Some things have been annoying me lately:
- Synonyms. Just when I was starting to think I finally had a big enough vocabulary to communicate somewhat effectively in French, I read an article in class today and understood pretty close to nothing. Why? Synonyms. So far I’ve avoided them. My thinking: if I already know a word for something, why waste brain space on another? I’m better off learning something new. Unfortunately, Francophone writers aren’t cooperating and using only the words I’ve chosen to memorize… Darn them.
- Idioms. These are actually worse than synonyms because I can usually translate them, but then I find myself confused and frustrated when my translations make no sense. What do I mean? Well, this isn’t the best example but it’s the only one coming to mind. My professor was talking about a classmate who had to go home early because she was “sick in her heart.” My classmates and I looked at one another, worried. She had heart problems? Oh my God; that’s serious stuff. But, no. Apparently in French, heart sickness really just means nausea. Okay, not the same thing at all.
- FSI microwaves. Every kitchenette microwave I’ve encountered at FSI lately has seemed to have the magical ability to retain the smell of the last 27 things it cooked. And, I know FSI is a multicultural place and all, and that’s great, but what in the world are you people heating up in there anyway?
- French writing style. Perhaps a little-known fact for those of you who didn’t know me before my Foreign Service life: I have a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing and have published quite a bit of memoir, personal essay and travel writing. And I still teach writing classes on the side. So, I like to think I’m qualified to spot bad writing. Let me tell you, French writers are either universally bad or (more likely) have a completely different style. In almost every article I read I come across at least one ridiculous thing that I’d never let my students get away with. For instance, today: an article started by describing a giant outdoor art installation promoting nuclear energy, which cost something like 3 million dollars. A bird flew in and broke it. Now, cut to the next paragraph. We’re talking about famine and how many people are suffering worldwide and how there’s nothing anyone can do. One bird can ruin a 3 million dollar art installation, and yet people can’t figure out how to eradicate famine. Um, no. That’s just not a strong enough connection. Sorry.
- A new TV show called Bridalplasty. A commercial for this just came on. Apparently brides-to-be compete to win plastic surgery in time for their wedding. What? When I see ridiculous things like this I can’t help but imagining what foreigners visiting America must think it says about us, like when we’re in Japan and shake our heads in wonderment at their bizarre game shows. Except this is way worse. (On a related note, now seems like a good time to go on the record as officially supporting Sister Wives, a reality show chronicling a real-life polygamous family. It’s actually surprising great, and not even in a voyeuristic, I-can’t-believe-this-baloney-is-on-the-air sort of way.)
- My looming end-of-training exam. This test is the only thing French department students talk about these days. At least once a day in class or at lunchtime conversation tables there’s a new report about how many more people failed, what’s wrong with the test, how we’re all doomed too, etc. I’m as guilty as anyone of the gossip, but it’s still annoying. We’re all type-A people; we’re not used to failing. I don’t want to think or talk about it anymore.
So, yes, I guess I’ve been a little perturbed lately. But you know what? I’m still getting paid to learn French. That’s pretty freaking cool if I do say so myself, and definitely worth the annoyances.
Except Bridalplasty. There’s just no justifying that.