Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Don't make eye contact with him, Mum

She's right. If I look up and happen to lock pupils for a millisecond I'll end up getting a French accordian serenade all for me which isn't something that's going to make the trip into the centre of town on the jam-packed number 16 tram any more pleasant.

Buskers are not only on the streets here - playing publicly-available upright pianos chained to fountains for the summer music celebrations or dragging double bases and violins to ATM entry points - but also on public transport. I think we've heard exactly three French-classic songs (whose titles escape me) over and over and over again.

The offender then walks up and down the aisle with his cap. "Bonjour Madame, sil vous plait Madame.... Bonjour Monsieur, sil vous plait...." Only once have I seen one woman hand over a single franc. Most of us look down, jam in ear pieces if we have them or stare determinedly out of the window. We all want to get somewhere and enforced entertainment isn't part of the ticket cost.

"But hey," I poked Sapphire, "we know know how to say The Finger in French now - la doigt!"

She rolls her eyes but also laughs. These are little victories that we share with each other to make the unfamiliar an amusement instead of intimidating. The sun shines through the glass onto her hair. "So should I give La Doigt to the next guy who plays his accordian?"

Rubbing my chin whilst also keeping an eye on the telly screen that lists each stop, I pretend to consider it. "Well, it could mean that Geneve Hopital finds itself with a patient who is begging for a particularly challenging object to be removed from a part of themselves not often seen in polite company but if you're willing to risk it and have the results posted up on Facebook, then go for it."

Baby steps. Find your joy. Think about the positives. Cliches all but boy, they've worked for me this week. I had to laugh when a neighbour informed me that the above sign - a dog in a circle without a line through it meant that they were NOT welcome.

"Oh, I thought that this was the part where dogs could play."
"Red is no, madame."

Ah. This was good to know before our beloved dog Milly arrives and we lodge ourselves further in the concierge's bad books. Every time I've tried to cram a few more IKEA boxes into the communal (and tiny) recycling bin he's been nearby; pretending to sweep the foyer but really watching me through his one good eye, suspicious of this loud Australian ignoramus who doesn't wear make up or heels and parades her big bags of les ordures far too publicly and far too often.

Sapphire and I have quizzed each other over counting to twenty, then a hundred; followed by key body parts and days of the week and are both eagerly looking forward to our next lesson. It serves more than one purpose - it's something that we can do together that will benefit us and gives us two entries in the diary every week until school starts. Outings, moments of time and then recuperation at home; a home that gets something extra in it from every visit outside.

Any English we hear out in the street is immediately noticed. Our eyes meet and we smile - someone else is here. The familiar stands out a mile amongst the indecipherable. Sapphire described it well this morning as we exited Coop store with blankets and towels bundled in plastic bags. "It all sounds like noise until you hear something you can understand."

Oh and whatever you do, don't buy the enticingly-titled 'picnic eggs' in dozen packs. They're hard-boiled and you feel like a right gonzo when they bounce off the side of the frypan instead of willingly cracking open for the start of a breakfast omelette.

Wee glimpses for sure, but the scratchings of a new life are emerging.


Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

Ah - French. Mrs PM speaks French almost fluently and I keep promising myself that I too will get lessons to improve my French (I can get by but not brilliantly).

Good luck with the lessons.




Kath Lockett said...

Merci, Monsieur Plasman. Er, that's about it, for now....

Elephant's Child said...

My french is embarassingly bad. Madam Ravel est dans le jardin - spoken in broad Australian. Oh dear. Can sort of read it a bit, but spoken French, non. So pleased to hear that small steps are going in the right direction - and loved the shared joys with Saph. In my case le pied would be permanently in my mouth.

Jilly said...

I just saw a French movie on SBS last night - my goodness!! There was an older couple who were selling their house and a younger couple arrived to have a look - well, let's just say this younger couple (who announced that they lived near Lake Geneva) did more than just look at the house. Saucy, racy - but beautiful language though. (And I didn't watch all of it - just little bits (of course!)).

So happy to hear you are finding the joy - I already have mine planned for the day.

Miss you. xxx J

Anonymous said...

How green is the park! Nice to wrap with a laugh, and I did at the picnic egg bouncing off the frypan. I shall never forget about picnic eggs.

Ollie said...

Ahhh... The sound of Gypsy buskers in the Swiss summer. If it's any consolation, they'll all move south soon like birds in Winter and leave you in peace until the next season.

Just don't decide to visit Greece, Italy, Spain or Portugal in the winter and you'll miss them :)

P.S you've probably found that most beggars are multilingual as well, so throwing them by trying to speak another language usually doesn't work...!

Vanessa said...

These written anecdotes will make you smile in such a short time from now. Oh how I would love to learn French.

River said...

Ha Ha, as soon as I read picnic eggs I knew immediately they were hard boiled. Really laughed at you bouncing one off the side of the frypan.
I like hearing that it's all just noise until you hear something you nunderstand. That's so true, just like when I start a new job and the trainer is feeding me information at a thousand words a minute.
I'm really, really pleased to hear that you and Sapph are out and about and smiling at each other. baby steps indeed, but you won't get past that without them.
Love and hugs from Adelaide.

Hannah said...

Beautifully written, Kath. I'm so happy to hear that glimpses of a shinier future are appearing out of the corner of your eye. The dog sign, though? Hilarious!

Kath Lockett said...

