There were 2 choices. Either become “that strange woman who never talks to anyone” or fork out for intensive French lessons. The fork was duly wielded and I enrolled in the language school in Perpignan. Lessons started on Monday and the first shock was having to get up at 7 am. The shock to the entire system of waking up this early was immediately followed by a more localised shock to the head as I banged it off the low beam that holds up the ceiling of my attic bedroom. I blame that bang to the head for much of what followed.
Predictably I arrived half an hour late for my assessment interview, following which new students are streamed into classes according to their level. I thought my interview went rather well, actually. I threw in all of the French words I know and even added a few that I didn’t know but that had looked well in the dictionary the night before during my communion with a splendid bottle of red.
Well, you can imagine my surprise when I was put into the idiots class. There were 6 of us to start with and I wasn’t terribly impressed when 4 of the others, having assured me that they were also there because they were crap at French, began to speak French amongst themselves. I quickly surmised that these are the kind of unbearable people who underplay their strengths in order to lull you into a false sense of “we’re all in this together”. We definitely weren’t.
Myself and an Italian girl got left behind from the word go. We were clearly the special needs section of the class and the tutor (who also insisted on speaking French!) very soon became impatient with my constant interruptions enquiring as to the meaning of what she had just said (giving me the explanation in French didn’t help much either). By Wednesday, I could see she was close to choosing another career. One of the class members at this stage had managed to get herself moved into another class and the other remedial student, the Italian, had given up altogether. So now we were four. Me, and the fluent ones.
A row broke out when teacher asked me to go to the board to write a list of the irregular verbs. Nobody else, all week, had been asked to come up and write on the board and I was damned if I was going to provide cheap entertainment for the rest of the class. So, I said “No”. Clearly. In English. We locked eyes. She glared. The goody-goodies looked shocked. I didn’t give a shit. And she backed down. Yay! (I said to myself, and cried all the way home).
So, after three days of me feeling more stupid than anyone has a right to feel, yesterday teacher started talking slightly slower than a really fast train and I started to understand a few words in passing. And I discovered that the goody-goodies were just good at bluffing and they had been riding on my willingness to ask questions all along. When teacher began to ask each one of us, individually, whether we understood what she had just said each one said no. Hah!
As the first week came to an end today I had successfully brought everyone down to my level, including teacher. But my French has definitely improved. Or, at least, my willingness to say it out loud has. I even told them all the anecdote about my shoplifting day in Collioure – in French (sort of). Teacher liked it – but told me I am to stop using the word ‘merde’.