Three Easy Steps to F**king Up Your Retour

Wake-up calls are always welcome when you’re overwhelmed by the importance of your own profession. The fact is, though, sometimes we interpreters are, through no fault of our own, slightly less necessary than the chairs our clients sit their asses on in the meeting room. Have you ever noticed how people with bad English always have a way of understanding each other no matter where they’re from? At best, in those cases, we’re just walking dictionaries.

That, however, doesn’t bother me anymore. One of the stupidest inventions of the modern world is working when you don’t need to be. I would honestly prefer to have less contracts than to work for an empty chair or to give my colleagues gossip material. I would rather my potential client take his/her secretary along for a business meeting than torture an interpreter s/he doesn’t really need. The secretary knows the subject matter, is used to their boss’s accent or way of speaking and is a more useful partner in a negotiation than an interpreter could be.

Even so, as you might have guessed, unnecessary recruitment is less frustrating than misrecruitment. In these cases, you’re not only wasting your time and the client’s money, you’re also butchering your skills. It’s those gigs when your clients need you, but you can’t help them. Let’s calls these wtf gigs [insert hand gesture here].

Step one: It frequently happens that my foreign clients don’t speak English very well. That is an understatement; more often than not there is no predicate in the sentence (“Can yu plis mor saund?”); if there is a verb, it’s invariably in the infinitive (no conjugation, no tense), their nouns don’t have plurals, their subjects are a series of “this” and “than”, very limited vocabulary, all coupled with ample gesturing, and self-assured mouth and guttural noises. If ever they actually realize they don’t know the word they’re looking for, they replace it with a hearty “well, you know, eh!” (No, I really, really don’t!), and then look at me with trusting eyes while everyone waits for a rendition, and I, in turn, stare back in despair.

After a little while, however, provided you’ve done your homework before the gig, things usually fall into place. You get used to the clients, you figure out what they’re looking for, maybe you’re lucky enough to work with a more experienced colleague, so you pull through somehow. Plus, there’s invariably someone on the Romanian side whose English is equally bad, so this person manage to communicate with my client better than my fancy ass ever could. It’s quite magical if you pay attention, really. It’s like they read each others’ minds, their worlds come together, they even finish each others’ sentences. One of the most persistent mysteries in Linguistics and Cultural Anthropology!

Step two: Great! So you managed to somehow understand the client. Now you have to use your hard-earned retour to give them what they want… aaaaaaaand it’s their turn to stare at you blankly, uselessly repeat questions that were answered a few seconds before and interpreted into some pretty decent English and say that they don’t understand when the answer comes again, this time in a simplified form (not to mention make the interpreter look like an idiot in the process).

The word “installment” seems to be particularly problematic. They prefer “trench” instead and get confused if they don’t hear it from me. Sometimes they make no difference between “purchase” and “procurement“, so I have to use them together for them to know which one it is I mean. But ok, I’m there to help people communicate, not parade my English. Any effort to give grammar and vocabulary lessons is going to be counterproductive (not to mention dickish), so I dumb it down (you don’t practise that when you prepare for your interpreting exams, do ya?), and I use my hands; it seems to help. What’s that, Thierry? You don’t know what a welding machine is? It is a machine that brings metal pieces TO-GE-THEEEER [insert ample hand gesture here]. The driver says we have to go around the potholes, Francesca, AH-ROUND the holes in the ROAD [insert ample hand gesture here]. Also, I have to speak slowly. No getting cocky with actual honest-to-God English idioms either. Mixing in words from a couple more languages doesn’t hurt. Plus, I have to try not to sound as condescending as I do now.

Step three: repeat!

This is how it happens, folks. Good as my English may be, I will never speak it as a native does (hence the difference between A language and B language), nor will I use it as comfortably and as flexibly as I use Romanian. Prolonged exposure to a badly spoken language will affect any interpreter’s mother tongue or A language, let alone their retour. Not irreversibly, but it will leave him or her with some pretty bad habits for the future.

