The secret to having a French conversation when you don’t actually speak French that well is to make your face into a slightly amused neutral expression and look at the person’s lips. Try to find some kind of word that you know. For instance, poulet (chicken). Then focus on all the possibilities for the conversation. Maybe they would like to have poulet for dinner. No. That’s not it. Their husband keeps a poulet at their house. No. Their husband is a poulet. Yes, this must be it. For some reason, this person has married a chicken and it’s their femme (wife) or they have recently caught a female chicken in some kind of barnyard scenario. It is unclear why, but just keep nodding and saying things like, bien sur (but of course).
Last night, I attended a dinner with the French consulate. Obviously, it is because I am extremely important. I thought it might be a trick and I would be invited to receive the legion d’honneur. I wore a super nice dress with really high heels just in case. I also didn’t wear a necklace. Obviously. If I were to be given the award, I would wear it instantly. You gots to be classy with this kind of thing.
The dinner was going well. Everyone was kind of chatting in French and I was intensely starring at people’s lips.
“You adore avocados.” No. “You are a lawyer” (avocat)
“You teach at a far away university that is called the State University of New York.” No. “You work at UB which is like five minutes from where I live.”
“You are not French but you grew up with a French speaking nanny.” Um. Yes. That’s right. “No, you were in the French navy?” Oh mon dieu. I have no follow-up questions.
Anyway, all of a sudden, people started standing up and there were hand motions like, “We’re going to go around the circle and each say something.”
I panicked and asked Vincent, “Good God do we have to give a speech?”
“I can do yours for you,” Vincent offered.
“Non! Non! I CAN DO THIS!”
So, when it was my turn to get up. I started by saying, (and I’ll translate this in English for you” “Sorry for my France! I am learning it. I love the country of French. The culture! The tongues! I love it. Thank you!”
Then a question from the French consul representative of Buffalo, “Quoi tu fais?”
What do I do?
“Ah, I am writing! I am writing. Books! For the little children. A blog! It’s called The Fish Swims. Thank you!”
So, that was my speech. My hands were shaking when I was done and I felt like I needed one of those space towels they give you after races.
A cool French woman next to me put her hand on my arm, “That was really impressive.”
We immediately became best friends and talked for the rest of the night in English and then I snooped in on some other French conversations. I really had no idea what was going on, but it was fantastic. I think I was either in the bathroom or had inadvertently fallen under the table when the legion d’honneur was handed out though so I guess I missed it.