“My dad called,” my father announced shortly after we left Saint-Michel. I didn’t reply at first. I was focused on the road, trying to find the right exit to Pornic. Feng and I wanted to spend a couple of hours there before taking the train back to Nantes.
“We should visit them,” my dad added.
“Yeah, I know,” I said.
I’m not close to my paternal grandparents. Different cultures, different mindsets… they feel like distant relatives to me.
“It would be good to stop by tomorrow evening,” my dad continued.
I paused. This would be… Wednesday evening. Yeah, it could work.
“Okay. Like, 6 p.m. or so?” I suggested.
“Because we haven’t seen them yet,” my dad went on. “And they picked figs for your mom. My sister may be there too, she’s never met Feng.”
“You don’t need to explain, tomorrow’s fine.”
“She is busy in August, that’s why we couldn’t meet at her place like she initially suggested.”
“It’s okay, no need to add anything. We’ll go tomorrow.”
“Honestly, there’s no issue. Why are we still discussing it?” I asked, puzzled.
Communicating with French people can be tricky. I should know that—after all, I used to be one of them.
I speak the language, but over the years, my communication style changed, probably influenced by life in North America. Canadians are Americans tend to be chatty and cheerful but informal discussions are somewhat superficial—the point is to agree (usually on non-conflictual, obvious topics), not debate on thorny issues. On the other hand, people are fairly direct. When they want, need, or feel something, they come right out and say it. Even though Feng and I were both raised in cultures where you constantly have to read between the lines, we adopt a direct communication style between us to avoid misunderstandings.
However, the way in which you say something in France is almost as important as what is actually said. Proper grammar, use of words and language in general is seen as an art. Offering a concise answer is almost considered suspicious. When what you say feels too straightforward, people assume there are things unsaid and that you didn’t respect conventions.
I switch back and forth between English throughout the day, an exercise that doesn’t require much effort by now. But I can’t change the way I communicate that easily. “Sure,” “no problem,” “whatever you want,” “maybe not” and “I’m out” just mean that. I don’t expect a twenty-minute-long conversation for every minor decision.
I still master my conjugations like a proper French—I just can’t always communicate like one.