The end of my time in France is approaching as fast as a TGV… so readers, eloignez vous du bordure du quai. Le TGV 8932 en provenance de Sète et destination New York entrer en gare. These musical words, tinged with the sadness of departure, are permanently seared into that spot of your brain where one retains language. Seriously though, SNCF announcements are so catchy and repetitive that most of this country can repeat them by heart. However, for those of you unfamiliar with the doo doo doo-doo ringing from SNCF train stations across France fret not, this post is an hommage to the train system and to the slew of prepositions I have yet to master. *Mutters* …and who make me want to go absolutely mother effing ballistic on whoever created these tiny demon words.
Bref. The other day I was going to Montpellier to see a concert with some friends and we decided to take our apéro on the train with us. This is a fancy way of saying we were drinking on public trainsportation (pun intended). Public consummation of alcohol makes my American self uneasy…so as we walked past the police station on our way to catch the train (beers in hand) I made rookie mistake #1… as most Americans would. I tried to discretely hold my beer to the side hoping the police wouldn’t notice, obviously not taking the note from my French friends who were quite nonchalant. The police did notice our PDA (public display of alcohol) however, they merely greeted us and told us to have a fun party. Reason number 345 why I don’t want to leave France…drinking openly and gaily is not at all looked down up or taboo. It is, rather, normal and encouraged by the law enforcement.
We arrived at the train station (beers in hand, more in our backpack), and this is where I made rookie mistake #2 of questioning whether or not is is OK for us to have alcohol on the train …apparently it is also appropriate to drink on French public transport. This question, however, which I asked in French, was my catalyst for this blog. I asked, “Est-ce qu’on peut boire sur le train?” — direct translation — “can we drink on the train?” This question, demonstrates how with one teeny tiny word I can give away my anglophone origins to a native frog like this *snaps fingers* What is this word, you ask? It is sur, which means on. Apparently under these specific circumstances sur means, can we drink ON the train. But like, literally, ON TOP of the mother#$%^&*@ train! Summon images of Slumdog Millionaire…no wait, I’ll do it for you:
These guys are “sur le train.” Me and my beer drinking friends? Oh no, we were DANS le train — In the train — obviously.
Now I will give myself some credit, because in 7 months I have gone from a blabbering nonsensical idiot to a decent conversationalist. Excluding the occasional confusion over a historical or pop culture reference and feminine/masculine articles, I’ve gotten pretty good at this language. The one thing, however, that I have not been able to wrap my brain around has been these stupid prepositions. This is because there is no rule to learning them… you just need to memorize them and use them until they are as natural to you as they are to a native speaker.
Thus, I have arrived at the most frustrating part of learning a foreign language — the fine tuning. I am comprehensible to a French person, but my minute grammar mistakes are enough to take them out of the conversation we are having and to remark (whether to themselves or out loud…usually out loud) that I have made a mistake. This is killing me softly. However, after making leaps and bounds with this wonderful language, I now need to get down to the nitty-gritty to work out the kinks. Time and practice will eventually give me fluency in the French language that I have desired since I was 15 years old.
So where next? What francophone country will be hosting this nomad come October?
Sète, ici Sète
Prochain arrêt ….