One of my goals for 2012 is taking small moments to appreciate the things I achieve. Here is one of these moments I prepared earlier today…
When I first arrived in Paris, an approach from a stranger was regarded as something akin to a missile attack, provoking the old deer in the headlights reaction… eyes wide with fear, palms sweating, my mouth would have time to open slightly before freezing, lagging noticeably behind my brain (which had frozen the second the incoming enemy fire was noticed). The words to answer this innocent stranger’s question were not caught in the back of my throat, they simply did not exist!
Sometimes the stranger would mistake my open mouthed terror for simple mindedness, shrug their shoulders and walk away. Sometimes they would look curiously at me and repeat their question. If they hung around long enough, the brain would eventually kick (lethargically) back into action and they would invariably receive a stilted “Je ne comprends pas, je suis désolée”.
Full-scale terror eased, I would continue on my journey in a state of high alert, eyes darting to all sides, with the sole purpose of identifying and avoiding future incoming threats.
Fortunately these terrifying experiences are a thing of the past. Today in the meat aisle a lovely elderly gentleman asked me if I could see the price of an item he wanted to buy. After confidently scouring the labels in near vicinity, I pronounced that I couldn’t. I then added that it was a bit silly of the supermarket… that if they are offering a second item for free, it would have been a good idea to list the price of the first! To which he laughed (desired response achieved!) and suggested that he would go and ask a nearby member of staff to help him.
No incoming missile threat perceived. Rather, the conversation resembled a friendly tennis rally, the ball being comfortably received and returned, neither looking to hit a winner the other couldn’t return.
Fast-forward to the tinned vegetables and the “friendly” member of staff perched on the ladder, unabashedly looking me up and down, before remarking “Vous avez une liste” (“You have a list”). Several possible responses sprang immediately to mind, most of them not particularly complimentary. But I put on a winning smile and went with the most polite “Oui, sinon j’oublierais beaucoup de choses” (“Yes, if not I would forget lots of things”).
A simple exchange, but it made me stop and really appreciated how far I have come with my French … advancing from zero response ability to unexpected questions to having to sort through multiple response options to find the most polite and appropriate is not bad progress!