When we first arrived in France, I felt prepared. After all, I had studied French from 8th grade on, earned a spot in the top 3 of the National French Exam in my state three years running, had minored in French in college (plus testing out of 2 classes with my prior knowledge) and I had been practicing since we found out we were coming, about 9 months. I was ready.
Then I got off the plane.
WHAM. (Sound of reality hitting me.)
What the? Hey, wait a... but I thought...Huh?
The reality was much different than the dream. The basics I had worked great in a classroom in the Midwest, but when faced with trying to set up phone and internet service, dealing with people asking if you wanted your bread "tranché" or not, and desperately begging someone, anyone to give me a bank account because I promise I really, really will pay my bills--well, let's just say it was harder than I thought it would be.
The idea of leaving our apartment and actually having to face people and carry on a conversation that was important, like paying an electric bill or ordering pork chops at the butcher, sent me into a sweat.
That, combined with the seemingly never-ending Summer of 2005 and the lack of air-conditioning, created a lot of sweat.
And I mean A LOT.
Just having to answer a question made it spring from my forehead like Old Faithful.
Ordering dinner? Drip, drip, drip down the small of my back.
Asking for reimbursement when my metro ticket didn't work? T-shirt is soaked and I look like I am trying out for "Girls Gone Wild--Paris, September 2005."
But, the more I tried, the more I listened, the easier it got. I could ask for help from my resident experts (age 8 and 10). Pretty soon, things were getting easier. I could hear new things, new ways of phrasing, and know what they meant without having to ask them to repeat themselves. I could walk into a new situation without having to prepare by removing two or three layers of clothing, just in case. I started getting smiles from shop clerks, and cheerful "Bonjour, Madame!"'s from the shops I most often frequented.
Today, the old dread came back.
The new coffeepot we bought on Saturday cracked. It was kind of a weird, freak thing--it cracked in a swirl pattern on the bottom, never actually breaking through the pot, but I wasn't willing to take a chance of broken glass in our coffee, or having it shatter while filled with hot liquid. I still had the "Darty Contrat de Confiance". It promised that if anything went wrong, they would fix it. However, the last time I had trouble with a Darty purchase, it didn't quite work that way.
I was a little nervous.
It took a few minutes, and a few caramels, to screw up the courage to walk to Darty, which is conveniently located just minutes from our apartment at the Centre Commerciale (mall) Italie 2. I took the pot out of the bag, handed the contract to the customer service representative, and explained the problem.
He got quiet.
I repeated that it really wasn't my fault, that it must be a problem with the glass.
He asked me for my name. Then my address, phone number, etc.
I answered him, hoping that it wasn't so he could send a squad of goons to beat me senseless for daring to ask for a new pot for my cafetière.
He tappity-tapped into his computer. Looked at me out of the corner of his eye. Tappity-tapped some more.
Then, quick as a wink, turned on his heel and ran back to the stockroom.
He brought back a new coffeemaker. I said I just wanted the pot. He said, "Of course. That's what I was going to give you."
After opening the box, he drew out the new pot, with it's cardboard around it, and handed it to me. "Is that alright?"
"Yes! Yes, it's perfect! Thank you!"
"Thank you. Have a good day. Good Bye!"
I couldn't believe it.
Barely a drop. OK, one or two but not much. I made it. I did it!!!
I was so elated, I did a little window shopping before heading back. (OK, I probably would have anyway, elated or not. I'm just like that.)
I stopped into Celio*, a men's clothing store where I have found many things for Dr. B. They are having the French Soldes (big biannual sales) plus they are clearancing out before remodeling the store, so I found a shirt and sweater for Dr. B that were very fetching, his style and inexpensive. When I went up to pay, I was happy to see the salesman who had helped us in the past. He enjoyed speaking English with us, so I always say hello when I see him.
"Hi!" He said.
"Hi! How are you?"
"Fine, thank you. And you? I be on vacation soon."
"I see that. When do you close?"
"Mars. Um. March eleven. Eleventh. It was supposed to be tomorrow but... but they... they move... the date."
Then he does a little fake fanning of his face and says, "Oof. It hot."
I just smiled.
Full circle. Feels good.