I’ve completed my first week of courses here in Tours, and in many ways this week has been challenging. I arrived last Sunday in Paris, but to my surprise, it wasn’t too difficult to utilize the little French I had to purchase breakfast and lunch. Throughout the airport, I found myself surprised and startled by many things that made apparent the stratification brought about by many cultural, social, and political values. The airport was filled with various individuals of color–some arriving in Paris to stay, while for others it only served as their resting stop before reaching their final destination. Many of these individuals looked like myself, in fact–coming from various countries in Africa. I mustered the courage to say “Bonjour” or “Comment ca va? Parlez-vous anglais” before taking my seat beside them. But even then, the normalcy that I thought would be provided by sharing a common language or appearance was not present. Rather, in those moments, it seemed I was too American. Not too American in the sense of being attuned to only myself and my disposition, but I was too friendly–hoping that the accidental eye contact made would result in a friendly gesture such as subtle smile. Even the presence of the security throughout the airport proved strange as they were adorned in military-like clothing with their guns held in position as if there was something that had previously taken place, but it seemed to be normal behavior as most French individuals entered the airport without taking notice.
Regardless of these slight stressors, my initial interactions with the French were pleasant as some were more than willing to assist me when boarding the train to Tours. The 2 hour train ride proceeded quite quickly from Paris, as I was seated next to a mother and daughter, and a girl who found humor in my inability to completely understand the messages relayed over the intercom.
Upon my arrival, I was able to meet both my host mom and dad, along with my “host-sister”, who is also American. With the drive made through the small city of Tours, I took recognition of the narrow French paths that sometimes appeared as roads, while others as just a continuation of the sidewalk.
At school, I was placed in the upper beginner level–which was to be expected, considering I had not taken a French course prior to my departure from the US. Once arriving in France, I was only confident in my ability to ask, “Where is the nearest…” and “Bonjour, est-ce que vous avez…”. Even with just a week of being in France, I have grown comfortable in reading French as I make my way through the epicerie or look at the menus provided by the many restaurants that line La Rue Nationale, and even in introducing myself and asking a few questions. My comprehension has increased and often times, to ameliorate the difficulty brought about by any language barrier between myself and others, I now ask individuals to speak French so that I may attempt to respond–despite them knowing English is my native tongue. In many ways, they show their appreciation, although I apologize for my broken French afterwards.
At the institute thus far, my classes have focused solely on grammar and tenses such as the passe compose, imparfait, and future simple. The courses have moved at a slower pace than I would like, and although this was met with initial frustration, it became apparent that I was in a class where many individuals had already cultivated varying degrees of comprehension of the French langauge. While others showed mastery of oral understanding by use of context, they struggled in understanding the nuances of the language. I found myself in the same situation alongside my counterparts, but my interaction with those living in Tours (both natives and immigrants) has bolstered my confidence in being able to speak, although their remains difficulty in maintaining some sort of progress across all areas of reading, writing, and speaking.
Hopefully with the upcoming weeks I will have seen a marked improvement in my French in the ways that I have wished for, but for now, a bientot!
(disregard my lack of proper accent marks)