Diving in at the deep end


I see learning a language like crossing a river by stepping on the stones that are above the surface of the stream. At the beginning, we have few stones to step on to get to the other side. Often having to take a convoluted route to say something quite simple, simply because those stones are missing in our vocabulary.

As we hear and learn more words and phrases, more and more stepping stones appear and we can take a more direct route, or even have a choice of ways of getting our point over. Eventually the stones become a path and finally a bridge, so that we almost forget that there is water there at all. We'll never have all the colloquial terms or phrases, in the same way a Frenchman may never get his head around Cockney rhyming slang or the multitude of daily-used phrases based around say, the game of cricket.

The Gascon accent is very unlike the French we learnt at school. The "n" in many words being pronounced as "ng". So demain becomes demeng, pain is peng and my friend Alain is called Alaing. Being an incorrigible mimic, I have acquired the accent and throw myself with such gusto into conversations that I have to be careful not to characature my new friends.

Beyond the language, there is the culture and tradition of a predominantly agricultural society. Coming from city environments, we have learnt to keep to ourselves and only acknowledge and trust a small core. Here, everybody knows everybody, apart from the étrangers. A visit to the market or a rugby match involves many tens of handshakes and kisses as we pass through the crowds. An expression of bonding that we now take for granted. In fact, when last in Holland and England I think I shook everyone's hand on greeting them. Something that some felt a little too familiar perhaps, but is the norm for me now.

Having just looked over Caroline's shoulder, I see that she is writing a piece about this, so I'll leave that to her to expand upon.

In the Spring, we asked all our prospective visitors to hold off for a year and give us some breathing space. This has given us time to be able to become part of the community and partake in many events and activities that occur throughout the year. There was hardly a weekend when we didn't end up at one village dinner, lunch, dance, fête, boules tournament or another.

Through our friendship with, among others, our neighbours Alain and Véronique, we have met many new people and entered into all sorts of social circles. One being the rugby club in Trie, our local market town. After following the team for several matches at the end of the last season, I have accepted an invitation to become a dirigeant (a fancy name for people who volunteer to help behind the scenes on training and match days). Although I'm the only étranger, having played rugby for many years in England, I feel very much at home within their environment and have been welcomed into the group. I realise that this involves an amount of commitment to the club, timewise, but the rewards, spiritually and socially, give me a real feeling of being 'at home' in my new land.

To top it off, I have also joined the Comité des fêtes de Puydarrieux. The committee organises the village's annual three-day fête, dance nights, loto evenings, vide greniers, grillades and other communal get-togethers. Having seen how the comité in Trie organise their five day party, I realised that it can be hard work, take up your time and often not be appreciated, but I like being socially involved, so why not.

When we came here, it was really diving in at the deep end. Thankfully, we are both tri-lingual, outward going and very social. Our feet have touched the bottom and we now have plenty of helping hands to pull us out, should we ever get out of our depth.

A bientôt,


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