However, this goes much further. In September of 2013, the General Secretariat of the European Court of Auditors published a report called “Misused English Words and Expressions in EU Publications” comprising an index of a few dozen red-tape English delights that are constantly used and abused by the EU in its documents and meetings. A very smart and funny colleague (who chooses to remain anonymous much to everyone’s chagrin, but I understand why) even proposed the creation of a Globish booth, perhaps to match the reality linguists must deal with every day.

The power of the English language has become its curse and ours. Its expansion all over the world has lead to countless local, regional and continental forms, even pidgins and creoles, which are in fact legitimate, and sometimes official, forms of communication, as much as that may frustrate purists. Many people predict that in about a millennium, if not less, English will suffer the same fate as Latin.

That’s not what I’m complaining about, though. What was I saying? Oh, yes, misrecruitment! Why, you may ask, are we forced to work in English for people who don’t know English? Well you know and I know that they don’t know, but they don’t know that they don’t know, ya know? And who are they going to admit that they don’t know to? That would be embarrassing. So they ask for interpreters with Romanian and English. But these people, you may also ask, must have other languages they speak better, right? There must be interpreters available out there somewhere with a more suitable language combination! Yes, there are, very good ones, and they are now looking for work, because someone is trying to save money by putting it in the wrong place. Economie de bouts de chandelle…

Insert ample hand gesture here. Come on, use both those fingers!

I Once Had a “Real Job”

Am avut mai multe, de fapt… Dar să începem cu primul.

Îmi făceam curățenie prin calculator și am dat peste două minunății de acum câțiva ani (nu vreau să mă gândesc câți). Este vorba despre un raport de practică pe marginea experienței mele de o vară la muncă în State (trei luni de chinuri infernale!!!) și un studiu de caz pe aceeași temă, ambele înaintate profilor de la facultă responsabili cu dosarele de practică ale studenților. Din scrierile mele, reies următoarele două chestii:

1. Prea mă trăgeam de brăcinari cu profii și mare noroc am avut că mi-au acceptat dosarul, că eu m-aș fi tras puțin de urechi în locul lor (dar ce bine e când știu profii că ești copil cuminte, deci te lasă să-ți mai permiți una-alta cu ei) și

2. Doamne ferește, în ce hal puteam să scriu în limba română! Asta nu face decât să întărească teoria mea, conform căreia, oricât ai fi de lingvist, atunci când locuiești în altă țară, limba ta maternă se contaminează cu străinisme (dar asta nu se spune la coledzi). Am mai corectat unele chestii din reflex și de rușine, dar multe le-am lăsat așa cum le-a scris studenta pârlită care-n viața ei nu văzuse un hotel pe dinăuntru înainte să trebuiască să lucreze într-unul.

Lectură plăcută!

Cuvântul “resort” s-ar traduce în limba română ca “staţiune”, dar recent, a dobândit un nou sens, anume cel de hotel ultraluxos care dispune de mai multe spaţii comerciale în acelaşi perimetru. Pentru acestea este cerută un fel de taxă hotelieră (resort fee) care acoperă facilităţi precum telefoanele locale, spaţiul de parcare (pentru valet parking există taxă separată, 18$), cafea în fiecare dimineaţă, livrarea ziarului în fiecare zi (New York Times, orice altceva se taxează), accesul la sala de fitness şi la terenurile de tenis, scaunele şi prosoapele la piscină şi la plajă, carturile care merg de la hotel la plajă, service sau reparaţii la cerere 24 de ore pe zi. Şi, da! Dacă acestea nu erau folosite, taxa tot trebuia plătită! Trebuie menţionat că în hotel se găseau 2 restaurante, 2 baruri, o cafenea, un magazin de suveniruri, o sală de fitness şi un centru de înfrumuseţare (spa).

Trebuie să se ştie (la fel cum ar fi trebuit să ştiu şi eu înainte să plec în State) că Florida este în extra-sezon vara. În consecinţă, tarifele sunt de 7-8 ori mai mici decât în sezon (pentru comparaţie: cel mai mic preţ în timpul verii este de 149$ pe noapte, pe când, de Crăciun, tariful este de 809$ pe noapte). Tot la fel, în fiecare joi şi sâmbătă urcă vreo 20$ pentru că sunt serile cele mai aglomerate din timpul săptămânii. Pe lângă reducerea considerabilă de preţ, clienţii mai puteau beneficia de pachete speciale (adică de alte reduceri, credite sau oferte cu micul dejun inclus).

