October 12, 2014

Hello Bye Weekend

This year in my Nationale 2 pool (there are 4 pools in my division), we have 11 teams - which means every team gets two bye weekends. Excellent!

Tutoring English in Paris has started back up, and this bye weekend is definitely my calm before the storm of volleyball, English, and my other favorite pastime: travel!

La Rochette had a home match, so it was the perfect opportunity to once again re-visit the life and times of our first two years in France.

It was perfect.

(Minus the 2 1/2 hours on trains to get from Tergnier to Melun. But this is an accepted fact of living in La Fère, and the other things about it make it worthwhile.)

I took my time yesterday getting to my rendezvous with Monique. 

(You remember Monique, my French tutor who came all the way to California with us? Yes, she is still as classy and spunky as ever.)

I took the very long way to her apartment on Boulevard Victor Hugo, walking slowly down the quiet back streets and along the river Seine. The last time I had been on this part of the river, I was running for training. Now I could step slowly, pausing when I wanted, to collect my surroundings.

I finally stood in front of the chateau of Vaux-le-Penil and stared at it. There is something wonderful about getting to stare at something beautiful without having to awkwardly glance away when unwanted eye contact is made. The Seine rolled by and we both wondered who lived in the chateau once upon a time.

Crossing the two bridges over the island to the center of Melun brought many familiar scenes. The old church. The shoe store. The restaurants. I passed the flower shop. I turned back around. 

I wanted to blend into that scene.

The strange thing is, now I do blend into this scene. This scene of Melun - Paris - La Fère - France - Europe - it is my scene.

I'm a part of the still-shots. 

I belong in these frames. 

Monique and I went to La Crêperie. Marc and I miss this pink restaurant and its owner, Sandrine, very much. I used to call to make dinner reservations when we had friends visiting. I would say, "Bonjour, je voudrais faire une reservation." And the kind voice of Sandrine on the other end always replied, "Christy? Je connais ton accent!"

Sandrine made our Savoyarde and Mont Blanc crêpes.
I didn't even have to read the menu. That's how great this place is. If you visited us when we lived in Melun, you know, too. I ordered from memory, and the crêpes were just as perfect as I remembered them.

It is incredible how much more Monique and I have to talk about every time we see each other - because each new time I have that many more words in my vocabulary. Monique took me through a French book, to be sure, but I think the true value in our time together was our small talk before the lessons began. 

Who else was going to be willing to sit with me for hours and hours and just have a conversation?

This strikes me so deeply because I know how limited I was when I began communicating in my second language - mostly with hand gestures and sound effects because the words simply did not exist in my world yet.

My limits have been stretched, but I still have a long way to go. Am I fluent? No. There are distinct words, phrases, and conditional tenses that I just do not know. Don't even get me started on the masculine/feminine differentiation. I usually just try both "le" and "la" until the French person corrects me.

In America, we like to say we're conversational after 2 years of high school language classes. If we took 4 years - holy wow! We're totally fluent!

And yet how many conversations have we really had with a real person from that real place who speaks zero English?

"Fluency" is a grand word. 

It is much too grand for my level of French. I think my "fluency" is better understood as a percentage. I find I can communicate what I want to say effectively about 85% of the time. I can completely understand 75% of the French that is spoken to me.

Can we agree that I'm 80% fluent in French?

This 80% French of mine made going to La Rochette's 3-0 win today quite fun. So many dear old friends to talk to and laugh with on the recurring theme of, "How in the world were we friends before, when I couldn't speak French to save my life?!"  

Sure, I showed up with a disarming smile and the sunshine of California bursting from my soul. But more credit must be given to the people who have been stereotyped so wrongly. 

World, you've got to accept this and move on.

This is what I love the most about travel. It shatters stereotypes, and Mark Twain was on point when he said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts." (Innocents Abroad)

Last week, we drove to Amiens to finish our residence permits. Our visas have been completed, and we were able to enjoy another French city in the process.

Amiens Cathedral
This week, we're taking the Eurostar to London for one night to catch a show. Next weekend, I play in Villejuif (SE Paris) against my American friend, Erika, and the team I tried out with last spring. My Uncle Mike and Aunt Daphne just happen to be in London this week also, and will be in Paris next weekend for my match - crazy and awesome!

Villejuif match is on Sunday, October 19, at 2:00PM. 
Gymnase Daniel Fery, 26 Rue François Billoux, Villejuif (Paris).

Throw in some English tutoring, and October will be over before we know it! 

We'll see if I can get that 80% French up to like 83% before the Christmas holiday - and before I have to reach way back into my brain to speak Spanish in Madrid and Málaga.

À bientot -or- hasta luego?