This morning, my husband and I went to the doctor, or, should I say, le docteur. So I’m in le docteur’s office trying to do three things at once: 1). Listen attentively as he talks to my husband so as to understand as much of what he’s saying as possible, and 2). Keep my mind from wandering, and 3). Listen attentively, and 4). Try to understand as much of what he’s saying as possible, and 5). Try to understand as much of what my husband’s saying as possible, and 6). Try to not get lost, and 7). Start the whole process again after I get lost, and 8). Try not to get frustrated as I find myself 10 sentences behind by the time I start trying to understand again because I got lost, and 9). Try to keep my mind from wandering as I think of how frustrating it is to try to understand everyone, and 10). Wait – that’s eight things. Or is it nine? I only meant to list three. Did you follow all of that? Neither did I.
This is my struggle as a non-fluent-French-speaker in France. Trying to follow a conversation in French is like trying to follow a mental tennis match, only it’s faster than tennis, so it’s more like ping-pong. The ball blurrs with speed, and the blurrier it gets, the harder it is to keep track, especially if I start seeing double and it looks like two balls. It flies around so quickly that by the time I find it, it’s already somewhere else. Next thing I know, the match is over, and I have no idea what I’d just seen. At that point, the only thing more mind-tangling is when one of the players turns to me with a question about the game. And since I do know something about it, there’s this idea that I’d successfully followed the ball. But the game is complicated. There are serves and pauses and front hands and back hands and double-vision balls bouncing off the net and getting caught off the edge and etcetera. Angles are involved. Angles! I’m going to start calling them “slangles.” My mind trips on the slangles every time. Most of the time, anyway.
Thankfully, I usually understand my husband’s questions, and I can even answer in ping-pong-ese. Other times – a lot of the time, actually – I get it, but I can only answer in English. And sometimes, I don’t get it at all. Then I feel like I let everyone down, especially after it had been noted that my understanding had improved so much.
This is just the normal docteur. This isn’t the shrink-docteur where I go once a month to have an actual conversation without my husband being there. It’s like trying to play ping-pong with myself, blindfolded. And I’m not even going to try to explain what that’s like.