A long way from then to now, and farther yet to go

Our dishwasher recently decided that, rather than keeping all of its water neatly inside, it would share some of it by way of leaking it onto the kitchen floor. The husband has long hated the very noisy dishwasher, so once it pissed the floor, we decided to shop for a new one.

The last time we went appliance shopping was within days of arriving here in Northern Québec. The house we had just closed on had a dishwasher (the noisy floor-pisser mentioned above), and we had a washer and dryer, but we needed a new mattress, a refrigerator and a stove. We visited three or four different stores. I was completely unable to understand or speak to any of the salespeople at that time.

Today’s shopping experience reminded me of how lost I felt then, of how unintelligible the French language was for me, and of how impossible it would have been for me to purchase an appliance alone. Because today was different. Today, I understood much (most?) of what was said between my husband and the salespeople at the three stores we visited. I was able to ask some of my own questions. I was not at all intimidated by the slowly crumbling language barrier. Had I really needed to, I know I could have shopped for a dishwasher alone. Sure, it would have required a lot more charades, and I would have had to ask the salespeople to speak more slowly and to repeat themselves from time to time. But I could have done it, and without a ton of stress.

Once we chose the dishwasher we wanted, we went to the cashier to pay for it and arrange delivery. As the husband spoke with the clerk, I reminded him that we needed to ensure delivery after I get home from class in the afternoons, which meant he needed to provide my number for the delivery people to call before they come to the house. The phone is still not my forte (hmm, now it seems as though “forte” should have an accent aigu!). I can make restaurant reservations without much trouble, and I have managed to order a pizza. However, without the benefit of grand gestures and a friendly expression, I lose a lot of the tools I use in person to hack through the language barrier. Despite this, when the husband provided my number as the contact for delivery, I felt zero stress. Sure, it will be a halting conversation, but I know I’ll have no real trouble confirming my address and that I’m home. Nor am I stressed out about strangers who don’t speak English coming to my home to deliver an appliance and remove the old one. Instead of being something terrifying (like the first time I had to have someone come to the house for repairs back in October of last year), it’s just a chore that any “femme au foyer” might need to address.

I’m capable. Not of everything I want to do. I can’t express myself well at all yet. I’m not nearly conversational in French. But I’m able to do just about anything that I really need to do, between being confident that I’m capable and being armed with ever-less-broken French, I certainly get by.

I’ve come a long way in the last year (well, almost 14 months, but who’s counting?!?). I’m quite comfortable speaking with Francophones in public, even with my husband present now (I used to be far more embarrassed trying to communicate with him there to hear my bad French). I often have some difficulty in communicating, but I am able to overcome most of it. My current teacher says I’m reading at nearly a grade two level. (Suck it, kindergartners and grade one punks!) But there’s farther still to go. Luckily, I’m enjoying the challenge for the most part. I am in a 20-hour/week course now, and I plan to continue with that until they kick me out. (There are rules about military members getting priority, and how many have to register before they can run a class at the next level, etc.) After that, I will pursue more classes through Québec’s Ministère de la Culture et des Communications, which offers French training to immigrants.

I will be bilingual. Not next month, and probably not next year. But I have plenty of time, and I have a will that I’ve set on accomplishing this. My brain feels alive, and it’s doing pretty good work for me.

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