Through a child’s eyesArles, Summer 2012
I’m beginning to remember what it feels like to be a kid.
One of my host mom’s friends explained to me that, when she hosted a foreign exchange student last summer, all he would ever say was “C’est bon pour moi” (That’s good for me). She’s not hosting anyone this year.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m much better.
My French is so horrible that my 9-year-old host-sister is constantly correcting my pronunciation. Everyone I talk to has to speak slowly or repeat themselves. When I stutter over my words, my host mom gives me the same patient look that she gives her 3-year-old when he does the same.
My language imperfections aren’t the only thing that makes me childlike. Simple things must be explained to me. How to work the coffee machine. How to greet people. How to open specific doors (they’re all different).
Usually when I speak, it’s to ask for help or an explanation. As I quickly learned, the phrase host “parents” definitely merits its name.
You can see why I feel like I’m going through a second childhood in another language. But am I?
It may take me ten minutes to understand that “Ondi Wallhole” is Andy Warhol, but this opens up a discussion about movies. After many confusing encounters, I have finally learned that the word “Obama” with an inflection is asking my opinion of the president. I may have to rephrase my ideas several times, but the French are genuinely interested in my opinions.
Even though I get discouraged sometimes, I can express myself and understand others in another language. Because of this, I have learned new songs, met some amazing people, and experienced an entirely different culture.
But it works the other way, too. My host parents would not welcome an American into their home year after year if they weren’t interested in meeting Americans. The people I meet through my host family and around Arles would not carry on conversations with me if they didn’t want to hear what I have to say.
Since I got here, I’ve had so many “blonde American” moments.
I’ve miscounted money. I made an espresso without coffee. I said “toothpaste” instead of “fireworks.”
But one night I watched the movie C.R.A.Z.Y. with my host mom and her friend. The theme song of the movie was the song “Crazy” by Patsy Cline. The last two words of the movie were “Patsy Cline.” My host mom turned to me and instead of asking me if I understood (as I expected), she asked, “Who is Patsy Cline?”
Knowing something that my host mom didn’t was strangely empowering. It reminded that, as helpless as I feel sometimes, I can be more than just a sponge, soaking up experiences. I can contribute.
I want to make my mark in France. Even if it’s simple things like helping my host mom understand a movie.
When I look back on this opportunity, I want to be able to say that, even though I took it all in with the amazement of a child, I took initiatives like an adult.
C’est bon pour moi.
You May also like: