The FRENCH of things

I’ve had an affair with French for as long as I can remember.

Maybe it was hearing my father speak this strange language to equally strange people. Maybe it’s the way the words roll off the tongue. Maybe it’s the way it is so structured. Whatever it is, French has followed me and I have frolicked with it for many years. Sometimes it’s a love affair made in heaven, sometimes it’s undefined, rocky, or bordering on dislike. And sometimes, like friends who get busy with life, there is a great silence, each one off to do their thing. Until one day it comes knocking at my door or I go visiting, and there we are, best friends as if nothing happened.

But those silences have been taking a toll. And I now have to work harder to wake up my French. A few days ago I sat in a tro-tro (a rickety moving metal box, used to ferry people in optimal sweaty, sometimes smelly conditions in a country called Ghana: Grace’s urban dictionary) agonizing over what the verb for “to see” was in French. I went through “want”, “give”, “take”, “have”, “know” and even “sit” but I still couldn’t remember. I could remember the word for “eyes”, but still there was no trigger.

There was a time that would have been impossible, that was when things were really intense with French. I was having the time of my life at Alliance Française, and in the process, forming alliances that went beyond the classroom to field trips across the border and experiencing the intoxicating attention of francophone style amour. It was heady, aggressive, fun and, oh la la, so incroyable! Excuse my French. If they say learning a language cannot be divorced from its culture, then I suppose I can say that I was a good French student.

This French passion went beyond West Africa, crossing into Europe and ending up in America. There were tears and stormy words, because of course, passion is one thing that defines French. And then suddenly, I decided I needed a bit of calm in my life. So with one last dramatic flair, I slammed the door in its face. And once more, I was just a girl from somewhere in Ghana.

But French has found me. Or rather, we’ve found each other again. Apart from working for people who are ultimately French, I work in a wonderful environment where to say “Bonjour” and speak a string of French words is perfectly normal. I hear it reaching out once more, coaxing me to take its hand, not promising the world, but promising me a good time. And why not? Why ever not? I love French.

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