Yesterday I attended a Bible discussion group. A French Bible discussion group. In French. Is my French to the level of a Biblical discussion? No. Did I let that stop me? No.
Have you ever been in a conversation with other adults and someone’s kid was there to pop in his two cents? Today, I got to be the token 5-year old in the group. You know the one. He opens his mouth and everyone leans in to listen, half-excited and half-terrified. If he says something that even slightly makes sense, smiles and cheers erupt from all around.
As the discussion progressed, I strained every fiber of my developing French brain to understand. At best I caught 25% of what was said. One would think this is a great opportunity to quietly listen and learn. But I am not that one. Maybe it’s my inner need to express myself, maybe it’s my need to practice my French pronunciation, maybe it’s something else entirely, but I rarely miss a chance to talk. As the discussion ensued, I would catch tidbits of a question or issue and put together something to share. When I deemed it appropriate, I jumped in and spoke up. I can promise you that the things I said were solid statements and theologically sound. What I cannot promise is that they had anything to do with what was actually being discussed. It usually took me about 3-4 minutes to work through a question that was posed and figure it out. So I’m pretty sure that when I responded to it, the discourse had long since moved on. But every time, the group dropped to silence when my mouth opened, they sat on the edge of their chairs, and they grinned and nodded when my phrase was completed. It’s good to be loved like a 5-yr old!
Before the conversation took off, I managed to trip my way through some culture too. I’m still not too good with the whole back-and-forth kissing of the cheek thing. I somehow managed to avoid it with the first two ladies in the room, but the third to come in walked straight to my corner. I quickly popped my hand out and offered my name. She took my hand somewhat awkwardly and leaned in for the typical french greeting... the first cheek-brush kiss happened before I realized it. When I hesitated on the second and pulled back a bit (she had glasses on, I didn’t want to knock them off!), she gave me a look of “on what planet were you born and could you have possibly made this intimate gesture between to strangers more difficult?”. Thankfully I had a chance to redeem myself on the exit.
Oh and as I left, I made a simple and dumb blunder by saying that I’m “to the USA” instead of “from the USA.” I then tried to explain that away by saying that my brain is very tired. But what I actually said was “my goat is very tired.” I’m not even sure how I made that mistake.
I wonder what this culture feels about people who make pointless statements in a language they can barely use?