Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Monday, October 5, 2009

I was chatting with someone yesterday and he asked me about my parents, if they were upset about me being so far away. I remember hesitating - often times I just give the standard answer of "Of course they'd prefer if I lived in the US" instead of saying "There's just my mom now, my dad passed away several years ago". I decided to be honest and went for the second option. As I was telling him this, I could see his face sadden for me. But the feeling inside me didn't match his sadness. My heart felt pinched but not torn out and stomped on.

And all of the sudden I was reminded of how I'd felt all those years ago** in Finland, having to tell people in Finnish that my dad had died. It very rarely made me cry. Nor does it when I say it in French. But if I had to say it in English, I was a completely wreck. And even today I sometimes find myself tearing up when talking about it, or writing about it as I am now.

Which has made me think about the weight words can carry. "My dad died" is just so full of meaning for an anglophone. But say it in French or Finnish and I feel somewhat removed - neither of the words have the years of history or meaning behind them. They're just two more words.

So I'm curious to hear if anyone else has noticed this too. I guess for me, it's mostly a good thing - it allows me to think and talk about my dad without feeling that crushing sadness that fills me when I speak about him in English. It's fascinating how the brain can compartmentalize things like that.

**I just realized it will soon be 10 years. 10 frickin' years. How is that possible?



Blogger Pierre said...

When I say it in Chinese, it has absolutely no meaning to me. As you say, it's just a bunch of words put altogether.

But if I have to say it in English, even if it's not my mother tongue, I feel a bit weird. Not to mention French, of course.

October 5, 2009 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

I never thought about it, but you're right. It was so much easier to say "Ma mère est décédée." Funny how the brain works.

More than 16 years here. Not too long before I will have been without her longer than I was with her.

October 5, 2009 at 4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yea, i totally get this. It makes me wonder whether the emotions I have in French are the same strength as emotions in English. It's weird. I guess that's why a lot of people will say that they are not the same person in each language they speak.

Swear words are the same. I can't bring myself to swear those really bad English ones, but the worst French ones have no effect on me - I can say them but I don't like hearing them. That came with time though.

October 5, 2009 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger Cindy in NE said...

Sometimes people say to me that I couldn't possibly consider moving to France (with my French husband!) because my Mom and kids (and grandkids) live here. I wonder if there is something wrong with me. How did you handle that when you first decided to move?

October 5, 2009 at 5:45 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

yes, I think it is true for many things that are closely linked to emotions.
Like saying "I love you" or swearing or whatever. I wonder if I have kids whether I will feel the same if they say something in english (like mommy) or french (maman).

October 5, 2009 at 7:20 PM  
Blogger Starman said...

I think when you say something in your native language, it carries all the weight of the REAL language because that's the way it was learned. It's true even when you use explicits, like F**k you, etc. The foreign language equivalent just doesn't have the oomph behind it.

October 5, 2009 at 7:43 PM  
Blogger Leesa said...

Hi Sam,

I just got tear-eyed when reading this.. Hugs to you... When I talk about my mom's passing.. I say, My mom passed away... I have never really said, "died" because though she has, I can't say it.. and I feel like she's "passed on" to a different place/level... But, in French... I always say.. "Ma mère est morte" and it sounds more normal to say that in French that way... rather than to use the word "deceased" which I never say in English, either.. Weird that you ask that question, because I feel the same - when I say it in English.. it's sadder to me than when I say it in French...

October 6, 2009 at 12:02 AM  
Blogger Barbara Snow said...

Seven years next week since I lost my Dad. It feels yesterday.
Barb in MN

October 6, 2009 at 2:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you: there is a bit of a disconnect to say emotional stuff like that in French. My dad has been gone for two and a half years now, and although I'm still sad when I talk about it in French, it is more pronounced in English because I experienced in English, I think.

But I once had a boyfriend to whom I could only say "Je t'aime", never "I love you", yet we spoke in English most of the time. I think I thought that to say it in English would make it that much more real, and I probably wasn't quite ready for that strong of an emotion at the age of 18.

October 6, 2009 at 3:10 AM  
Blogger Mallory said...

That's pretty interesting. I think having each parent speak a different language, I don't experience that kind of compartmentalization. When I say things in either language they have the same meaning, although when I'm upset, French comes easier.

October 6, 2009 at 5:21 AM  
Blogger poppy fields said...

It is harder for me to talk about my Dad in English, too.
But I love to swear in French...:)

October 6, 2009 at 9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Weird isn't it? For me, having grown up in France with English parents, it had as much impact in either language... and now, I can't believe it's been SIXTEEN YEARS!! My daughter was 3 when he passed away, yet still today, I feel like he's gone away on a long journey, not that he's never coming back. I can't explain it. And although I am so happy to live in England now, it kills me that my mum is in Normandy, not much as the crow flies, but soooo far away by train/plane/boat... I miss her.

October 10, 2009 at 1:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part of it for me is cultural. When I tell American people my mom has cancer they all get really weird and quiet about it like I'm going to shatter if they say the wrong thing. When I tell French people about it they're sympathetic but not awkward so it always feels better. But maybe the reaction is because of the reason you were saying...I can say "Ma mere a un cancer du sein" more comfortably than "My mom has breast cancer."

October 15, 2009 at 3:54 PM  

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