Responsabilităţi principale ale agentului de recepţie

Check-in şi check-out

Într-o epocă a vitezei, am fi tentaţi să credem că, într-un hotel, clienţii au pretenţia să fie expediaţi cât mai repede de la Recepţie spre camerele lor sau spre parcare (după caz). Este valabil pentru unii, dar cei mai mulţi preferă să fie ţinuţi de poveşti în timp ce le este explicată procedura de autorizare a câtorva sute de dolari de pe cartea de credit sau în timp ce plătesc 2000$ pentru ceea ce, în esenţă, constă în băuturi alcoolice.

La cazare, prima etapă este confirmarea informaţiilor primite de la departamentul de Rezervări, anume: data plecării, tariful pe noapte, tipul de cameră, tipul de pat preferat, pachetul sau oferta specială (dacă este cazul), numărul de persoane din cameră. Unii clienţi aveau şi alte preferinţe, de exemplu: camere interconectate sau la acelaşi etaj cu prietenii lor, erau cerute paturi în plus în cameră, frigider, cuptor cu microunde, leagăn pentru bebeluş, masă de poker, etc. Înainte ca oaspetele să ajungă, cu cel mult două săptămâni înainte, hotelul obişnuieşte să ia un avans pentru o noapte sau două, în caz de anulare. Clientul trebuie informat de acest lucru, apoi i se cere permisiunea pentru autorizarea unei sume de bani care să acopere tarifele rămase şi în jur de 150$ pe zi estimaţi pentru cheltuieli personale, trebuie explicată diferenţa dintre autorizare şi taxare. Taxarea se face la check-out, numai pentru ceea ce a folosit clientul, iar ce rămâne din suma autorizată este returnat în contul clientului. Este o procedură destul de simplă, iar dacă era vorba despre o carte de credit, suma autorizată putea fi încă folosită de client. În cazul cardurilor de debit, suma era reţinută din cont de către bancă o perioadă de timp în plus după check-out. Explicarea procedurilor financiare constituia a doua etapă. La final clientul este întrebat câte chei doreşte, sunt făcute cheile şi oaspetele primeşte o hartă a hotelului, îi sunt recomandate spaţiile comerciale deţinute de către hotel şi i se dau indicaţii cum să ajungă în cameră (“The elevators are right behind the wooden wall”). Desigur, trebuie întrebat dacă are nevoie de ajutor la bagaje. În tot acest timp, recepţionerul trebuie să evite să spună cu voce tare tarifele, numărul camerei, iar durata ideală a unui check-in este de 5 minute. Întârzierile pot fi cauzate de o carte de credit respinsă, de telefoanele care se încăpăţânau să sune numai când era coadă la Recepţie sau de un client dificil.

La check-out clientul trebuie întrebat dacă are vreo întrebare legată de factură. I se explică tot ce vrea să ştie, de cele mai multe ori trebuie repetate facilităţile incluse în taxa de staţiune şi că da, este o taxă obligatorie. Da, şi locuitorii statului Florida trebuie să plătească taxă pentru turişti. Da, există taxă pentru serviciul de parcare, era înscrisă pe biletul pe care   l-aţi primit atunci când v-a fost parcată maşina. Da, tariful pentru cameră este mai mare sâmbăta, vă amintiţi că aţi fost de acord cu el la check-in (pentru împrospătarea memoriei, se poate recurge la fişa de cazare, care funcţionează ca un fel de contract SEMNAT între client şi hotel). Dacă vreuna din cheltuieli este disputată, receţionerul este liber să o elimine de pe factură. Se poate întampla ca clientul să aibă dreptate, mai ales când este vorba despre produsele sau serviciile oferite în cameră (prin camerele de hotel treceau mai multe persoane: camersitele, inspectorii, electricienii, inginerii, deci nu era exclus ca mini-barul, televizorul sau telefonul să fie folosite şi de altcineva). Existau de asmenea întrebări legate de folosirea Internet-ului (10.95$/zi), de servicul de parcare sau de închirierea umbrelelor la plajă (18$). În ceea ce priveşte facilităţile din cameră, nu aveam cum să verificăm veridicitatea celor spuse de clienţi, deci nu aveam de ales, trebuia să-i credem pe cuvânt. Dacă era vorba despre cheltuielile de la restaurant, baruri, spa sau de la magazinul de suveniruri, nu aveam dreptul să le luăm de pe factură, deci erau tranferate la departamentul de Audit unde se verifica corectitudinea preţului şi a postării (se putea întâmpla foarte bine ca un angajat să posteze preţul greşit sau la altă cameră).

