LANGUAGE BARRIER
IS NO PROBLEMO

 

We were in the South of France, spending a few days in the sun-splashed villas of Cannes, Antibes and St. Tropez. Our nights, of course, were spent in some dumpy hotel far inland, but the days were marvelous indeed.
     But no matter where we were, the French treated us as one of their own. We were not shunned, we were not snubbed. Au contraire, we were embraced. We were Americans, but we were loved.
     My wife, you see, has many talents, not the least of which is that she is fluent in French. Born in Montreal and raised in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec, she spoke English at home but went to French schools.
     When I met her at the tender age of 19, I was mightily impressed with her fluency in two languages. I remember going home and telling my wise old father how my new love, whom he had yet to meet, was a wizard at languages.
     "Donít confuse proficiency in two languages," he replied, barely looking up from his paper, "with intelligence."
      I made that point clear to my wife many times over the next 30 years, but secretly I am still amazed and impressed by anyone who is bi-lingual. And so, apparently, are the French.
      Impostors are quickly discredited. I took French in school, and didnít do well. Nevertheless, I pathetically attempt to impress the French people with my second tongue.
      It never flies. Perhaps the problem is that if Iím not sure of a word, I make it up. Expensive is "expensivement." Inexpensive is, naturally, "inexpensivement." It sounds logical, but unfortunately, it isnít even close and I am met with bewildered stares.
      Even when I get it right, which is seldom, the French respond with a barrage of words that I have zero chance of deciphering. I can ask them to slow it down, but theyíd have to slow it down to the point where I could look up every third word in the dictionary. They donít like that.
       So my wife becomes an invaluable companion while traveling through the South of France. We can go anywhere, far from tourist destinations, and communicate freely and happily with our French brethren.
       I beam with pride as I listen to her order for me in a restaurant, or ask questions about the asparagus in a grocery store. I coo with delight as I hear the melodic cadences of her second language resonating from her little French-Canadian lips.
       I donít care what my father said. This woman is brilliant. She can speak two whole languages without skipping a beat. And not only that, she hasnít really spoken much French for the last 30 years, and she still remembers almost all the words. I canít remember one-tenth of the French I learned, and I was in high school when I learned it. We left the South of France and drove West, headed for the Pyrennees and Spain. As we climbed into the majestic mountains along a lonely back road, we stopped at little stores and cafes, where my wife charmed all who listened. I stayed in the background, watching and worshipping.
        We crossed over the top of the Pyrennees and below us was the little border town of St. Martin. We did a little shopping (got a great price on some pantaloons, or whatever my wife called pants) and then got back in the car and crossed the border into Spain.
        After showing our passports to the nice Spanish border guard, I pulled the car over to the side of the road and reached across and opened the passenger door. My wife looked at me, a little perplexed.
      "Get out," I said. "I donít need you anymore."
      She didnít think it was all that funny. But she saw my point when we made our first stop in Spain, trying to buy some fruit at a small grocery store.
      Forgetting that she was no longer in France, my wife blurted out some French, only to be met with blank stares, a couple of shrugs, and total dismissal.
      I watched with glee as my wife began a series of hand gestures in a pathetic attempt to communicate with the cashier.
      "Welcome to my world," I said, nodding happily.

 

 

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