Language barriers

“Parle l’anglais?” I asked the little boy who sat across the aisle from me on my flight to Paris. He looked to be about 4 years old. At 19, I understood about a third of what he was saying to me in his squeaky French-Canadian accent, and I was desperate for some common ground.

“Yes!” answered the boy, quite enthusiastically, “I love you!” That was the extent of our conversation.

Three days ago, I was flying to Perpignan out of Ontario’s international airport. After missing my flight to Barcelona and thus getting off my study-abroad program’s original schedule, my family and I had to do some serious negotiating with Air Canada’s ticketing counter.

While trying to make the best out of my extended stay in the land of hockey and maple syrup, I realized that I was actually experiencing a lovely transition period; since Canada is a bilingual country, signs must be printed in both French and English. In addition, most announcements made in the airport were spoken first in French and then repeated in my native tongue. Everyone from the newsstand employee to the security guards seemed to be bilingual. So I churned out some Franglais, had my two-second introduction to Hollywood’s effect on the young Québécois, and made my way to Paris.

From there, my uncle Yannick, who lives south of the city, helped me hop trains to the iDTGV, the high-speed train that connects Paris and Perpignan. I had been on a bullet train several years ago, but this was different. For five hours — I had been traveling for close to a day and a half by this point in time — I sat across from two Parisian girls. One said that she was 14, and the other looked to be about my age (I didn’t ask for fear of being considered impolite). As the countryside appeared to flash by us, we began our introductions. Both girls were going to Perpignan as well, the 14-year-old to meet her grandparents for an upcoming cultural festival, and the other to study. I asked them if they spoke any English, explaining that both my grammar and understanding of their language was quite poor. The older girl shook her head, but the 14-year-old smiled and said that she knew some.

“I love you!” she said. I couldn’t help but laugh.