Apoi clientul trebuia întrebat dacă doreşte să plătească cu aceeaşi carte de credit pe care a prezentat-o la check-in. De cele mai multe ori, aşa era, dar o mare parte alegeau să plătească şi cu cardul de debit, cu cash, cu cecuri sau cu altă carte de credit. Cei care veneau în călătorie de afaceri voiau să plătească pentru cheltuielile personale cu alt card, compania urmând să plătească strict pentru şederea la hotel. În cazul în care mai multe persoane împărţeau aceeaşi cameră, acestea vroiau fie să participle în mod egal la cheltuieli, fie prietenul cel mai bun se oferea să plătească pentru cina de aseară, fie se întreceau cine să plătească totul (de obicei plătea sărbătorita, mama sau socrul şi ginerele).

Una dintre cele mai dificile proceduri era scoaterea taxelor de pe factură. În Statele Unite, anumite categorii profesionale sunt scutite de taxe: medici, asistenţi medicali, profesori sau agenţi de securitate publică. Singurul fel în care sistemul îi accepta ca scutiţi de taxe era dacă plăteau cu cartea de credit a instituţiei pentru care lucrau sau cu un cec din partea acesteia. În acelaşi timp, li se cerea să prezinte la check-in un formular care să specifice că sunt scutiţi de taxe. Dar de ce să ne uşurăm viaţa? Cum în noaptea înaintea plecării primeau factura, toţi îşi aminteau în ultima zi că sunt scutiţi de taxe. Deci, State Sales Tax şi Tourist Tax sunt separate de cheltuielile “legitime” pe două facturi diferite, apoi erau scoase de pe factură fără minus, spre deosebire de celelalte “scutiri”. Trebuie menţionat că pentru orice era scos de pe factură, trebuiau completate acte care la sfârşitul turei erau puse în cutia poştală a departamentului de Audit.

Agenţii de turism (Wholesalers)

Agenţiile de turism rezervă camere pentru clienţii lor contra unui comision. Tariful era negociat, iar clientul plătea pentru întreaga şedere prin agenţie. În contractul cu agentul intermediar era specificat că hotelul nu are voie să dezvăluie clientului tariful negociat deoarece acesta plătea mai mult agenţiei decât primea hotelul. Explicaţia probabil era comisionul perceput de agent, dar modul lor de operare trebuia menţinut confidenţial, de teamă că ceilalţi clienţi (fie că ar fi rezervat cu o altă agenţie sau direct prin departamentul nostru de rezervări) s-ar fi simţit neîndreptăţiţi.

Deci pentru clienţii care rezervau indirect, trebuia să ne prefacem mereu că nu suntem informaţi de suma pe care ei au plătit-o agenţiei. Pentru aceasta există o factură separată care trebuia predată în dimineaţa plecării clientului la Departamentul de Contabilitate şi trebuia să avem întotdeauna grijă ca oaspetele să nu plătească a doua oară camera.

La sfârşitul fiecărei ture, recepţionerul trebuie să predea un raport cu toate tranzacţiile efectuate în ziua respectivă, precum şi actele justificative pentru tranzacţiile negative. Trebuie predaţi toţi banii în numerar care au fost primiţi de la clienţi, toate cecurile personale sau emise de agenţi economici şi toate voucher-ele primite de la oaspeţii care şi-au plătit camera printr-o agenţie.

Atât! Data viitoare, studiul de caz cu privire la munca de recepționer. Weekend fain!

Je ne suis aucune Madame

This post is dedicated to Alina.

