaking a language fluently means you will look like an idiot several times a day, every day. I suppose you could turn it on its head and say: One of the good things about living in a new country where you don’t speak the language well is there’s very little you can take for granted. It means you have to think about everything.
When of course the reality is this: it becomes difficult to even do the most elementary of things, like posting a letter. I trawled Tabac shops the other day because they’re meant to sell stamps, but none of them do in reality. Perhaps I was misinformed. Or if they do they stock them in large cartes with majestic birds of different plume for philately twattery types, and let’s face it, who posts that many letters these days? It’s like those weirdos who buy twelve condoms in a pack. That’s just showing off to the chemist.
When I finally made it to Le Poste I joined a queue and then had the nice woman sympathetically lead me to the self service machine and show me how to do fairly perfunctory operations which hopefully means I won’t need assistance the next time I have to post a letter (though you never know). Then I’m stood outside and I don’t know whether or not the yellow box is the postbox or not. I mean you’d assume it is, but it’s yellow, and yellow doesn’t seem a very reassuring colour for a postbox to me, it looks more like it takes parcels or used syringes. God I’m not sure. Should I ask someone? And come to think of it, how do you say postbox? Does “poste boîte” work here? And fuck me, there are two slots that look identical, and one presumes there are two there for a reason. I pop it in the left side being a left-handed/footed leftie kinda guy and walk away, hoping it’ll get to its destination. Now I discover one slot is for Paris, the other for anywhere else in France. Not sure what happens if you send to the rest of the world. I’ll not be holding my breath then.
I’m so cool that I spent many of my final fancy free days in London listening to Serge Gainsbourg on my own in my bedroom. And watching the French news or listening to French radio. Even though I couldn’t speak the language. People outside my door might have thought I was mad, or secretly French. More likely there was nobody outside my door. Sometimes this listening to French things would be done under the covers because the landlord had decided to turn the heating off; this mostly occurred when it was snowing, because according to him it wasn’t cold. You think I make this stuff up don’t you?
Anyway, to cut a long and not very interesting story short, I have not done as much of this since I’ve been here. I still listen to Serge, and Lescop and other French artists, but actually, I don’t really take lyrics in whether they’re in English or in French. But I did watch the news over here for the first time since I’ve been in the country yesterday and I noticed a marked improvement in my comprehension. I’d go as far as to say I was following it. Sometimes you’ll have days where you think, ‘I’m never going to be able to speak this language’, (usually after meeting people via the Conversation Exchange – more on that soon). Yesterday was not one of those days.