Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Tapping out a tantrum

I've met a few inspirational people in the past couple of weeks and despite their differences in age, humour, interests and circumstance, a theme has emerged: give yourself permission to say 'no'.

So I've decided to say 'no' to formally learning French. There. It's out, finally: like a satisfying session on the toilet, it's a big load off.

Before arriving in French-speaking Switzerland, I bought a couple of DVDs, two textbooks and researched online. There was no way that I was going to be a 'Garcon? Garcon? Geez you can't get good local help here' kind of harridan. Au contraire; I was going to immerse myself, blend in, be at one with the language, culture and people. Learn and absorb, gather and grow; suck it and see.

But plans and assumptions are like market-stall underpants - they disappear up your butt when you least expect it. Once Sapphire started school and our holiday tutor selfishly returned to her law studies in English, my French learning ended.

Then Sapphire got sick and I missed the two-second window to enrol in the UN French courses for 'epouses' for the 'bargain' cost of 800 francs. When the new year arrived my attentions were on snow skiing, holidaying, eating, drinking, socialising and dallying with The Fratman, all thoughts of learning online for an hour every day crumpled up into a smaller ball than the screwed up foil on a family-sized block of Cailler chocolate.

Getting some new freelance writing gigs has also filled up the tiny space left in my brain for active thought or expansion. When I'm out walking Milly and thinking up different ways to describe farts, French people and bread rolls, how can there possibly be enough remaining mental energy to remember the seven different ways to say 'I am, you are, we are, they are', let alone describe what the people depicted in the 'I am, you are, we are, they are' scenarios are actually doing?

Which brings me to yesterday. The plumbing firm finally arrived to check out the pong in Sapphire's bathroom and the leaky kitchen sink. "We 'ave found one who speaks Anglaise," Monsieur Steiner told me over the phone. I thanked him effusively which always tends to help. Exceeding gratefulness makes even the most stern-looking Swiss person thaw themselves out to crank out a vague, smug smile.

I was ready. On Love Chunks' iPad I had written a thoroughly absorbing and accurate account of what we'd done to clean the pipes/combat the bathroom smells and where the leak was occurring in the sink.

"Bonjour Monsieur! Parlez vous Anglais?"

Oh. Bugger.

I showed him the iPad, noting that stale BO, cigarettes and cheese seemed to be at war under his coat. He grunted to indicate that he'd finished reading and I pointed to the kitchen.

This is when I knew that he must be The Fratman's cousin. He rabbited on and on in French, despite me saying, "Je suis desolee, je suis Australien," over again, smiling, hoping he'd see that I wasn't trying to be rude or obstructive. All my previous gestures and charades were studiously being ignored.

In frustration he shook the tap, speaking louder. I decided to speak even louder - in English - back to him. "NO, THERE'S A LEAK UNDER THE SINK........ Oh wait, let me get the iPad and we'll talk that way............"

When I entered the kitchen with LC's black magical tablet in my hands a few moments later, Ponce Pants the Plumber rolled his eyes and sighed, muttering something quite lengthy that I knew was something about wasting his time, me being an ignorant idiot and him with his fish-finger sized-digits meant that there'd be no way he'd be able to type anything other an 'asd' when he only wanted the 's'.

At his rather obvious impertinence, I decided to keep talking in English, knowing that he didn't understand, "Yeah well I'm sorry this is an inconvenience for you, but you read my explanation; I pointed out where the pipe is loose and yes, it's annoying that you have to wipe your hands on your pants before trying to type something for me, but that seems to be life for us both at the moment, doesn't it....."

Tappita tappita tappita I went, my anger increasing my typing speed.

He read it and sighed, placing the iPad on top of the stove hot plates and slowly s-l-o-w-l-y picked out the letters. 'The tap is loose is not your pipe.'

Tappita tappita tappita 'The tap might be loose also but the pipe is leaky too - take a look at how it can pop open - it has done this already and water has leaked all over the floor'

Still he made no move to bend down and peer under the sink. Trying to calm down, I ruffled Milly's ears as she stood by and sniffed at the Ponce Pants' pungent work boots. 'I will order new tap. We call you.'

"But what about the leak?" I said this out loud, before Tappita tappita tappita, this time adding several exclamation marks after the question.

'We call you.' He put the iPad down, indicating that he no longer wanted to use it. "La bains?"

Ah yes, Sapphire's bathroom. Tappita tappita tappita - long story about the terrible odour, the steps we'd taken to use drain cleaner, water flushing, keep things clean.

"Le bidet?"

"Oui. Nous laver le bidet." Tappita tappita tappita - Yes, we flush the bidet regularly because we know that when we don't use it the water can sit there and start to smell very bad.

He shook his head. "Vous devez toujours l'eau de rin├žage dans le bidet."

