Why can’t I remember the meaning of “rater” (to miss, to fail), “chuter” (to fall, drop), “mensonge” (a lie) to name a few? I try to grasp enough meaning from the news to understand what’s happening with the UMP (union pour un mouvement populaire--the party of the right) as a result of the recent election of its president, which has been challenged by the opposing UMP candidate. It dominates the news day (journée) and night (soirée), and I sit here with my handy dandy Larousse electronic dictionary, which I carry with me everywhere I go, struggling to find the word before it escapes my memory. By the time I find it, of course, it’s virtually useless because they’ve moved on to another complication of the issue.
There are really simple everyday words I can’t keep in my head, like the world for basket or lampshade or spatula. I’ve never claimed to have a good memory. While my son might be singing along to a popular song, I have to hum. While my husband explains the period of architecture of a certain chateau, I can only remark on the materials used in its construction.
And worst of all, I find that while in France, my English is beginning to suffer. I can’t seem to find the words—never mind rater or chuter. Even when trying to describe the green and white discs on the outside of the package, I am reduced to pointing my finger because the word “zucchini” is far from the tip of my tongue. Quel horreur! What horror!
The written and spoken word, however, are dear to me in a way that other pieces of information are only auxiliary. I don’t mean to say they’re less important in the total scheme of things. They’re just less important for me to remember. And anyway, my husband is usually there to supply the facts. He’s like a flesh and blood travel brochure.
I struggle and learn and occasionally remember. My conversations with the French seem longer and more nuanced. I consider it a victory if I can get through a conversation without witnessing that “what the hell did she say?” expression resulting in a break in the dialogue to explain what I’m explaining.
I imagine by the time we leave France, I will have managed to achieve some level of comfort in the language—just in time for me to forget it all until the next time. In the meantime, I will persevere.