Once upon a time, The Poetess and I were flying together on a plane of the defunct Malev Airlines, and, since talking to people when I fly keeps me from barfing and since I was in a shitty mood (I think), I decided to pester her about something completely innocuous like the shaking off of dead skin flakes. During this time, of course, I was gracefully picking my teeth for something stuck in there at breakfast (speedy departure; don’t judge!). One of the conclusions of that conversation was that neither of us is a true lady. We came up with examples and decided we do not fit the criteria.

Last week, for the first time in my life, someone referred to me as Mrs. [insert last name here] and it startled me; and, naturally, with me being the lady that I am (after a little wine), the most mature thing I could do at that time was to send a collective message to colleagues and students, to make it clear that Mrs. [last name] is my mother. Oh, la classe!

No, it wasn’t the first time in my life actually, but it was the first time someone referred to me that way in Romanian, which made it even scarier. Not even telemarketers have done that, because they are stupidly instructed to call people Miss/Mrs./Mr. + first name because some idiot decided it doesn’t sound as childish as it actually does and that it creates a connection  (it doesn’t). In the report my boss drafted after that awful meeting I told you about here, I am referred to as Ms. [last name] which was also not as scary. I like this title, it’s very convenient, and I use it very often, too. Unfortunately, Romanian does not have an equivalent for this handy feminist concoction, so we are stuck with resorting to Mrs. (if we are polite) or with the ever-ridiculous question “So are you a Mrs. or a Miss?” (if we are sleazy jerks).

Why did I bring all of this up? Well because one of the things I have been trying hard to get used to since I started working in Brussels (and occasionally Strasbourg), is being called Madame about twenty times a day. “Bonjour, Madame”, “Oui, Madame”, “Du thé ou du café, Madame?”, “Merci, Madame”, “Bonne journée, Madame!”, ya know, the usual. I just can’t…

I wish I had a scientific explanation for my aversion towards this word, but as you may have noticed I don’t have scientific explanations for anything much. The result of my training, I think; most interpreters know a little bit about everything, but few have in-depth knowledge about a particular subject. Anyway, the first, most obvious reason that I could think of was the cultural difference. In Romania (at least in Transylvania), it is rare that people address each other just by saying Mr/Mrs/Sir/Madam without anything before or after, anything like a title, a last name, that person’s occupation or even an adjective or a pronoun to show affection or consideration. It just sounds BAD! Don’t get me wrong, I have heard it used, but never by well-educated people, and whenever I hear some chav saying “Doamnă” (Mrs/Missus/Madam/lady) without attaching the vocative to anything, I just shudder. It’s like using “Mister” or “Missus” the way children sometimes do in English.

Now “Domnișoară” (Miss) is very often used without any concern for the fact that it is rude, condescending and reeks of unwanted familiarity, but that’s the kind of society I live in. I have never heard anyone complain about this so far, so is it all in my head? Well, the Romanian code of good manners doesn’t say much on the subject. The polite forms of address almost always include a name or a profession after the title, but apparently it is also considered acceptable to address someone with a simple “Domnule/Doamnă” followed by nothing, in the case of strangers.

What do I do? Nothing. I just don’t use any titles at all when talking to someone I don’t know, ever, in any language. I actively encourage my students to not address me using the politeness pronoun and I ask people to call me by my first name. Can this all be explained through a mere cultural difference? Probably not. It is also true that us Transylvanians are less formal than the rest of Romania, at least from what I’ve seen, but surely interpreters should find it easy to move past cultural differences, no? I mean, I haven’t heard of my Spanish colleagues having any issues with being called “Monsieur” or “Madame” in Belgium or France, even though Spain is the least formal country I’ve ever been to.

The truth is I am afraid of formality. Though I’m fairly reserved in my relationships with people, I don’t think I’ve ever gone past college in this respect. For one thing, I went from struggling student to well-off globetrotter in a pretty short span of time, and, for the next, I’m afraid of getting old. When did I have to start dealing with grown-up stuff anyway? Who are all these people in airports, and restaurants, and conference venues, talking to me like I’m an adult? I guess, then, that it is also a form of regression that I may sink into, as a way of seeking shelter from the responsibilities of my new life, as well as a way to cope with the gap between a culture that respects neither women nor children and an ultra-formal, yet egalitarian one that I haven’t quite managed to understand yet.