What? I handed him the iPad. He shook his head.

It was my turn to sigh. "Look buddy, I don't understand what you're saying; I've waited three weeks for an appointment to be made and most mornings Sapphire is afraid to open her mouth to clean her teeth in case the aroma jumps in and makes her vomit, so please use the iPad." I thrust it at him again. I swear he was typing even slower this time, just to make me sweat. 'You need to clean the bidet.'

Tappita tappita tappita - 'But I told you that we DO clean the bidet - regularly! I flush it with water all the time!' My furious fingers were flying and Ponce Pants noted my speed with a tiny skerrick of admiration.

Raising both hands up in the world-recognised, 'Ok, whatever you say, lady' gesture, he set to work in the bathroom. I huffed off into the study and Tappita tappita tappita-ed on some freelance stuff. Sounds of monkey wrenches on tiles, running water and Milly's paws on the floor rang out as she oscillated between her Angry Alpha Female and Ponce Pants.

An hour later he stood at my doorway, grunting. 'Termini.'

I brushed past him and swept into her bathroom. The pong had gone!

"Merci! Tres bien! Merci monsieur!" My smile and gratitude were genuine.

He pointed to the base of the toilet and then to the iPad. Yes, he wanted to use it. 'Toilet base is loose. See if this is OK and if not, I come back.'

I nodded. "OK, thank you."

He nodded in response and typed again. 'And back with new kitchen tap.'


The leaky pipe can wait. Sapphire can use her bathroom again; the basin under the sink pipe manages to catch most of the drips and Ponce Pants smiled at me before he left.


no-one said...

I applaud your patience and restraint. I'm pretty sure part way through that I would have been trying to beat him to death with the leaky pipe out of sheer frustration.
Maybe instead of learning French you could take a course in plumbing. Then use your new-found skills to mercilessly price-gouge other English speakers who are having the same problem.

Kath Lockett said...

I'm sorely tempted, No-one, but I think plumbing would be even harder to learn than French!

diane b said...

You had me giggling again even though I felt your frustration. that is a great idea using the ipad translator I assume. Pity about Ponce Pants reluctance. Hopefully all will be sorted soon. You write a cool story.
I wouldn't bother to earn French either because if you don't pronounce it exactly right they pretend not to understand you anyway.

Kath Lockett said...

EXACTLY, dianeb! One of LC's Canadian colleagues is French-Canadian and feels very insulted when waiters pretend to not understand him because of his accent.

Andrew said...

While I don't really know what a French farce is, the words came to my mind.

Kay said...

Hey Kath, Miss R has chosen to learn French this year, perhaps you can email each other (in french) for practise, oui??? Or maybe Sapph would be a better idea......

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

A work colleague who was living and working in China had a similar but at the same time a very different experience. He got friendly with a young Chinese woman whose English was poor, although they could communicate at a very basic level.
One evening at his apartment, she came to visit and he decided that they could communicate better via an internet translator, opting to spend the evening having a fairly weird conversation via Google Translate (or something like that). Eventually this bizarre three way conversation took a turn for the worst - she typed something in and hit the translate button - and he read "I want to marry you" on the screen.

He made his excuses and for the next three or four weeks, he was relentlessly stalked by her.
Eventually she got the message when he stopped answering her calls.

I am dying to post this on my own blog but I know he reads it - so I can't.

I have a few tales about this guy (he is more than a bit "unlucky") -and one day I may spill them.

So at least your readers can enjoy a similar tale to your plumbing experience.

Sorry about that.

Anyway, I understand how you feel about learning French; you should carry on writing (and making us all laugh :-) )




B Smith said...

Just wondering what Ponce Pants has written on his blog about the loopy Australien woman....

drb said...

How much did the whole thing cost? Maybe it will be cheaper to fly your brother there?

The Elephant's Child said...

Forget either you or your children becoming doctors/lawyers to ensure a comfortable existence, these days becoming a tradesperson seems to be the way to go. They charge more, are ruder and make you waiting longer for an appointment than the other specialists. I was giggling at your difficulties - which is really mean because even with a language in common I don't speak plumber. Or electrician.

drb said...

Oh, line up a few other non-french speaking expats with plumbing problems as well.

Pandora Behr said...

I applaud your patience - and your wit. Had a good giggle over this one. Tradies are hard enought to cope with in your own language. Well done.

River said...

Seven ways to say "I am"?? That's it. I'm never learning French. Not that I wanted to.
I'm so glad Sapphire's bathroom is sweet again. Hopefully when the plumber arrives with a new tap he'll also fix the leaky pipe. Leave the basin there to catch the drips and make sure he sees it.
Is there any way you could tighten the leaky pipe yourself? Or change the "o" ring or the seal?

Hannah said...

A working toilet/bathroom is crucial to sanity, I've found.

