Des trucs j’ai appris en français

We have a visitor at the moment who doesn’t speak french. We went into Paris on Friday to see Notre Dame cathedral and wander about town. When we took a coffee break I had to do all the talking. It was a chain coffee shop and the cashier asked if I wanted a bonus card. The café is close to Centre Pompidou and I’ve been several times, so I agreed. Plus I felt cocky.

She proceeded to explain things to me in very rapid French. I understood some of it, managed to ask an intelligent question and in the end decided I’d look up the rest online. My friend thought the cashier had spoken extremely fast. So that I even understood a third wasn’t bad, I thought. That is, until the cashier came around to ask something in French and I had to ask twice and still didn’t understand what turned out to be “was everything okay?”.

Then, later, back home, I heard someone knock and wasn’t sure if it was our door or the neighbour’s. So I went and checked the peephole. It was the gardien/janitor with somebody else at the neighbour’s door. Normally, Gergö and I discuss who’s turn it is to open the door/speak French, but he wasn’t home. I was just standing there wondering if they’d heard me or if I could still sneak away unnoticed, when they turned to my door, so I thought “what the hell” and opened it.

I last spoke with the janitor, when plumbers needed to install a thingamajig (technical term) that would enable automatic measuring of our hot water usage (I think). The janitor acted like my grandparents, when they talk to someone who doesn’t speak German: loud, friendly, slowly, nodding and smiling a lot. I’m not complaining at all, it’s actually quite helpful. I think I scared him once, when I spoke rapid english to him in the heat of the moment as I bumped into him and forgot how to French.

I’d read a letter posted to our main entrance that several residents complained that the heating is not warm enough. They have narrowed it down to flats who get their hot water and heating from a certain allocator (or something like it). The plumbers responsible for the buildings apparently guarantee a minimum temperature of 20 degrees in the apartments, so in the past weeks they have been distributing thermometers, to verify people’s complaints or narrow them down.

The visit by the two concerned this topic. We don’t have any complaints, and I even wrote our landlady that. I managed to tell the janitor and the plumber as well that we think everything is fine – not too hot, not too cold. Since the neighbour thinks it’s too cold, but wasn’t home, they asked if they could put the thermometer in our apartment for a week. Sure, no problem. Uh, except there were 10 empty delivery boxes from Auchan (the awesome supermarket that sells everything) blocking everything in the hallway.

I even managed to explain the boxes and I got the plumber to place the thermometer not too close to the little computer Gergö uses as a Tor relay. The plumber will pick up the thermometer in a week and take it next door. If the neighbour’s home then. I occasionally hear him leave and return and sometimes he smokes on the balcony. I don’t really want to do the creepy neighbour move to wait until I hear his key and then run outside to tell him about all that, but maybe I’ll bump into him and remember what I need to say. Something about un thermomètre, la froid, le gardien, le plombier, le semaine dernière, le mercredi prochain, etc.

My friend, who was sitting and listening in the other room while I was talking in the hallway, was pretty impressed she said. I had made the impression that I knew what I was doing. I only realised much later that I used the word retourner for return a thing, when in French you can only use retourner for a person. But all in all I’m happy with my French progress. After a long time feeling I can’t express myself and don’t understand anything, I had a conversation without having to resort to drawing and/or expressive dancing.

I now also understand almost everything when I listen to the news in français facile, except when I drift off during sports news or when an artist who is world famous in France dies. I hear lots of interesting things about places in the world I don’t normally read or hear news about, at the moment Haiti, Burundi and Burkina Faso, for example.

Last week, when I was in town, I considered walking into a bank to try to open an account, but didn’t feel up to it. Maybe I’ll give it a go next time.

The worst that can happen is that they ask “Parlez vous français?”, like the dude from the census bureau who was at our door the other evening and who I greeted in confusion after he showed me an official id and I immediately thought “Uh oh, how will I explain that they can’t deport European Union citizens, even if they have dark beards and funny names.”

I’m kidding, of course, but he did confuse me, because I didn’t recognise the word census or recensement, even though we had received a letter explaining and announcing it all. He gave us a URL and login code, took my name and number and very seriously announced that it was our duty to fill out the census. We started on it immediately and were very disappointed when he rang the door bell a second time to explain he had confused building 302 with 301 and we don’t need to fill out anything after all and should destroy the paper he gave us.

There was also a very polite man on our door a few days later who told me he sold carpets, if I was interested. I wasn’t. He said thank you and left.

I don’t remember having that many people show up at my door in any other apartment I ever lived. I’m starting to wonder if it is all a very elaborate ruse to get the small devide into our living room that we now believe records the temperature.