Yeah, that, and the fact that I am no Madam, I am not a lady. Ladies do not yell or curse or gossip or say inappropriate things; they don’t get angry and start bashing people, even if those people are chavs or sleazy jerks or idiot bosses. Ladies get what they want by using tact and charm, not by going in head-first with the “my way or the highway” attitude. Ladies let shit slide sometimes, because they know it’s not worth the hassle. Ladies are decent even to people who don’t deserve it. I can only aspire to that.

On Being Bi…

Bilingual that is…

Jokes and cheesy metaphors aside, my last post (greatly inspired by this) was mainly an allegory of how I was too lazy and never well-disciplined enough to learn French properly and how the way French is taught over here is really getting in the way of students liking and using the language actively. You cannot learn a language from books, you cannot like a language when it’s being shoved down your throat by frustrated teachers who think English is overrated. You learn a language by using it, by immersing in it. In junior high, the books we used were at least 25 years old. The language in them was outdated, with too big of a focus on grammar and almost none on vocabulary. We were not introduced to literature, pop culture (movies, comics, music, stand-up comedy, you name it), the books had been passed down for I don’t know how many generations, they were old, the pictures were black and white, they told almost nothing of French history, culture, the cities, the personalities, modern life, sports, slang… In highschool, we had French students visiting us and they did not speak the language in our books.

Bottom line, the system and the teachers didn’t know how to sell their stuff. We played hookey so much, our junior high French teacher forgot she had class with us. And be honest: have you ever met kids with self-discipline so motivated that they take up something completely new on their own and just because? Maybe I’m making excuses for my failure to be proactive about learning French. The teachers thought it was so great, though! Of course they did! They had probably learned it during the Communist regime and it was a rare connection to an outside world they didn’t know, it was a sort of an escape for them. For us, it was a burden. They never tried to explain, to make us curious about it, to show us all the interesting things behind the language. Ya know: all that stuff that makes teachers good. To them it was beautiful and rich and nothing more, and because they liked it (did they?), we had to like it too, they took that for granted.

The fact that I managed to squeeze through the system (up to a certain point) with mediocre French says something about the educational process in Romania. So now I only work with one language: English. This can’t last long, as interpreters are always under pressure to add new languages. But for now, my Romanian A <> English B is still a bankable combination.

For now…

But they don’t seem to like us of the puny language combinations in Brussels. I’ve heard people say quite directly “yes, well, we, in the bigger booths, we have to add a language every few years, we have to have at least 4 or 5 languages in our combination, and it bothers us to see that our colleagues from the newer booths (hint much?) have only one or two languages. We do appreciate all their work and their excellent retour, but…”

And this is where I come to the point of this post. You see, we had to make up an ambiguous and funky, yet not offensive, name for these people, because they’re so annoying! Bilinguals, people who grew up speaking languages, who had languages all around them, who grew up in Jo’burg, spent their gap year in Argentina, had a government-funded scholarship in Madrid, an aunt in Estonia and spoke to their German cousins on the phone every week. They went to college in France and had their MA in London, spent three years teaching English in Lisbon, freelanced in Geneva and now spend all their summers between Athens and Palermo, while our parents bankrupted themselves to send us on a three-month Erasmus mobility in Aix-en-Provence. You see my point.

I would hate them if I didn’t envy them and their perfect lives so much. “My dad is Belgian and my mom is Swedish, my dad is Spanish and my mom is French, my dad is English and my mom is Spanish” etc. How is life fair? It’s not, but you don’t see me complaining! (right…) Bottom line, we here in this strange corner of the woods had to work harder to learn things people in the West take for granted. We had to work for our languages, while their parents f***ed and produced a bilingual baby.

