For the last 5 years I have been to Russia every summer. I've become used to understanding (most of the time) what is going on around me and what people are saying. Even when my Russian was at its most basic I could still survive with the use of the golden word of the Russian language 'можно' (mozhno). It means 'it is possible' but can be used in a variety of different situations; for example in a bar you can say 'можно пиво?' (mozhno piva) - can I have a beer? Or at home you can say 'можно принимать душ?' (mozhno prinimat doosh?' - can I have a shower? All you need to do is point at the beer or shower and you'll be understood. Over the years my Russian has obviously improved and now (so I'm told) most of my Russian friends can understand everything I say.
Learning Russian at university always highlighted my lack of skill in other languages. Most people were learning at least 2 languages and would always compare Russian words or grammar rules to their other language. Aside from thinking that they were total show offs I never really cared about my lack of other language skills. Russia is my thing. When am I ever gonna use French, German or Spanish?
However, last week I went on holiday to France and it actually drove me insane that I really don't know any French. It appears that since my year abroad I have become a language snob. I don't want to be seen as another English stereotype who doesn't see the importance of learning a foreign language (because of course shouting louder in English is understood worldwide). I'm not just a language snob though, I'm a Russian language snob. Now when I hear any foreign language I immediately want to speak Russian or at the very least inform the person speaking that I can speak Russian so it doesn't matter that I don't speak their language.
In France one night there was a huge storm and the power went out in the house we were staying in. The next morning a man from the village (Jean Paul he was called - lovely and French) came to check we were ok. Only problem was he spoke no English and noone in my family speaks French. I was called upon to 'communicate' as the only one who speaks a foreign language. I stood and listened to him for a good minute putting on my best 'I understand everything you are saying' face which works well in Russia where I normally understand the overall situation. In France, this does not work. He clearly thought I did actually understand and looked at me expectantly but after struggling through my French vocabulary (boulangers, merci, salut, nous avons, vous avez, baguette) to Jean Paul's dismay I only managed to conjure up 'Je ne comprends pas'. In the end he realised everything was fine and left. Throughout the whole encounter I just wanted to ask him if he spoke Russian. I seem to think it is the only language in the world. Infact later that day I said 'да' (da) instead of 'oui' to a man selling tickets at a castle. I did manage to redeem myself by asking for a guide 'en anglais' though.
Maybe one day I'll learn French again, but for the moment I'll have to take Girl's Aloud's advice - admit I can't speak French and let the funky music do the talking. Although with the only club around in our village in France being a dodgy building with 'CLUB SEXY' written on the side I don't know how much of a good idea that would be...