Also, I think I'm going to see the bright red words "tappita tappita tappita" in my nightmares for the next little while.

Kath Lockett said...

Two other words came to MY mind, Andrew but yours are pretty appropriate ones too :)

Kay, Sapphire just laughs at my woeful accent and wonders how she could have sprung from the loins of such a slow learner....

Thanks PlasMan - often one of the major things that helps cheer me up is when I think, "Hmm, maybe I could blog about this."

B_Smith, Ponce Pants is probably borrowing the slippers that The Fratman stole from me!

drb, my brother would make a FORTUNE if he worked as a plumber for the English-speaking population in Geneva. An utter fortune!

E-Child, you're spot on - I often think that kids should be encouraged to be tradies - they're skills that most of us lack but all of us need, so we're at their mercy.

Thank you Pandora. I had coffee with Anne, my friend on the first floor who The Fratman uses to send me messages and she was the one who got the English-speaking plumber and I got Ponce Pants!

River, LC has fixed the leaky pipe with the limited gear we have, but we've been told to not meddle in repairs too much or we could be liable for anything that goes wrong. As for French, they have so many ways of saying the SAME thing but in different ways depending on who you're speaking to - it makes my brain fold in on itself....

Hannah, 'tappita tappita tappita' is a major part of my life right now, but thankfully the situations aren't necessarily nightmarish; mostly amusing.

Vanessa said...

Oh I long to learn French but am intimidated. Miss 12 scares me with her ability to race the computer on a French website she uses for school. (Like mathletics but based on French)
Plumbing issue here today too. Neighbour's toilet blocked and pipe is on our property! Luckily no paving was lifted.

Wally The Walrus said...

Actually, I figured out that the jobs done by most tradies can be done by most moderately intelligent people. Slower. And you frequently need to have a really big think. But you can do it.

Right now I'm doing a spot of bathroom repair and tiling. Slowly. Getting in a changing the toilet cistern is a job coming up and that does not worry me in the least. In the past I've learned to lay bricks, slate tiles (very slow but tilers hate them), done paving. I also do a bit of woodwork / carpentry, and will leap into minor electrical as well.

When you don't know what to do, having a good look and a big think works wonders. These days the internet is good too for finding tricks of the trade (like how to remove a single damaged tile... I've managed 4 out so far, a few more to go.) If in doubt and you know a tradie, ask them the trick for what you want to do. Frequently they will tell you.

Where I draw the line is high power electrical, and plumbing that involves brazing. I don't have the equipment for it.

Jayne said...

I know all the French I want from 2 yrs at high school and watching Poirot.
You were good not to batter the damn iPad over his arrogant head!

JahTeh said...

Kath, Chocolate is the only international language anyone needs.

Anji said...

Top marks for getting through that. We had the plumber that had lectured the previous tenants on how to use the water heater and radiators. Apparently you cant expect to turn them on and off and adjust the temperature (he rolled his eyes a lot). I kept explaining that we weren't here last winter. Now we have a new agent and a new plumber. i wonder which of us will get fixed first.

I'm keeping a log book of problems (in English)so that when they come I can reherse and look up what I need to say

nuttynoton said...

tradesmen eh, so unreliable and unavailable, so why are so many out of work? I am puzzled. I try to do what wally does and do the minor jobs if possible. great post I could sense the frustration in it!

ropcorn said...

I wonder if Swedish would be easier or more difficult for you to learn/understand than French? :p I love the photos in this post, always fun to see Milly out and about. :-) Thank you for sharing Kath.

Kath Lockett said...

Vanessa, Sapphire is like miss i too - learning French at an amazing speed and has the local inflection as well.

Wally, LC was like that in Australia as well but because we're paying a cripplingly high rent here, I get the agent to take care of it all.

Jayne, I was tempted but iPads cost too much!

JahTeh, next time maybe I should try offering him some chocolate?

That's a good idea, Anji. I now write out my issue in English and put the French (via google translate) underneath. I'm hoping next time he'll read this and believe me without all the extra tappita tappita tapping!

nutty, as I said to Wally, we pay rent, so THEY can fix things for us. The place is forty years old, so its inevitable that things are starting to break down.

Not sure how easy Swedish would be to learn, Ropcorn but I can recite my share of IKEA furniture ;)

Wally The Walrus said...

Ah hah! Ze place iz 40 years old, no. Ziz iz ze where your troubles comez from no?

Iz fallink down around you, zo iz only fair zat ze owner pays to make ze fixes.

In ziz caze, you must be tough and call zem offer and offer again until iz fix.

Kath Lockett said...

I vill, Vally but they won't understand ze German accent, just ze French.

...then again, if I get Ponce Pants on a repeat visit, I'll be less concerned about my accent and general demeanour and more inclined to throw a real tantrum instead of a keyboard-based one!