“We’ll speak only in French together, okay?” he said to me.
Nodding with a feigned air of oh, but of course! I strode alongside my new Parisian-Moroccan mentally equipping my brain for the next few hours to come. All French. All the time. This challenge was feasible, and not only that, totally reasonable. Here I stood in a foreign country amongst native speakers who let beautiful French roll off their tongues and into the ears of their Parisian counterparts. Of course as the fresh wannabe Frenchie that I am, I’m going to try to speak French.
But for those who’ve ever learned a foreign language know, communicating is much different than conversing.
Yes, a nod towards The Bonjour Effect. #i’vebeeneffected
Strolling past a rainbow-painted rue towards Kahwehgi Coffee House, we passed by Cimetière Père Lachaise, a sprawling cemetery hosting the final farewell party for famed French writers, politicians, and every-day folk alike. Much like the tombstones hosted inside the garden, I contemplated whether French was the life or death of me. For as beautiful as it sounded, it also caused me much havoc too.
Take for instance, my visit to a local patisserie. In a sweet and sincere effort to order a pain au chocolat, or a chocolate croissant, I was confused for wanting a pain du chocolat. When presented with a fluffy loaf of bread having a sweet love affair with chocolate chips, I couldn’t say I was disappointed, only misunderstood. In wanting to appear more competent in my French and pronunciation, I graciously accepted the chocolate speckled baguette and left. Perhaps though my French skills were highlighted even more so when heading out for happy hour. In a confident manner I requested the merlot on the menu and instead was offered the night’s melon special. Again misunderstood, I chewed on my prosciutto wrapped melon as my company sipped glasses of proper red wine.
My fumbles with French also extended beyond food. The whole art of conversing en français left my mind drawing blanks and my wit meandering down questionable trails. I looked at my Parisian-Moroccan. Not only did I wonder if he understood what nonsense slipped from my lips, his charming smile didn’t aid me in finding any words either.
Taking a seat at the counter overlooking the fresh-baked lemon-poppyseed cakes inside Kahwehgi, I sat up straight atop my barstool to face my good company. As the barista turned to take our order, I followed the safest French-speaking technique I had mastered: repetition.
How did I use this technique, you may ask? By merely repeating the exact same order of my Parisian-Moroccan.
But that’s when something cool happened. And it had nothing to do with me. After the barista took note of our dual orders, she leaned in to ask if my Parisian-Moroccan was indeed from Morocco, for she was too. I watched as he and her engaged in conversation in fluent, happy French. Perhaps there were dabbles of Arabic between their exchange too, but I more so sat charmed not only by him, but the vivid realization that languages have the means to connect people we’d otherwise be distant from. Language is the bridge between land – literally and figuratively. The only catch is you have to build the bridge yourself.
Get your bricks ready, friends.
As I sat building sentences in my head to my Parisian-Moroccan, two small cups of hot kahwehgi, espresso adorned with a dollop of whip cream, were served. Holding our cups up together in a saluting cheers!, I clinked glasses of kahwehgi with my Kahwehgi.
Repetition, repetition, repetition…
Kahwehgi: 9 Avenue du Père Lachaise – Wifi
*Kahwehgi is a nickname intended for the anonymity of this blog