19 November 2008


I recently read David Sedaris’s new book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. One of his essays is about how he gave up trying to learn French after he learned the magical password that suddenly opened doors for him: d’accord. It’s a term of agreement, “I’m okay with that.” Like David Sedaris, I’ve caught myself saying it a few times and wondering what exactly I’m agreeing to. For him, it once got him a demoral drip at a hospital. But it also got him sitting naked in that same hospital’s waiting room. (You’d have to read his essay to find out exactly how that happened.)

Nothing quite as whacky has happened to me yet. One day I was pretty sure it meant to the maintenance team, “I’m okay with you coming back on another day to work on this.” And while it would have been nice for the project to get started right away it wasn’t the end of the world that it didn’t. (And they did come back! Several times. Over the course of several weeks. Doing a tiny little bit of work each time.)

At a restaurant I was trying to explain my gluten intolerance and ask how a certain dish was prepared. When the waiter said something about pain (bread), I decided to order something else. D’accord? D’accord. I ended up with both dishes in front of me. The waiter refused to take the breaded cutlets away. Since restaurant service is so terrible here, Mike ended up without an entrée, so he ate them and said they were gross. (My meal wasn’t that great either.)

But I also end up on fun, bizarre shopping trips. My assistant is a Rwandan woman who grew up in Bujumbura and she knows everyone in the city and every place to go. She’ll say to me rather ambiguously, “We’ll go to the place where they sell the pottery,” or “the store of the brother of my friend who died,” or “the Chinese furniture place where the artists are.” D’accord. After twisting and turning through some dismal neighborhoods while I’m wondering exactly where I’m going to end up, I always find a pleasant little shop.

Of course, also like David Sedaris, I realize I could be nearly fluent in French by now if I actually spoke it out loud rather than have elaborate imaginary conversations. In my head my French is so witting and charming. But in real life, not only is my French not improving, I think my English is deteriorating!

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