Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lost in translation

Recently my husband and I went on a trip to France. By ourselves. No children. Since I am not much of a late-sleeping kind of gal what I was most looking forward to was the peace and quiet. That's not to say the husband and I wouldn't talk. Instead I was looking forward to being able to talk and actually complete our sentences. Even have whole conversations that we started and finished without being interrupted. It was wonderful. The other thing I was looking forward to was touring the museums and landmarks and lingering over reading the placards without anyone whining that they needed to go to the bathroom or needed a snack, or wanted to visit the gift shop. This is where I ran into problems.

What I failed to take into account was that all the signs would be in...French. I don't speak French. I don't read French. And I absolutely do not understand French. For some reason, although I haven't taken a class, this is not the case for Spanish. Although I don't speak it I can generally pick up enough key words to get the gist. Same goes for reading. I admit I can speak next to none of it, but that's beside the point. The point is I just assumed French would be the same way. I was wrong. Really wrong.

I had an inkling of it when we first arrived although we only had a few hours of touring so it didn't really hit home until the second day when we visited museums. Most of them, with the exception of Musee D'Orsay, have all their signage in French. So this is how I interpreted my visit to the Louvre: painting of Christ at the last supper, painting of Christ with the apostles, painting of Christ on the cross, painting of Christ depicting several other scenes from the Bible and then the Mona Lisa and Winged Victory. The other sections of the museum we visited were similar: Roman column, another Roman column, yet another Roman column, Roman frieze, some Roman guy wearing an olive branch, some Roman woman half-dressed, some Roman cherub, and so on. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. In some ways it freed me to enjoy it on my own terms and speculate on an interpretation. And I had the dates so I had some reference point. But don't ask me the names of any of the works because as I mentioned before, I don't speak any French and am aware enough to recognize that my pronunciation is so atrocious it's best to just pretend I'm mute then to risk humiliating myself and mangling their beautiful language.

So what happened was that I spent a week for the most part being completely clueless. Occasionally I would ask my husband for a translation since he took several years of French a million years ago and does get a general sense of what someone is saying. This seemed to work okay until the night we went to a restaurant and I asked him to translate the menu for me. As a result, he ended up with a delicious shrimp and morel risotto that was the highlight of his trip, whereas I ended up with some creepy fish and tomato dish which he had assured me was steak when I asked for the menu translation. After that i didn't ask him anymore and just reveled in my ignorance. And when I figured out that *roti poulet* was *roast chicken* I stuck with what I knew and ate a lot of it.

At first I was a little unnerved by not knowing what was going on around me. It was a little disorienting to have directions being given over the loudspeaker on the metro train and have no clue whether I was adhering to the rules or would be arrested at any minute. At one point we came across a huge live reggae concert by the Bastille but have no clue why they were having it because I couldn't read the signs. I also couldn't tell you who was singing. Again, couldn't read the signs. This happened again a few days later when we found ourselves in the middle of a large demonstration by our hotel in the Montparnasse district. They would yell out something, then chant *Oui Oui*, then yell something else and chant *non non*. This went on for awhile and the whole time they were waving signs. I have absolutely no idea why.

So when I got back home and within five minutes of our return the children were already whining and complaining and demanding that they get to watch television and eat ice cream like they did when grandma was in charge I simply said *Je ne comprend pas*.

1 comment:

  1. Shawna,

    Maybe you being in France and not understanding any of the signs is just like life for a very young child who cannot read yet? Liberating, yet paralyzing....