Je réflechis, tu réflechis, elle réflechit …

August 7, 2009

Very tired.

Went straight from work to a meeting of what Piaf’s mum calls my “after school club”. It is fair to say that the reasons I attend my after school club and the reason why I ended up failing to become a lecturer in contemporary French are closely entwined.

It was not a meeting I had been to before. I sat in a south-west London church hall with a group of strangers a notch or two posher than I am (and many notches posher than I used to be) and promptly fell asleep.

When I woke up, the meeting was open to the floor. I stayed uncharacteristically silent but, as always at such meetings, I heard what I needed to hear. Someone reminded us all to keep it simple and that perfection was not a realistic goal. So true of my life in general, and so especially true of Piaf and me! Sometimes I agonise over a particular word or fluff a line and then repeat it two or three times until I get it right, just in case she “learns” the wrong pronunciation. Why don’t I just say it in a simpler way and consult the dictionary later? Because I am sometimes obsessive about silly things is why. In so many ways I would love her to follow in my footsteps and yet, in some of the biggest areas of what makes me me, I would really rather she didn’t.

It also got me thinking on the way home about whether me is still me when I speak French. I used to think it wasn’t. Now I think it is, but I just don’t recognise it.

Which is to say that I associate my French me with a life I no longer live. I spent a lot of time in bars when I was in France. I drank and smoked heavily, whereas I now abstain form both. I was – because I was drunk, no doubt, but also because I was younger – arrogant and aggressive if disagreed with, and loudly, condescendingly good-natured when those around me were conciliatory. I had an opinion on everything and instinctively knew you wanted to hear it. And I did all this in French

These character defects may not have left me completely but, rare flare-ups aside, I like to think that they have been muted and softened by time. These changes have, quite coincidentally, taken place since my return to England. When I speak French, especially to people who were near me at the time, it is as if I have opened the attic and given the beast a chance of freedom. He has never taken me up on it to date – but I sense his presence just behind the door.


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