Pourquoi français?

Of the four teachers I’ve had in Alliance Française de Manille, three of them had asked me, “Why do you study French?”

Ever since I learned how to say “I dream of…” back in Module 1, my ready answer had always been “J’étudie français parce que je rêve de visiter france.” (I study French because I dream of visiting France.) It’s safe, it’s guaranteed to be followed by easy follow-up questions (Why? What do you like about France and French culture? And then I’d just say that the south of France looks awesome and I’d like to taste bouillabaisse. End of story–next, please!). If I’m lucky, the teacher would move on to the next student without asking me why I wanted to go there.

The truth is actually slightly embarrassing to admit to classmates who wanted to learn the language for more practical reasons. To risk sounding like that kid from Love Actually: I had this big, school girl-ish crush on a French person (who will remain unnamed). Sounds shallow? Perhaps. Then again, I’ve had this fascination with French culture for as long as I could remember–I read The Three Musketeers at least four times as a high school freshman because I thought musketeers still existed (boy, was I ignorant). There was one point when I actually borrowed books from the library, but returned them the next day because I found the pronunciation key incomprehensible. Then again, I never understood phonetic symbols.

Fast forward to 2005 and 2007, I fell in love with three French films: Amelie, Un long dimanche de fiançailles (A Very Long Engagement) and Paris, Je T’aime (Paris, I Love You). I started listening to Feist and looking for films starring Gaspard Ulliel, Audrey Tautou, and Juliette Binoche.

And then the person came along. We always talked in English because I was more than willing to help him improve his grammar, but I found myself asking how to say this and that in French. I found myself looking up phrases, sentences, and expressions online. It wasn’t enough for me: I wanted to connect with him using his language. I wanted to impress him. I remembered someone telling me that learning a language could bridge a continent-wide gap. Ugh, how could I have fallen for something so mushy? Silly me.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting in class with at least a dozen other people who wanted to learn for different reasons. These people are now my friends. Most of them have left the school, but we try to keep in touch. We went to a French film festival. We even went out for videoke once and sang “On ne s’aimera plus jamais” under the influence of alcohol.

Ironically, the person and I don’t talk that much anymore, but we’re still very good friends. If there’s anything I’m thankful for, it’s the fact that he motivated me to do something I’ve always wanted to try.

But yes, if you’re asking: I still dream of going to France. I’m in love with it more than ever, even if I’ve only seen it in movies, savored it in a small wedge of brie, or caught a whiff of Provence from a bottle of lavender perfume. Maybe, there will be l’amour. We’ll never know. One thing’s for sure–someday, I’ll write to all of you from there.

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