I will admit, I am a total linguistic geek. I love languages. I love listening to people speak their native tongue, even if I can’t understand a word. I love how learning even a few basic phrases in a language will open doors and beget smiles that don’t happen when I talk to people in English. I am fortunate to live in a very ethnically diverse area. When I pick my children up from school, I can hear upward of ten different languages from other parents waiting to collect their kids.
I envy people who are raised speaking more than one language. I grew up in a mono-linguistic home. I remember being upset as a child that my mother never learned Danish from her father, who died before I could get him to teach me. Over the years, I have studied a number of languages, including French, Spanish, Icelandic, and Russian, and even dabbled in Arabic and Italian for a few years. I’m not fluent in any language (other than English) but I can usually recognize a few words when I hear a language spoken that I have studied. And I am always borrowing “learn to speak…” books from my local library to add flavor to my stories with ethnically diverse characters.
With learning any foreign language, however, comes the inevitable faux-pas. My best slip of the tongue, to date, was when I was living in Paris, trying to improve my French. I stayed with a woman who was on a very strict diet for health reasons. She ate only fish, spinach and rice. But I couldn’t resist the lure of the French bakeries, and once a week I would buy a baguette and some cheese and enjoy. Unfortunately, I can’t eat a whole baguette by myself and my friend once commented that I always threw a quarter of it away each week. I explained, in French, that the problem was that the baker didn’t put any condoms in the bread, so it went hard very fast. She looked puzzled for a moment then burst into laughter. And now you know, the word “préservatif” which I had used, thinking it meant preservatives, actually means condoms. The correct term to use, when referring to food, is “agent de conservation.” I still can’t look at a baguette without thinking of condoms. Especially when they get hard. And now, you probably won’t be able to either. You’re welcome, or should I say, “De rien.”