This week I found myself reading Le Petit Prince, the classic novella by French author Antoine de Saint -Exupéry. Like most people I had read it in English translation over the years, perhaps two or three times, and I believe may have even seen the movie of the same name. I had always written it off as cute, sentimental, but forgettable.
Less than ten pages into the book en français I found myself stifling giggles and laughs to the degree that Susan, beside me, asked “What’s so funny?” I quoted back le Petit Prince’s words, but somehow it didn’t translate. It turns out that Le Petit Prince in French is entirely different from that same story en anglais.
Le mouton in question aujourd’hui is the the slow but measurable shift from “anglophone who remembers a handful of french words” to “anglophone but can generally pick my way through news and magazines in French, and occasionally find myself defaulting to that language for no obvious reason.” I’d hardly call myself bilingual, but I’ve reached the point where French feels natural and comfortable, and where I’m understanding things in French, in the flow of the sentences and paragraphs, and not by translating word by word.
The accent marks used in French no longer frighten me.
As I write this France is perhaps the European country most impacted by COVID-19. There were 25,000 new cases yesterday, and significant new lock-downs have been implemented. At the same time knowledgeable people are talking about COVID lasting well into 2021, and hanging around much longer than that. Even though Canada still seems to believe that the virus is “no big deal” we’re asking ourselves when it will actually be safe or even possible to move to France. I’m inclined to believe that it won’t be that long, but still…
In our favour though is the sense, still, that we know exactly what kind of property we will buy, roughly where, and the life that we will lead. The discussions have moved on to projects and careers that will work in the French context, and of course to the question of whether we’re really cut out to run a gîte operation. (I’m also still struggling to figure out how to get an accent circumflex on my Linux keyboard.)
The other thought this week as we watch the horrible news out of Europe is that France has one thing that Canada lacks almost entirely: government that’s prepared to make hard decisions and take unpopular stands on issues. I know that Emmanuel Macron is disliked by many in France - and elsewhere - but I’d feel much safer with him managing COVID response than I do with Justin Trudeau. And I am impressed by his willingness to look Boris Johnson in the eye and say “Brexit is your problem. Don’t expect us to pay the price of your lunacy.”
While Johnson seems prepared to let the entire UK economy go down the drain on December 31st, Macron is quoted in Le Monde as saying “les pêcheurs « ne sauraient être les sacrifiés du Brexit.»
I’m old enough, and long enough in the tooth, to be cynical about politics, and I have no doubt that French politics will annoy me as much as Canada’s, but right now a leader who actually stands for something (without sacrificing things like social programs) is awfully appealing.
Beyond politics though what I sense is that as I learn to speak and read and write French, and as I move my media habits away from North America and towards France, I find that my worldview and sentiments are shifting as well. Somehow I’ve reached a point where I look at things around me and think “This would be different in France, and likely better.”
Ou peut-etre «Ce serait différent en France, et probablement mieux.»