Realising what you don’t want is like learning something new

Chris in quiet contemplation on Halong Bay Chris in quiet contemplation on Halong Bay

A week or so ago I wrote about the 5 reasons why I’m not going to learn French, despite the fact I’m going to be staying in France for about six months. Some of the reasons I gave were valid, like being incredibly busy with work and not being able to afford classes, while others were a little tongue in cheek, like being too old. It certainly provoked a bit of a reaction from one of our readers who can speak five language and can’t believe I wouldn’t want to learn French. You can see our exchange of strong opinions at the bottom of my article by clicking the link in the first sentence. But realising what you don’t want to do can be just as fulfilling as learning something new.

The French are NOT rude

A nice cafe at Place du Capitole, Toulouse

A nice cafe at Place du Capitole, Toulouse

However, just because I don’t have the desire to learn French, doesn’t mean it’s not a pain in the backside not knowing the language. Quite the contrary, we get frustrated almost on a daily basis by not understanding what is written, or being said. However, I must admit one myth has been busted for us since we’ve been here in France. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you if you don’t know any French, or don’t try and speak any French, the locals will rudely ignore you and treat you as though you don’t exist. My experience has been completely different. If I don’t know the words in French, and the local I’m speaking to can’t speak English, then we shrug our shoulders, have a bit of a laugh, and I try and get my point across by playing a spontaneous game of charades! This is quite the difference to the common misconception about the French, and if anything the French are as close to Australians in the way they think and behave as any nationality I’ve come across on my travels so far.

The French know more than they let on

Don't be fooled, the French know more English than they let on

Don’t be fooled, the French know more English than they let on

Another thing I’ve noticed about the French is they have the same insecurities about speaking English as we do about speaking another language. I think our insecurities come from the fact that speaking another language isn’t a priority in Australian schools as English is in other countries. As such we aren’t given the confidence to speak another language from a young age. From what I can tell, the French can all speak at least a little English, but aren’t confident enough to give it a crack. I hardly speak to anyone at the soccer club I’m playing for, training nights can come and go without speaking a word to anyone apart from common French greetings and goodbyes. But every now and then someone will explain something to me in English and I wonder why they don’t try harder. Maybe they just don’t like me!!! Then I remember why, and it’s the same reasons why I don’t try harder with my French. Because the truth is learning another language requires at least a little passion to learn it, and most of us don’t have it. English is taught in most schools in European countries where it is not the first language (so pretty much all of them), so almost everyone who has left school within the last 10 years knows a little something, But they don’t use their English all that often so forget most of it, and because they don’t have a passion for learning the language it slowly dissipates into the far recesses of their minds. So I completely understand not knowing, or wanting to know how to speak English.

Every day situations can get frustrating

Shopping at the supermarket can be frustrating

Shopping at the supermarket can be frustrating

But like I said earlier, there are plenty of occasions when I get frustrated because I can’t speak with a local. Going to the supermarket can be an absolute nightmare. It’s not uncommon for us to leave the house at around 10am, and not return home with the groceries until 1pm, having wandered aimlessly around two or three supermarkets trying to find the foods we want to buy. French supermarkets are exactly the same as Australian supermarkets, except for the crazy amount different cheeses you can buy! But that doesn’t make things much easier, and if we could just speak the language we’d probably halve the time it takes to do our shopping. We’re getting better at it, because each time we shop we’re learning a few more words. Yesterday I learnt how to tell the difference between salted and unsalted butter, an amazing breakthrough because Sarah’s delicious vanilla custard might now taste more like a dessert than a savoury dish!

Our next door neighbour Jacques loves nothing more than coming over everyday for a chat. He’ll knock on the front door and start blabbing on about something in French, despite the fact he knows we don’t speak the language. He’ll go on for ages while I stand there nodding my head, pretending to know what he’s saying while trying to pick up one or two words to make sense of it all. I’d love to be able to have a nice long chat with Jacques, but there’s a big difference between really wanting something, and actually making it happen.

There are loads of situations that can make life frustrating at times…going to the post office, watching sport on TV with French commentary, trying to read the road signs when driving, organising sim cards and topping up mobile phone credit at the Orange store, talking with the day care lady who looks after Jack every Friday about his day, the list goes on. We have to take Jack’s day care book home and re-write the French notes into www.freetranslation.com to find out what Jack has been up to for the day!

I need an English language fix next!

We are learning things about ourselves all the time on this journey, particularly about who we really are and what we really want. Before we left on this nomadic adventure I had thoughts swimming around my mind like ‘I’d really like to learn another language’ and ‘I’d really like to live in a country where English is not the first language’. Those thoughts have been firmly dispelled, and I’m learning about exactly who I am and what I want in life. Now I know that I don’t want to learn another language, and I don’t want to live in a country where English is not the first language. These are good things because I’m discovering exactly who I am, and who I am not. I don’t see finding out that I don’t want to do or learn something as a negative at all, in fact it’s a huge positive.

As such the next country we live in will be English speaking, and more than likely somewhere in the UK or the USA. That doesn’t mean we won’t visit non-English speaking countries ever again, quite the contrary. We’re probably going to spend a month in Spain after our time here in France is up before heading to the UK or USA to live for a while. My wanderlust is still as strong as ever and I want to see and experience EVERYTHING! I’ve just realised that learning another language and living in a non-English speaking country is not for me, and that’s just fine as far as I’m concerned.

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