Elephant's Child, you're already ahead of us - we haven't learned the word for 'foot' yet - just the parts of the face. Me and my grande bouche....

Jilly you were the inspiration for finding the joy each day and hey, if a naughty movie is yours, I won't judge..... for me, typing this out at 8am, the joy so far is the coffee LC made me.

Thanks Andrew - everything is very lush and green here and of course they're in what they consider a drought, so sprinklers seem to be on permanently. Sapphire often comments on how 'wasteful' they are with water here: I guess they can afford to be.

You're right Ollie. "NON" is used firmly and often. The beggars are also everywhere - so many for a city that's only around 200,000 people. There's a couple at the end of our street and yesterday I was approached by four. This was not including the four accordian players either!

Vanessa, you can learn French vicariously through this blog, if only to remind yourself that no-one could be as bad as the murky rolling 'rrrs' and pronunciation as I am.

River, you're spot on. It's always 'noise' until you 'get' it, isn't it?

I felt soooo dumb, Hannah because there are also a heap of dog signs around that have the line crossing through them, which is a much clearer way of saying 'non'.

Baino said...

Aww good to hear you sounding a little more positive. I couldn't get used to the begging on Metro trains in Europe. It's quite heartbreaking to see a man begging for money with a child on his shoulders but they do it. All day every day and on every train. "Picnic eggs" *snigger*

Helen Balcony said...

Do the pianists ever come to blows over the shared piano? "You have been playeeng it for over an hour, *cochon*, *imbecile*, you know I am a much bettair player than you!"

Ann ODyne said...

'picnic eggs' - oh god.

you need to know
"Je desir a vendre" for I want to buy ... "
and then "combien des euros?"
for How Much?
short vocab from memory: bras for arm,
jambes for legs. jambon is ham leg you will see on sandwich lists.
Je suis une etranger
I am a foreigner.
'oh fk off then' is the same anywhere.
much love and encouragement.

Wally The Walrus said...

Amazing though when you look at the written French how much you can pick up - the similarity to English is huge. Spoken though. Mon dieu. Anozzair mattair.

I do remember though that eggs are oeuf, ham is jambom. And thats breakfast sorted.

I also found it much less stressful figuring things out for myself - having a family around brings with it responsibility for others, and that takes the stress level up about 3 notches.

jardin... garden (and all those people called Jardine... the same as the surname Gardner... makes sense)

desir - desire - I'd like / I want

vendre - vender - vendor - seller / selling / buying / whatever its getting close when its written.

I thought the supermarkets were great, wander around, look at stuff, look at the label... ding ding ding goes the brain working through what it might be... then Ah hah!

In the French part of the world you should at least be able to get decent coffee.

drb said...

When I was catching train to work in Melb, I quite enjoyed the Busker singing o the train with his guitar. Usually brought a smile to my face, and gave him a dollar or 2. Not so sure about the accordian, have to there to judge I supposed. Begging is very common on Melb train and tram, usually junkies. Busking is definitely better than begging.

Helen said...

it sounds a little bit more hopeful than last time! I'm glad the new life is starting to make (a little bit) of sense. Although have you found anywhere you CAN walk Milly yet?

nuttynoton said...

Bonjour kath, comment allez vous? vous est bon?, well that is about my limit. I remember being in France and at a supermarket the cashier said something to me that I did not get as it was so fast but said oui , i realised later when my brain translated she said c'est tout - is that everything. One thing is to learn the theory the next is putting it into practice which will be the fun!
Good to hear that there are more steps forward for you all

Red Nomad OZ said...

Haha! Great to know the how-not-to-make-eye-contact skills you learned in OZ at the home of Dinky, the singing/piano-playing dingo are transferrable!

And I always thought I could get by with knowing the French for 1) what's for dessert? and 2) where are the toilets?!

Jackie K said...

Hi Kath,
The only reason I suspected that sign meant no dogs allowed, is because from memory they don't let you do anything much in parks in Geneva! Surprised you were allowed to walk on that grass...
Good luck with the French lessons, it's nice that you and Sapphire are doing them together.

deepkickgirl said...

I'm reading your blog and FB stuff and I'm feeling lots of "stuff" for you and especially Saph.

It's such a difficult time for you guys but you know it can only get better. Not that this idea is of much use when each day is a struggle.

It also makes me think of my own parents leaving the former USSR without a cent in their pocket and bouncing around the world alone. Settling in Australia, again with no money and no language. What an awful and scary experience.

They got through it and I know you guys will too. It will make you stronger and more resilient, you know it will. You are much braver than I will ever be.

Sending love and happy vibes from down under.

Anonymous said...

I told my partner about 'this woman from Melbourne who moved to Geneva'. He had a good laugh about the picnic eggs too.

Louise said...

The picnic eggs would have fooled me too! Who has ever heard of buying boiled eggs??? The red means no explains a lot too. We saw a similar sign in Luxembourg last year, except the dog was pooing inside the red circle! We had no idea how they trained their dogs to such an advanced level. Here, poo here.

It does all sound like noise til your get to understand snippets. If you can manage to make it known that you are Australian, not just foreign, I found that helps. Noone expects Australians to be able to speak any French whatsoever, so bumblings were excused. I even asked waiters to correct my verbs when I couldn't remember- they were nice about it, I was trying...

Nicole said...

Tee hee. I tried to crack a boiled egg into a frying pan (several times) while staying at my mum's house during the move. I felt like a right wally!