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Secret Life of a Nerd Girl: Six Months and Pronouncing

Onward ho!

Onward ho!


a blogumn by Gudrun Cram-Drach

When I spent a summer in Ghana, another young traveler told me it took 6 weeks to physically adapt to a place. I decided to run with that idea, and stopped purifying my drinking water, a choice I regretted for 3 months. See if you can identify the pun in there. Throw an ‘s’ on the word ‘run’ and add on ‘for three months’ and there you are. Yes, I know I was an idiot.

Now I’ve been in France for six months, and a few weeks ago I married my Frenchman, M. I feel like, with all the hullaballoo of adjusting to a new culture, and of planning a marriage in a foreign country, six months must be some kind of adaptation milestone, right?

According to my book “Culture Shock, A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette,” things should be balancing out pretty soon. After the three month dip into total sh*ttiness (I was a wreck in August, my language skills got worse, I was discouraged, whiny, depressed, tired and prone to sickness, just like the book said), small victories give hope, and eventually by month six, things start to feel normal.

Or maybe I’m just embracing abnormality.

The other day M and I were sitting in our local pizzeria, eating too-lemony turkey piccata. There were only a few other tables occupied, and a couple at another table was staring.

“They’re staring,” I said.

“Of course they are, you’re American,” M said.

Now M is the one with spiky hair and a face full of piercings, but he’s probably right. You don’t hear many American accents in Noisy le Grand. African, Italian, Portuguese, but not American. And if I heard a French accent in a half empty restaurant in Portland, Maine, I would probably want to know the source of it too.

A few minutes later, another couple walks into the pizzeria. The manager, a tiny man with an Italian accent thick enough for me to hear greets them loudly.

“Hello!” he says, in English.

“Hello, Johnny!” the guy coming in says. He says it in a French accent, but not right. It’s that thing I am starting to do too, pronunciation of English with a French accent, so the French can better understand the words.

The guy talks a lot. He’s tall and has one of those ear warmer headband things on. By his somewhat cocky banter, I suspect he’s a New Yorker, and can’t fathom what a New Yorker guy like that is doing living in Noisy le Grand. (Way to stereotype, eh?) But it’s clear he’s a regular. His American accent is strong, but he’s speaking like a French person, idiomatically and conversationally.

I talk to M about it later.

“He must have lived here for at least 5 years, to be able to talk like that.”

M says probably ten, and I agree. But I am, as I am every time I hear an American speaking French, horrified by the accent.

“Do I sound like that?” I ask, wondering if an American accent sounds as charming in France as a French one does in America. Doubting it.

“You’ll always have an accent,” M says. “But your R’s are better than his.”

(Huge compliment, by the way.)

So now when I think about “six months,” I think of myself as a baby. In the way little kids are interested in seeing other little kids, I am drawn to other Americans, so curious about their lives and how they ended up here. Why they gave up on mastering the accent (it seems so many do) and whether I’ll do that too.