Fake it to Make it

Adjusting to France, Learning French

I’m standing in the middle of my gynecologist’s office as she moves a chair to put it against the door.  I’m not quite sure who we are barricading it against but I’m glad to know that if the killer from one of the “Scream” movies decides to show up during my exam that we are all good.

“No one will come in – okay?”  She says this to me smiling.

“Great,” I reply…because um…what other response is there?  Are there women who like to share the Pap smear experience?

She says something else to me quickly in French and then turns to the “tools of discomfort” to prepare.

I began to undress, assuming that is what she told me to do, as she piddles around the room.  I feel a bit awkward just getting naked in the middle of a room but “hey” this ain’t my first rodeo; I am familiar with the gyno exams in France.  I plop my buck-naked* self down on the paper-covered bench and wait for her to turn around and begin the exam.

I chuckle a bit, thinking to myself how it still amuses me to be naked and hanging out with a stranger when suddenly another, chilling thought crosses my mind…

“Shit…I hope that I’m supposed to be naked right now.”


To fully explain all of this, I think I better go back to the very beginning.

When I first got to France I was willing to try everything on my own.  You need me to talk to the plumber?  Of course I can handle that.  I want to organize my French lessons with the University?  Dude…I got this.  Anything that came my way I was willing to go for, being the independent person I was.  I mean, hey, I had already moved to two different countries – I was used to figuring out new places; I even found it fun.  When you know almost nothing of the language then you don’t really have too much to lose (read: if people are making fun of you there is no way that you will understand it so you can’t possibly care).

Slowly, however, things started to change.  I started having problems – as my French improved and I understood more in some weird way I almost started understanding less.  I remember standing at the counter paying for a facial for 20 minutes while they tried to explain to me that I was supposed to take a device home and then return in two weeks for a follow up.  I looked at them, my sheepish smile plastered to my face, so unsure about what to do.  It seemed clear that I was meant to take the small device with me but if that was not what they were saying, how weird and awkward and (OMG) embarrassing would it be if I tried to walk out with it?  I was trapped, crippled by the desire to appear competent even though I was so obviously not.

“Prenez,” the lady said to me clearly.

“Tu prends,” said the young girl who had been staring into the abyss of my pores just moments earlier.

“Vous comprenez,” the lady asks me again if I understand.

I give a laugh and shake my head “no” because there is no international sign for “actually I think I get it but I’m not sure and don’t want to look like an ass.”  A man, seated behind me begins to speak with the lady and the young girl and I am stuck standing there as they have a 5 minute conversation of how to explain to me what to do.

I wanted to run out the door, escape entirely, this is not a challenge that I wanted to address.  I hadn’t learned the verb “prendre” yet and it wasn’t just going to magically make sense to me.  I knew in that moment that the situation was hopeless, yet manners forced me to stay there, humiliation raining down upon me.

Finally, the lady smiled at me and shrugged, the young girl rolled her eyes in irritation, snatched the device and walked to the back, and I paid and left.

I remember trying not to cry on the way home and I’m certain when MB arrived back from work that evening he was greeted with wails of “I hate it here, why did you make me come here, this is horrible!”

I felt so stupid and so embarrassed.

From this point on, things began to change.  I stopped going to do things on my own.  If someone needed to come by the apartment to work on something I made sure that MB was either there or available by phone.  When I wanted to make an appointment for my facials I would go in person instead of calling so that I could avoid any awkward phone conversation.  I had lost my gumption.

Scarlett O’Hara would have been so annoyed with me.

It took a while after that incident for me to own up to a few infallible truths:

  1. I ABHOR being embarrassed.
  2. Life is embarrassing.  (perhaps even more so when you are learning something new)
  3. Being embarrassed is funny if you are willing to laugh.

I mean, at the end of the day, what is more embarrassing anyway?  Having your husband translate the phrase, “please put your feet in the stirrups now” or premature nakedness because you pretended that you understood what was told to you?


