Enquête: Decouverte de Montpellier

There is literally nothing that makes you feel less like an adult than bursting into tears in the middle of a French class. Thanks, hormones!

On Friday, we received an out of class afternoon assignment. Each student in the Group 3 level (which is my class) were assigned a group of lower-level students, given a map, a final destination, and some points we had to visit along the way. We were also given assignments along the way (for example, find out the date a cathedral was built by speaking to the guide, interview people on the street about the three best and three worst things about Montpellier, locate and vist the Tourism Office and request information, and prepare a report for Monday describing our route, etc.) The point of course is to speak French in real-life settings, navigate an unfamiliar city, get a taste of French culture…in fact, an awesome assignment.

I panicked.

My combined fear of maps, of leading people, of having to speak French: I literally felt my eyes fill up with tears.

The teacher kept me late after the morning class. She told me I was one of the strongest speakers in the class, and that my accent is “charming” and that I didn’t need to be ashamed or scared. I almost started crying again.

I went for lunch at the Lebanese stand before the ordeal. I was still in a panic and half of me wondered if I should just slip away and take the bus home. My mind was somewhere else, and I ordered my food and conversed absently with the owner in French, staring out the window.

As I left with my falafel and tabouli tucked away in a paper bag, the owner gave me a big smile and told me to have a great weekend, and I realized that I’d survived the entire lunch ordering experience, the small talk, the conversation about the weather, without even thinking about it.

When I first started taking classes back in September, I entered this same restaurant and barely survived the interaction. I pointed and smiled and accidentally wound up with a mint tea I didn’t want and was too embarrassed to refuse. And now, ordering food felt like…nothing. Effortless.

The lift of confidence sent me back to the school with renewed determination, and in the end? I did it. I led the students to the 9th century medical school, to the ancient medicine gardens, to the Arc de Triumph, to St Pierre’s Cathedral. We made it to the unicorn statue at the Place de la Canourgue and made our way back to the Place de la Comedie. We asked for directions, interviewed strangers (French people are a lot nicer than their reputation suggests, especially when you smile and announce you’re a student and speak French!) and NOTHING TERRIBLE HAPPENED. I mean, the day ended in a Christmas market with roasted chestnuts and vendors selling hot spiced wine and cheese plates and hand-felted hats. It was unexpectedly beautiful….

Stupid to cry in class. I’m so shy and scared of getting it wrong, of not being in control. I’m ashamed of my accent , my uncertain syntax, scared of what people think, tired of feeling lost.

But Friday was huge. It reminded me that it’s ok and necessary to keep outside my comfort zone, to keep pushing, to keep working hard.

And hey, I have a charming accent. 😉

Here are the pictures I took in Montpellier: a little introduction to my adopted home.

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6 thoughts on “Enquête: Decouverte de Montpellier

  1. YES! YES! YES! Great and fantastic!!! You, Laurie Bousquet, did GOOD!
    Very proud of our artist and friend. What you did should keep you going for MONTHS! And, it is great to hear you tell the story. Yes, I can hear you as you write. Love it!!! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Does it console you any to know that today I found myself in the car crying after a really stupid gas mistake, because everything here is different, even the gas we pump ? In one crucial moment at the gas station I forgot to approach the task as a stranger, double checking everything before I made my move. No, feeling at home (after fifteen years here) I just acted like I live here or something and pumped the “excellium” into the new car. But I was at the wrong pump. The “excellium” at the OTHER pump is diesel. This was gas. The car is now paralyzed. 77 euros worth of gas that will have to be drained out of the tank after I pay the garage to come tow the new car down the hill. Being a stranger in a strange land can make you feel like the
    quintessential dumb blonde in any situation, even if your hair is jet black and you are holding a PhD from another country. We have to learn to laugh at it.

  3. This is usually kind of awkward to say, but not today…TOLD YOU SO!
    We knew all along this would occur, the question was not if, but when.
    So very happy for you, and very proud of you too!

    As far as your fear of being a leader, I have to remind you that you’ve done that before. You were the CMOG team leader on our Equinox cruise, and you were great! Your leadership ability was never in question; it was what you were leading the newer students to do, communicating in French. Now you’ve shown everyone (even Laurie) what you are capable of.
    And I would love to be able to hear your charming accent!

    A big step forward for Laurie! YEAH!!!

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