As I’ve described before, I’ll never be considered a local here in La Clusaz. In fact, it takes about three generations for someone to be gain that privilege. Because I’m not local, it’s always nice when familiar faces whose names I don’t know say hello and stop for a chat. Yesterday is a perfect example. I popped out for a quick slide in La Clusaz. When I arrived at the first drag lift, the (normally grumpy) guy checking the electronic tickets said: “You’re late today.” For the past month, I’ve said hello to him in French every time I’ve seen him. Sometimes I’ve had a reply; sometimes I’ve had no acknowledgment at all. Grumpy? Maybe. Or shy? I’ve persisted in saying hello because even if he is grumpy, I refuse to let it rub off on me, and I’ve embraced the way the French say hello to strangers. So, back to the moment. I explained to him that I had finished my work early. He nodded and told me to be careful on the hill. Achievement #1: get grumpy/shy drag lift French man to talk. Achieved. Bonus points for his apparent concern for my well-being.
At the very next lift queue, the ticket-checker also said hello. I said hi back, and to my surprise, he told me that my accent had improved significantly since last year, which led to a quick conversation about how important it is to be able to communicate in French even if you don’t know all the verb tenses or the entire vocabulary. Achievement #2: Have a conversation in French with a stranger and actually understand everything he says, and speak well enough for him to understand everything I say. Achieved.
The reason I was surprised (and still am) when he said that my accent had improved is because the only French words I had uttered were: “Bonjour. Ça va?” These words (“Hello, how are you?”) are not the most difficult to say. In fact, they are some of the first words I ever mastered in French. I’m certain that my accent on those words is exactly the same as the first day I learnt them. La Clusaz can sometimes be xenophobic, and although this guy is probably not a ‘local’ (in the La Clusaz sense of the word, and therefore an outcast like myself and most of the people I mix with here), he already knew I was not French and he still made the effort to have a conversation with me. Achievement #3 (not mine): give a foreigner warm and fuzzies by patiently speaking French with her. Achieved.