Thursday, August 28, 2014

French Immersion

About this time last year I was traveling from Vancouver to Montreal and eventually to London for work. It wasn't the first time I had done that particular route but it was the first time I drummed up the courage to dust off my awful western Canadian anglophone elective-course high school French and speak la belle langue wherever I went.

Getting into a cab at the airport I asked the driver to take me to my hotel at neuf-cent boulevard Rene Levesque. The driver asked me where I was from, where I was going to, what I was doing in Montreal. In French. I answered, haltingly at first, only slightly less haltingly as old words I had not used for years started to bubble to the surface, punctuating my sentences with apologies for my awful French. He told me his English was worse and encouraged me to practice. We mostly talked about hockey for the rest of the ride.

Searching out dinner I figured I'd keep the momentum I had been building and ordered in French. The waiter responded in English. Dammit.

Two days later I was on the red-eye from Montreal to London. A lady sat down next to me. I asked her in English if she was traveling beyond London. She shook her head apologetically. "No English".

Ou voyages-tu, apres Londres?

"Ah! Syrie!"

It could have been "A Syrie" but I could swear there was an exclamation in the middle.

This was well after the Syrian civil war reduced formerly great cities like Homs to dust and ghosts. She was traveling to see her family whom, she assured me, was neither dust nor ghosts. We talked for the whole plane trip. In French. I think she knew more English than she let on, but she wasn't comfortable speaking it, and I knew no Arabic. We mostly talked about the past, present, and future of Syria.

Time has taken from me many of the the details of our conversation. I do not know where she was traveling within Syria.

After arriving in London I wished her well on the next leg of her trip and thanked her for the opportunity to practice my French.

I hope she was able to get out with her family.

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