11 April 2010

Vous Avez un Petit Accent

Yesterday evening I went to spend some time with a friend at her apartment.  As I walked, in the elevator was arriving at the ground floor.  A resident of the building was already there waiting.  He opened the door for me and asked Vous avez besoin de quel étage?  ("Which floor?") Douze, I responded ("Twelve").  Pardonne? he asked.  I repeated myself Douze as I pushed the button for the 12th floor to offer a visual aid.  Et vous? I asked him.  He told Le quatrième (the fourth).  Since he used the ordinal form of the number I got nervous . . . Oui, c'est correct?  I asked him, as I was about to push the 4.  I'm sure at this point my new stranger-in-the-elevator thought I must have a second grade education.

He turned and asked Vous venez d'où?  Because in my head I was still practicing my ordinal numbers (I HATE NUMBERS!!) I completely missed that he was speaking to me . . . the only other person in the elevator.  OH!  Pardonne?  With a bit of surprise that he, as a French stranger was striking up a conversation, I asked him to repeat himself.  Which he did, but he interpreted my response in such a way that he felt the need to clarify why he was asking such a question to a stranger in the elevator: Vous avez un petit accent (You have a slight accent).  PETIT?!?!  I answered with a chuckle, surely my accent is anything but slight!!  He chuckled too.
After I answered his initial question, telling him I was from the States, he asked which one . . . I told him Philadelphia, he knew where that was.  I told him I was living in France in order to learn French.  He asked how long I'd been here, I told him since September.  We arrived at his floor and he got out of the lift, wishing me a bonne soirée (all en français, of course . . . just realizing that this post will be longer to read than my actual ride in the elevator).

When I was alone in the lift I began to think about why that conversation was so painful for me . . . it was a very easy topic, I was able to answer all of his questions rapidly without really thinking about it . . . but he was a stranger . . . a French stranger . . . speaking very quickly . . . using numbers and stuff . . . in an elevator . . . in real life!  I can speak in French all day long with my schoolmates, in class, with my profs.  But there's just something about having to say more than "I'd like a coffee please" or "Where is the post office" or "One book of tickets for the bus" to a stranger.  It can be quite intimidating!

But all of that to say, it's official . . . I have an accent.  My stranger-in-the-elevator said it was petit, but I think he was just trying to be polite.

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