I know it’s not as simple as I’m trying to make it look. Most interpreters actually don’t come from bilingual families. But they certainly do have more resources, they travel from a very young age, they have more solid educational systems, good quality public TV and, let’s admit it, more open minds (except when they make comments like the one above). I really don’t know a lot of people in Romania who, out of the blue, go: “I think I’ll take a year off from college and spend it in Peru just to learn Spanish.” (When I was 5, I asked my mom if I could walk to kindergarten alone. She got mad and didn’t speak to me for a whole day). They’re born with wings, we need to grow ours. They run in an open field, we’re on an obstacle course.

Then, to hear something like that coming from a colleague and a professional I admire… I’m not trying to downplay the work of the older booths, on the contrary. The quality of their work, the expanse of their knowledge, their style, their charm, the ease with which they express themselves in all of their languages, these things never cease to amaze me. But let me tell you something: the Romanian booth kicks some pretty serious @$$, in spite of us not being as bi as other people are.

French and I Are Over

But we’re still friends…

You may have figured it out from my blogroll that I am an interpreter. Mainly. I also translate, because when that really nice money from interpreting comes in, I really don’t want to tarnish it with measly expenses, like rent. (Yeah, I’m so rich, I still rent…).

Anyway, you can’t do an MA in interpreting without at least two C languages. Mine were English and French. In the meantime, English became my B and I almost completely discarded French. A good B is worth quite something on the private market and the Romanian booth at the EU institutions still accepts freelancers with just a B (or at least 2 C’s) (for now, and if you pass the test, of course). Shame on me to have done away with such a beautiful language, I know, but it was never true love and French knew it… Marriage of convenience, really…

With English, it was so different. It wasn’t immediate attraction, no love at first sight. Back when I was young, French was the popular kid. English was the weird new kid whose parents nobody knew and everyone was afraid to play with it, even though all the older kids openly admitted that French was kind of pain in the ass and an attention whore. So I was brave enough to approach English myself. We hit it off almost immediately and it has never disappointed me to this day. We have the same mind frame, we’re both pragmatic, to-the-point, no bullshit (as you can see from this blog :P), yet still capable of sensitivity and poetry when the mood strikes us. English is one of my best friends to this day and we have a mutually beneficial relationship, so to speak 🙂

With French, however, different story… I ignored it as much as I could, but it hasn’t gone away to this day. Finally, by 6th grade it insisted on making its insidious presence felt in my life on a weekly basis, at least. Not gonna lie to you, the kid is a looker (or sounder, whatever), we enjoyed some good moments together. But you know the old furniture that takes up a lot of space and doesn’t go with the decor or anything else you may have in your house, but you have to keep it there because it’s a family heirloom and it has sentimental value and shit? Yeah, French is like that.

Oh, France’s exquisite culture, France’s glorious history, the teachers ranted. France has always been Romania’s ally, blah blah blah. See what I mean? Popular kid: my parents have money, my family knows people, I’m connected, look at my flashy clothes and shiny car, pay attention to me, that sort of thing! French has an attitude problem!

It’s not all French’s fault. That’s what happens to people when everyone tells them they’re great: they either turn into dictators who insist on taking over everyone’s lives, or they finally see that they’re not exactly as cool as they thought they were and get all frustrated when someone else steals their thunder.

My relationship with French was all flash and no substance. It insisted on addressing me in the most confusing terms, speaking in metaphors and abusing idioms. It thinks so highly of its grammar and its history, it forgets to live in the present. Soon after we started, I realized French was an old soul who had trouble finding its place in the world. I even felt sorry for it for a while and half-heartedly accepted its pointless conversations, its empty quoting of classics, its refusal to open up and see the world changing around it. So we dragged it on for years and years. In spite of my ongoing relationship with English and my flirting with Italian and German, we ended up at that point in a relationship where there is no going back: you’re stuck with each other. I managed to fake faithfulness quite well until recently, I even fooled myself into believing we had feelings for each other.

But it didn’t work out. French, self-absorbed as it is, realized it was too good for me, and I finally figured out that we didn’t fit together at all, all we ever did was annoy each other. Counseling said it would be better for me to stick with just English for now. They also recommended trying to rekindle my relationship with French in the future, but the thing is: we get along better now that we don’t have to put up with each other anymore.

I recently started a little fling with Spanish (doesn’t everyone?), so let’s wait and see where that will take us.