My heart is beating in my chest as my gynecologist begins to turn around.  “Please let me be supposed to be naked, please let me be supposed to be naked!”

“Okay,” she says, snapping the rubber on her glove.  “We do theez now?”

Nailed it,” I think smugly.


Totally supposed to be naked.”


* For those of you not from familiar with the term “Buck Naked” (“naked” should be pronounced “nekkid”).  Please read this one because the example is just perfection:  http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/buck+naked  And is this isn’t enough for you there is a complete background on the term here:  http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=20001005


18 thoughts on “Fake it to Make it

  1. So… I would shrivel up and die there. I hate anyone knowing I don’t know what I’m doing, even when it would make more sense for me to just own up to not knowing what I’m doing, so that someone could tell me what to do. I don’t try anything new alone, without an experienced guide. Scarlett O’Hara would HATE me. And that’s actually okay with me, because I’m not all that fond of her, come to think of it. Still. I would be so stressed out all the time if I were in your shoes. I would have begged to move to an English-speaking country (any one would do) a long time ago if I were you. I suck.

    1. haha – no, I am very much the same way. I hate to ever admit ineptitude! This has probably been good for me…you know…growing and all that jazz. *eye roll* You do get used to it though – just takes a while and several awkward situations. 🙂 Thanks for reading!!!

  2. Oooh, so been there–um, I mean literally and figuratively. I remember my second trip to the gyno’s office (so I thought that I had it down), I stripped and then she didn’t do a breast exam so I was like stupido! Sigh. No matter how hard I try, I never get it right.

      1. You too! And your honey! We have had a wack summer…best to move on to autumn…um hello? It is choucroute season!!!! Yippeeeeeee!!!!!

  3. You poor thing! I decided a long time ago that I was NOT going to be embarrassed by such things (easier said than done though) and my policy is now to ask first. “Qu’est-ce que j’enlève ?” “Je dois payer maintenant ou après ?” “Je ne sais pas comment ça marche. Expliquez-moi.” It gets easier as you get older. I now have the OPPOSITE problem. When I go to Australia, I have no idea how things work and I don’t even have an accent to excuse me. People must think I’ve been living in some remote outback property with no television all my life. I don’t even recognise the coins and notes any more. I can’t even understand all the words any more. But I just laugh each time now or I get angry, not embarrassed. I’m sure that’s better!

    1. Haha – yes, I am slowly getting better about it. I don’t know what it is about not wanting to own up to the fact that I may not understand a situation…some weird neurosis. 🙂 Your comment is fortifying though – I need to just start asking…and then only fake it when I still don’t understand that response, haha! We are going back to Australia for a visit in Dec/JAn and I wonder if we are going to fall back into the culture or not – it is so funny how different things are in each country and it is always the little things that you wouldn’t normally notice. Thanks for reading!!!!!

    1. True that – there is no non-awkward, graceful way to do that whole ‘situation’. Totally agree about “prendre” – it can mean SO many things…cumbersome little verb. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  4. I totally feel the same way! I HATE talking to French people on the phone because they never understand me… I have my boyfriend make all the phone calls. Kind of embarrassed about that, and if I have to I will make the call, but I prefer to just avoid the situation.

  5. hahaha! Love your hilarious writing, as always. I see you have a new domain name — very cool!

    Looking forward to the post you’ll be writing after you’re in Australia.

  6. You’re brave. I haven’t managed to make a gyno appointment yet and I probably should. Call me a prude American, but I’ve heard the stories about gynos in France and something about not being covered in a paper gown weirds me out. I mean I know the doctor sees everything anyway but still, it’s awkward enough so let me keep some of my dignity. Ahhh, maybe in 2014.

    1. Haha – I totally agree, Diane! I know that it makes no logical sense but it really freaks me out to be all naked and up on the table like that. I guess it just has to do with what your norm is. (my norm is not being in a large room naked, hehe) Thanks for reading!

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