Quand j’avais 12 ans jusqu’à 16 ans nous habitions au Québec. Quand nous sommes arrivés là, je ne parlais pas beaucoup de français, mais chaque été mes parents m’ont envoyé a Victoriaville (près de notre ville, Trois Rivières) pour passer quelques semaines chez leurs amis, Jacques et Louisette. Grâce à leur fille Marie-Claude, qui était le même âge que moi, j’ai commencé a parler français, et après quatre ans au Québec, mon francais n’étai pas trop horrible. Mais, maintenant, après 30 sans parler français, ça me fait mal à la tête d’essayer de le parler et de l’écrire.*
*(When I was 12 to 16 years old, we lived in Quebec. When we arrived there, I didn’t speak much French, but every summer my parents sent me to Victoriaville (near our town Trois Rivieres) for a few weeks to spend a few weeks with their friends Jacques and Louisette. Thanks to their daughter Marie-Claude, I began to be able to speak French, and after four years in Quebec, my French wasn’t too horrible. But after 30 years of not speaking French, it gives me a headache to try to speak it or write it.)
That’s because when I was 19, I went to college and started studying Japanese, which after many years of study became my new second language. I loved French but it took so much focus to learn Japanese over the years and then to try to specialize in Japanese art history, that my French became increasingly buried deep under my Japanese. Over a decade ago, when my husband David and I visited France on vacation, I was horrified to discover that I could no longer speak the language in which I’d actually been somewhat fluent in my late teens. Japanese words kept coming out instead. It was so painful that the French people I was trying to converse with quickly switched to English, a humiliation that went deeper than anything I had felt when I was first trying to learn the language in Quebec.
I lost touch with Marie-Claude years ago but we recently reconnected via Facebook and caught up with each other a bit. I remembered her as beautiful, smart and adventurous, and she has apparently not changed much at all. She is a landscape architect, has three children and spent a number of years living in New Caledonia. A few years ago she and her family moved back to Quebec, and a couple of months ago, she told me that she was planning a cycling trip with her husband around Japan. I was impressed on many levels at this ambitious trip, but even more, I was delighted that my old friend was going to experience the country I had fallen in love with so many years ago – just a few years after we had been close friends. She was even going to be cycling in Kyushu, where I had lived for a while. She is still in Japan now, and it has tickled me to receive messages from her saying Ohayo gozaimasu! (“good morning” in Japanese).
Today, I sent her a book called The Roads to Sata by Alan Booth, the story of his 2,000-mile walk through Japan. I haven’t read it in 20 years, but it is one of the funniest and most enjoyable books I have read about a foreigner’s experience in Japan, and so much of it rang true for me. In fact, I was sitting on a train reading his description of being drunk and having to use the bathroom in a Japanese inn and dealing with all the different slippers involved. I remembered a similar ordeal with bathroom slippers, and as I read his account, I laughed so hard that I was shaking and crying. I think that Marie will enjoy reading this hilarious and perceptive tale when she returns home to Quebec and needs to sit and rest her weary legs. Then we can email each other in a wonderfully tangled mixture of English, French and Japanese. Whatever language it is, it will be a joy to be in touch.