Good news! I’ve reached one of the language-learning goals I set for myself when I started studying French: being able to tell people off.
This might seem absolutely ridiculous, but let me tell you what it feels like to be hair-raisingly annoyed by someone and disgusted at their behavior, and to know that if you were to open your mouth to say something, nothing intelligible would come out. It feels like wearing a straitjacket. (Which, yes, I have worn—although only on stage. So far.)
By the last month when I studied abroad in Spain, I managed to “talk back” to a shop girl who insisted that I try on the bathing suit tops separately from the bottoms since I had too many items to take into the fitting room at once. (I won that one). That was when I realized the freedom that comes with being able to express strong disapproval without completely losing your dignity at the same time.
Until recently, all I have been able to do in French in similar situations is try not to cry.
But all that changed! Our next-door neighbors like to have late (and LOUD) parties. Josh has gone over a couple of times, as well as written them a letter. (Josh is our elected family representative to noisy neighbors, even in the States.) Sometimes a gentle cajoling gets them quiet. . .for an hour or so. So, around midnight a few nights ago, when Josh was sitting on the couch looking weary and bewildered, I threw on my shoes and marched outside. I stood in the alley in front of both our apartments and yelled until someone came to the window (don’t ask me what I yelled, I don’t remember, but it worked.) Our conversation went like this:
Me: Bon soir. Je suis votre voisine. J’habite la. Je ne peux pas dormir. (Good evening. I am your neighbor. I live there. *point* I can’t sleep.)
It might look simple in writing, but it was accompanied by my teacher face. It did the job.
They apologized, and showered me with flippant niceties (good night, good year, health to you, happiness to you. . . ) as I gave them another firm teacher glare, and went back in the house. They were quiet long enough for us to fall asleep, and my sense of accomplishment has lasted a lot longer.