There’s something very humbling about having to struggle through the most basic of transactions in a language you’re not comfortable speaking. My written French is rusty, but as of high school, which was actually quite long ago, passable with a good vocabulary. Being encountered with rapid fire, colloquial Quebecois French face to face when you want a coffee is entirely different. Things don’t go the way you’ve rehearsed. In the adrenaline fueled moment, you forget how to ask nicely ‘May I have,’ and dispose of the niceties blurting out ‘Un grand cafe au lait s’il vous plait!’ In Montreal you could get away with English but it strikes me as ignorant and lazy to not even try, particularly for these basic transactions of such limited vocabulary and full of context clues to help you through. It’s too late when I remember I could have said ‘Puis je avoir un cafe au lait s’il vous plait?’ A question comes back at me, and while I don’t understand all the words, I do get ‘sucre?’ and can gratefully respond, ‘Non, merci,’ before paying with fumbling hands. I’m both proud and ashamed at the same time.
I used to suffer from severe anxiety that would have prevented me from even going out to a cafe by myself and ordering a coffee. I’d hype myself up so hard to try and go out, rehearse the language, and end up staying the three day vacation to the city in the hostel bar, drinking Trois Pistoles and crying to the bartender. Get out of your own head, get out there and struggle through- that’s how you learn and every day brings new confidence and lessons.