Who’s on French?

My brain at times has a devious nature (exhibit a: https://breadispain.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/the-beau-reve/).  It is not particularly cooperative…never wanting to remember the names of movies I like and always forgetting exact statistics. Not to mention the fact that my Brain is constantly enlisting the help of its comrades: Conscious, Subconscious, and Speech Filter…among others, to mess with me and leave me feeling utterly confused or embarrassed (especially when Speech Filter comes into play, I basically think that my Brain has given Speech Filter early retirement and that Speech Filter spends its days relaxing on the beach with a margarita while I perpetually say dumb, ill-timed, and inappropriate things…but I digress).

Lately, my brain has developed a new and nefarious form of torture.

Yesterday, I was at the pharmacy with MB picking up a prescription.  While the pharmacist was typing information into the computer I turned to MB and had a conversation in English before asking her a question in French.  She responded to me in English (obviously she had heard me talking) and I responded to her in French.

“Quoi?”  She said this while laughing.  “I was trying to speak my English but you speak back in French!”

“Huh,” was the dignified response that I mustered (thanks again Speech Filter).

MB quickly jumped in and explained to the pharmacist that I have a lot of conversations like that because I want to practice my French and the French people often want to practice their English, blah blah blah.  On the way out of the pharmacy I asked him what the whole thing was just about.

“I don’t get it,” I said to him.

“She just thought it was funny that she was speaking English and you were speaking French.”

“She was speaking English,” I asked him, confused.

“Uh…oauis.”  MB looked mildly concerned at this point.

I just continued walking scratching my head like a confused character in a Charlie Chaplin film.  I hadn’t realized that she was speaking in English.

Yeah, so that’s right, my brain has now decided to not always acknowledge the differences in language, meaning that people can switch back and forth and I don’t always catch on immediately which in the end leaves me more confused than ever.  Thanks a lot, Brain.

BRAIN: Oh please, I mean, like it matters, it’s all up here in the same place anyway.  Did you understand what was going on or not?  HUH?!  HUH?!

I tacitly state that I did, in fact, understand.

BRAIN: Right then…get over it.  Gawd…I try to make things a little bit interesting, vary some thought process and BAM…rejected.  You know, it is very high maintenance being your brain!

This whole thing started a few weeks back when a friend of mine was visiting us from the U.S.  During her trip we spent a few days with MB’s family and so there was a lot of French being spoken.  My friend doesn’t speak French so I did my best to translate back and forth what I could (I would love to see the transcripts on that tragedy).  This seemed to work okay for a little while but eventually I got confused and sometimes I would give her the French version and give his family the English version.  Uh…wait, am I talking to…who?  Who’s on First.

Basically my Brain has decided that it will be hilarious for me to be constantly scrambling to concentrate on what language is being spoken instead of automatically recognizing it…you know, like normal people.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to pull a Madonna (“I swear I can’t help my English accent) but it does get confusing up there in my head.  Basically my Brain is Abbott and I’m Costello.

ME: What do you call French?


ME: What?


ME: What?

BRAIN: I said yes already. GEEZ.

ME: *SIGH* Okay, what do you call English?

BRAIN: What? Of course not, What is how I call French.

ME: I don’t know how you call French!

BRAIN: I don’t know’s how you call English.

ME: What?

BRAIN: Seriously?  This is exhausting.  What is how you call French.

ME: AGH! I don’t know!

BRAIN: I don’t know’s how you call English!!

ME: I don’t know how you call English!

BRAIN: Exactly!


So next time you run into me don’t be alarmed if I start spouting off to you in a different language; I haven’t gone crazy, it’s just my Brain having a laugh.

*For those sad people out there who have never seen this skit…pure comedy genius: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sShMA85pv8M  Also, here is the script: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/humor4.shtml



  1. Can’t stop laughing!!! Your descriptions of the interactions at the store and at your significant other’s family’s house with your friend are hilarious! Thanks for the laugh!



  2. May I reassure you and say that you have just made a big step in learning another language! In France, French people should speak to you in French unless invited to do otherwise. I still remember looking my (English-speaking) father straight in the eye while in France and speaking to him in French. He waited until I finished and said, “I don’t understand when you speak to me in French”. I’m not always aware of which language I’m speaking. I once wrote out a cheque for my VAT half in French and half in English and even when it was pointed out to me, I couldn’t see what the problem was because my brain was instantaneously translating the English words into French!



    1. That’s great – thanks for sharing your likewise experience! I really do think it is a totally bizarre thing that the brain does…crazy! 🙂 So glad you got the fireplace sorted!!



  3. Brrrrillliant! Girly, please, please, please tell me that you are NOT working on a book like I recently hoped but…a screenplay. Please do. Your bank account and your Brain (digging the big B) will thank you.

    And just so you know, what you have been experiencing really is just one of those crazy phases of learning a language, just like Aussie said. You will, eventually, be spit out on the other side (although people will continue to speak to you in English, sometimes pointedly with arched eyebrows) but I am sure that all of us that are fluent in Franglais have gone through this.

    It was just in the nick o’time that we had a post from you. I was just about to send out Ben on search and rescue…



    1. Heather – you are too nice to me!! I’m so glad that you like this one – it really is something that amazes me about the brain. It is interesting to see how it sorts things out. I am indeed in the midst of a novel right now but hey – maybe a screenplay should be my next project! 🙂 Thanks for all your kind encouragement!!

      Hopefully, I will be back to my regular once a week postings now!!



  4. Ha I ran into an american friend on the street recently and she was just finishing up a phonecall in french, so of course I started speaking french to her for a minute before my brain kicked in and went, “what are you doing?” I went to the UK a few times last year and I always had to be careful to speak English to people in shops, because in daily life I’m so programmed to automatically switch to French for those encounters. You’re definitely not alone!



  5. I also want to commend you on reaching this mile stone. Not recognizing which language you’re speaking is a *good* sign and means your brain (and Brain) is rewiring stuff. Pretty soon, you’ll have a huge leap forward in your speaking/understanding ability and you’ll barely remember not being able to communicate with everyone.

    And consider yourself lucky: the first time I went back to the US after my first long stay in France, I was speaking English, Spanish and French IN THE SAME SENTENCE. And it was the FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL. People looked at me like I was an alien.



    1. Thanks!! I hope that your prediction will be correct – I long for the days of being able to understand everything…sounds so magical. Le sigh.

      Woah – I can totally imagine the brain freak out with 3 languages being in there all at once – kudos to you!



  6. Love this one NK. Such a weird and wonderful experience! My french teacher tells me that one day, I’ll read a book in french, then later not be able to recall whether I read it in french or english… sounds crazy but very cool. Go brain! Such a funky process. The salon de the downstairs is owned by an american woman and her french husband. Their two small kids are in there after school / creche a lot, and the 3 year old splatters out a hilarious mix of english and french, speaks to others using english words mixed in, what a melting pot of learning going on in their little brains! One day…!



    1. Oh yay – I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Your French is already so good I’m sure you’ve had some of this stuff happen already. And it is always amazing with the children to watch how they can seamlessly switch back and forth – what a gift for parents to be able to give. Hopefully you and I will both find that out someday! 🙂



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