The French have a very unique approach to the au pair experience. Very rightfully, they are proud of their culture, language and traditions. The use of an au pair allows families to welcome a foreigner into their home and teach them the ways of France through the lived experience. And foreigner, I am.
When I arrived, I knew how to say my name, where I am from, and how to count to 21. Woo. Suffice to say, that did not get me far. Cue crash course in French. Thankfully, my family is incredible. Edward (Irish), Marie-Charlotte (French), Margeurite (12yrs) and Josephine (11yrs) all speak English very well, and have been incredibly patient with me. The girls are familiar with au pairs, having had many before, and giggle as they teach me their words and phrases.
The complete language barrier is frustrating and can leave me feeling awfully inadequate. You see, I just want to ask them how their day was. Or talk to them about school and friends and share stories. But I want to do it in french so that they can see that I truly appreciate their culture and language. I just want to be fluent now. But that will take lots of time. And time demands patience. And apparently, my generation doesn’t do patience very well.
Classes make it easier. As a condition of my au pair visa, I must attend language classes at a university for three hours, four times per week. The beginners group consists of a 17 young adults: a group of Brazilian guys (hilarious and outgoing), a group of Korean girls (quiet, cute and lovely), an Italian (Jean-Paolo), 2 Syrians, a Turk, and me. The only language we have in common is French… and none of us speak French. Be assured, it makes for a very entertaining morning.
I will get there. One day, words will become phrases, phrases will become sentences and sentences will become a conversation. But until then I have a lot of reading, listening, watching, writing and talking to do.