I feel like my love affair with Paris would be complete if I never had to speak a word. Is that even possible? To love a place where the thought of speaking to anyone fills me with a slight dread? Like always, the distant ones get me every time and Paris is no exception. Her indifference and slight contempt for my lack of proficiency in the official language makes her all the more appealing. Plus, I plan on slowly but surely building on my twenty plus years of public school French to be able to engage more the next time around. Well, it’s kind of necessary if we’re planning on staying for a year.
Honestly though, there are plenty of people in Toronto for whom English is not their first language. When they approach me on the street to ask for directions my first reaction is to be patient and understanding. Having said this though, I do believe that it’s only respectful that anywhere you go you learn to say the please and thank yous in the native tongue. In France I want to say so much more. The key to learning any language is to not be shy and just try to communicate, however broken the sentences come out. Well at least that’s what my Thai language tutor B taught me. This man is the most joyful person I have ever met. He used to use the hula hoop during lessons for “exercise” because he said that’s how you get rid of love handles. My homework consisted of going to the Sunday night market in Chiang Mai to bargain. I think I got a great deal on some teak placemats precisely because I accidentally mixed up numbers. It also made the salesperson laugh so it provided a beautiful exchange. When I attempt to do this in France however, I get mixed results. There are those who truly appreciate the effort and others who just want to get on with it. Whatever, you win some, you lose some. I’m sure when I’m there for a couple of months and not a few days the experiences will be greater on the side of good.
But the one place I’ve been where I’ve never felt out of place is Buenos Aires. Being in that city is like entering a freshly-made bed. We could not speak a word of Spanish but every single person didn’t want to put us out and tried their best to help. Imagine that, a society that did not want to inconvenience the tourist! We stayed in a residential neighborhood away from the downtown hub so we ate at ten o’clock like everyone else, with both the senior citizens and newborn babies. I was just starting to show in my pregnancy when we visited and people would politely offer me seats on the subway and ensure that I was comfortable. The absolute beauty of this metropolitan city is not found just in the lovely boulevards, pastry shops on every corner, the art and culture being alive and well, but in their openness to difference. As a racialized female you don’t get to feel this ease everywhere and Buenos Aires, I sure do look back at you fondly. You are special.
Still, there is nowhere like Paris and I loved it when locals would ask me for directions on the street in French. It was so thrilling to pass, well at least for those five seconds till I opened my mouth or the valiant attempt to understand registered on my face. See, fashion does have power.