For a long while, I was far too self conscious about my faltering French to be able to speak confidently in public. It was different during class times, and with Anne, in my home stay- I trusted them enough to be able to laugh at myself when I sounded foolish. But in public, in a city full of sophistication and elegant people, I was too afraid of coming across as “silly”. At grocery stores, I’d get too nervous and stutter if the cashier spoke too rapidly for me to understand, or I’d make the cardinal sin of switching to English mid-sentence just to avoid the hassle of being misunderstood. Looking back now, it was singularly stupid of me to limit myself in this way, but in the beginning at least, this is how it was.
And then, one day, Something happened. This Something came in the form of an extremely cute cashier at the Carrefour where I was buying my lunch. I said the requisite “bonjour” and he chatted amiably about the weather while he was bagging my things. And then, as he handed me the bag, he said “you want to swipe?” in English. I stared at him in complete bemusement. What does that even mean? (I confess, my first reaction to “swipe” was to wonder whether he was referring to Tinder. I am a little ashamed.)
“This is- how you say- in English?” And then comprehension struck as he smiled sheepishly, waving a tissue in my face. “It’s a tissue”, I told him.
“Tissue,” he repeats as seriously as if I had told him some sort of state secret, committing the word to memory. “I thank you, mademoiselle! My English- très faible!”
I don’t know what it was, but I walked out of there with a huge smile on my face, and from that day on I’ve never been nervous or self conscious about speaking French in public.
edit: this sounds like a load of crappy, sentimental garbage but I was in the city of love. bite me.