“Ask Babs” is a new advice column for people who made embarrassing language mistakes (and are desperately trying to redeem themselves). If you’re cringing your way through a new language, Babs wants to hear about it. To appeal to her divine wisdom, email email@example.com with your awkward language questions.
I’ve been living with my French host family for a month, but it recently came to my attention that they’ve been operating this whole time under the assumption that I’m pregnant. On my first night here, I told them I was full after a delicious dinner of coq au vin. Turns out je suis plein doesn’t directly translate to “I am full,” though. “Full of life-giving potential” is more like it. Anyway, they’ve been extremely sweet and accommodating, and now that I know why they always want to know how I feel in the morning, I feel kind of weird about bringing it up now. I also know it’s only going to get weirder the longer I wait.
What should I do?
Mostly Just Full Of Discomfort
Have you ever thought about just riding this one out?
No, really, think about it. You’ve got three more months at best with this host family, and most women don’t start showing until their second trimester.
I’m assuming you’re either a lightweight or you don’t drink — or you left out the part about your host family confiscating your wine at dinner. Now that we’re on the subject, is wine considered a legitimate pregnancy aide in France? You might be able to milk this to your advantage, or at least have a good alibi for all your hangover mornings as you journey into the uncharted territory of your alcoholic limits. You’re an American abroad. Don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise.
Of course, you’ll probably form an emotional bond with them over the hushed and gorgeous mystery of miraculous life blooming in your midst. They’ll want to trade contact info before you leave, and they’ll be super supportive and generally awesome and eager to see photos of you holding your swaddled, beet-faced nugget in the hospital.
The real question here is: how terrible of a person are you, really? If you can stomach it and commit to the process, you could pitch this as a book deal and tour the country talking about your pregnancy hoax and your eventual comeuppance and how you grew as a person after you confronted your crimes against Beauty and Truth.
This is probably the only viable path for you unless you’re willing to just, you know, bring it up at dinner tonight. Telling them you made a language gaffe can’t possibly be any more awkward than living with them as a misunderstood-but-not-actually-pregnant lady for an entire month. They seem cool, and they seem like they “get it.” Learning of your French faux pas will probably be the funniest thing that’s happened to them during their time hosting students, and by all accounts, they’ll be laughing with you (as well as at you).
So go ahead. Make their day. Or fully commit to taking this thing to its logical conclusion. Fully.
Yours in fullness,
I’ve been studying German for the past five months, and I feel like I’ve stopped getting better at it. I know I need to practice with other people in order to make more progress, but every time I try, I’m too afraid of making mistakes to get into it, and I usually end up stuck in an embarrassing loop of “hello” and “likewise.” What can I do to get over this fear?
Introvert In Indiana
Something tells me this isn’t too far off from how your conversations typically go in English.
Learning a new language is kind of awesome because all of your superficial struggles end up magnifying all of your deep, intractable struggles, except this time, you’re trying to make sense of them with a different set of vocab. All of life is basically one big dance around your childhood trauma, and I’m willing to bet this question isn’t really about German at all, Vert (can I call you “Vert” for short?).
What I want you to understand, Vert, is that life will only give you what you’re capable of processing. You, the student, don’t seem ready for meaningful exchanges, and the teacher has not yet arrived. Trying to skip ahead to the part where you only experience seamless intimacy with others is like trying to spiritually bypass your way through boring water-cooler talk with your significant other’s friends. You’re not actually having a good time, and you’re not “getting so much out of” your attempts to connect with people you have nothing in common with.
But Vert, there’s great freedom in owning where you are. You don’t want to have real conversations with people in German, and it’s because you probably don’t want to have real conversations with people, period. You secretly think most people are unimaginative and utterly predictable to talk to. Either that, or you haven’t given yourself permission to be vulnerable on like a deep, soulful level, which, hello, what do you think the rest of us are dealing with?
So here’s my suggestion to you, Vert. You can either admit to yourself that you think everyone in your foreign language Meetup group is lame, or you can start seeing a therapist (maybe one who speaks German, because double-whammy?).
As you begin the delicate and fraught process of unraveling your deepest fears, you’ll begin to develop all sorts of helpful associations between German and interpersonal comfort. And you might be the first person to do so.
Sending healing vibes your way,