Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Language Lessons on the Loire

It seems like every time I open up my beak these days, I make some mistake in French. Part of that is, naturally, the fact that I'm speaking French all the time and in situations never covered in classrooms. For example, I have yet to be asked where my aunt's pen is currently located. On the other hand, being surrounded by people speaking (mostly-)grammatical French on a daily basis is doing what I'd hoped, and bringing all of the classroom French out of my head into shapes and forms that have practical real-life applications. It's helpful too that many people, after unraveling one of my particularly tangled sentences, tend to restate them correctly with a oui? or c'est bien ça? at the end for confirmation.

One thing that I was worried about was remembering to use the formal vous and the informal tu (basically "thou" and "you") along with their respective verb conjugations in the appropriate settings, but that's not been a problem at all. It seems perfectly natural to say bonjour, monsieur to my physical therapist and salut, toi to my roommate, and I don't even have to think about it most of the time. Of course, it helps that I don't really know very many people here yet and so the number of people I address in the more informal matter is vastly outweighed by those with whom I am more formal. In general, following the rules drilled into me by my grade-school French teacher, I use the formal terminology unless the other person starts using the informal, and then I follow suit. There's even a verb for that in French - two in fact, vouvoyer and tutoyer. On the outing last week with another On Va Sortir group, I was talking with a woman I'd met on the previous hike, and using vous, but she asked why I was being so formal. I told her about the grade-school rules, and that even though on my first OVS meetup I was assured that everyone used the informal address, I had been talking to an older woman using tu and she seemed to be somewhat startled and a bit offended by it, so I switched back to vous unless, as I explained to my walking partner, "on me tutoie." In any event, I used tu for the rest of the morning.

We walked along the north bank of the Loire from the suspended bridge at l'île Aucard west to the community/suburb (or commune here) called Fondettes, about three miles away. By that time it was getting quite hot, and I was running low on water and energy, so I took advantage of the fact that two of the bus lines back into town went down the road above the river that we'd been paralleling to bail out and ride back home, rather than turning around and retracing the path with the rest of the group. I look forward to more walks and hikes around Tours in the future, when the weather cools down again; until then I think I'll stick to swimming. After being a desk potato for the better part of the last year, I've lost my stamina and need to build it back up again - my typing fingers are the only part of me that's in shape, right now.

I have opened a bank account here, with La Banque Postale, the bank run by the postal service. That's how a lot of people did their banking in Tokyo, when I was going to school there, as I remember; I'd buy stamps and withdraw money from my account at the same time. In the process of filling out all the paperwork and choosing the type of account, I explained to the woman helping me that I didn't need a credit card, just a debit card, because I was only going to use the account to write rent checks and the card at "the boxes in the walls where the money comes out." Or "distributeur automatique de billets" if you want to get technical about it, and now that I know the name for those boxes in the wall, that's the term I'll use in the future.

Reading books in French is definitely helping. My friend Lilian sent me the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy last year, but I couldn't get into it until I got over here, for some reason. It seems natural to be reading in French and, as I found when I listened to an NPR podcast yesterday on my way to the physical therapist, unnatural to be listening to something in English. Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell are just going to have to switch languages.

The verb ignore means "to not be aware of."
The adjective fastidieux means "tedious."
The verb vouloir means "to want" but the verb en vouloir means "to blame."
The phrase en catimini means "stealthily" or "secretly."

La rentrée is the first part of September when everyone's back to work after vacation. All the schools in France start on the same day. The shops are full of parents buying notebooks and pens and other required student supplies. On Thursday I'll be talking with the program secretary to find out about my options at the university this term. I will address her as vous.

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