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I don’t speak French fluently—not by any stretch of the imagination—but I have spent two semesters in intensive French courses. I graduated from the niveau supérieur in May with a pretty good grade (if I do say so myself), and my French family has even noted how much progress I’ve made in recent months.  Just this weekend, one of my sisters-in-law remarked how much better I now comprehend naturally-spoken French … something about how they don’t have to slow down and talk to me at half-speed anymore.

Nevertheless, if you’ve ever lived abroad while being “short of fluent” in the host country’s language, you know how exhausting it is to be immersed in that language non-stop. The point comes when you just can’t process it anymore. You space out, the words just become background noise, and your brain takes off to another place where everything’s in English. I call it the saturation point, and it happened to me this weekend.

Saturday started with an hour-and-a-half drive to Picardy with two of my sisters-in-law and my youngest niece … speaking French. (Michel was with his brother-in-law in another car, so there were no English translations.) We spent the afternoon celebrating the birthday of Michel’s stepfather. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon fete in the garden of his home, eating and drinking and … speaking French. Then there was the drive back to Paris, this time with my brother-in-law, my eldest niece, and my nephew … speaking French. After that, while Michel and his sister returned the rental car, I hung out at my mother-in-law’s home with the little ones, drawing pictures, eating dinner and … speaking French. And then there was the cruise on the Seine with the whole family, enjoying the sights of Paris by night and … speaking French. The next day, we all reconvened for an afternoon at my father-in-law’s house—another beautiful, sunny day outside in the garden, eating and drinking, playing hide and seek with the kids and … speaking French.

I think it was around 7:00 on Sunday evening when I hit the saturation point. After 14 hours on Saturday and 7 hours on Sunday of being “on” in French, I just spaced out.

T’es fatigué, Michael ? • Are you tired, Michael?

Ouais un peu, mais je suis surtout un peu débordé. J’ai atteint la limite, je pense, et mon cerveau ne fonctionne plus ! • Yeah a little, but mostly, I’m a little overwhelmed. I’ve reached the limit, I think, and my brain isn’t working anymore!

ma petite amie © 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

We laughed, and I thought back to a bee that had fallen into a bottle of rosé on our table that afternoon. For fifteen minutes, it had swum in circles, never succumbing but evidently getting drunk on the wine. We had rescued it and laid it on a rose blossom to dry out—literally and figuratively—in the sunshine. A little while later, when we checked on it, it had gone, leaving a tiny drop of water behind on the rose petal where we had left it. Clearly, it had thrown up and flown away with a hangover.

Sunday night after getting back to the apartment, I was exhausted. Another episode of True Blood in English with French subtitles for Michel was exactly what I needed to dry out. Ah! American English, and with bad Southern accents!

Now, the day after, I think I’m ready to fall into my next bottle of rosé.

© 2011 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

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11 thoughts on “The Saturation Point … or Drunk Bees

  1. Pingback: “C’est Washington !” « je parle américain

  2. Oh my goodness I had a weekend just like that! The husband and I, who are both Americans with southern drawls, went to a French wedding in Boulogne. You are so right–it all becomes like noise and your mind just wanders about. I’m so over the whole you’re going to learn French by being immersed in it…hell…I’m so immersed I’m about to sink! Great post!

  3. I love your blog! I’m about to spend my entire junior year of high school in France, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of (also dreading the idea of, on a bad day) language drunkeness. Thanks for the recap!

    ~Eilidh

  4. I will check out your blog! As for Rennes, I’ve only been through there on the train on the way to St. Malo. Speaking of … GO TO ST MALO! It is one of the most charming places I’ve ever visited. We went there for my birthday last year. When I finally get around posting about my travels around France, St Malo will be my first post.

    You’re lucky to be in Brittany. The food is great (even for a vegetarian like me), crêpes, crêpes, and more crêpes, but I’d stay away from the andouille (it’s not like Cajun andouille, trust me!). And eat a kouign amann fresh from the oven. It’s an amazing Breton pastry. Hmmm … another “j’souis gourmand” idea.

  5. If we don’t go there as a school, I’ll be sure to put it on my independent travel list! I am definitely looking forward to the good eats – I’ve already warned my family about my inevitable weight gain. :D Yum! I can’t wait!

  6. Pingback: THE MOST RECENT POSTS → OLDER STUFF YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED ↓ « je parle américain

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