Talking with my Host Grandmother

Darius L. is currently a junior at SYA France and a storyteller for the Campus Reporter program. He comes to SYA from the Thacher School.

There I was sitting across from my host grandmother, an elderly woman that had just begun her first years of retirement. We had just arrived to spend Christmas at my host grandparents house. My host mom had gone to run errands and had left me with her mom and her son. The silence filled the room and I pretended to look at something interesting on my phone. I hoped my seven year old host brother would come bother us with something but he was too busy off in his own world. She broke the silence and asked “comment est l’ecole?” I couldn’t resort to a simple oui or non and go back to just sitting there. I had to engage with her and so I did, “ça va, ça va,” trying to think of how to say what I wanted to say in French. “Le…dernière deux semaines… étaient très dures.” I tried to speak as fluently as possible. 

“Ah ouais,” she responded “pourquoi?” The conversation was getting harder and I didn’t know how much longer my vocabulary would last. 

A picture of a Christmas tree in a French square taken by a high school student studying in France

“Oui, parce qu'il y a eu beaucoup de…travail,” I was surprising myself. Usually I could not remember the word or my grammar was off but so far my vocabulary was going strong and she was understanding me. I tried to continue the conversation after a pause but then the ultimate dilemma hit me - do I use tu or vous? On the one hand I had met her before, stayed at her house and had dinner with her. However, I had never really had a conversation with her where I had to use tu or vous, and considering that she was elderly vous was probably the better choice. So considering these two options and considering it had been silent for an awkward period of time I went with tu, “et tu, comment vas-tu?” Immediately I realized I should have gone with vous but it had already been done. This was another reminder of just how different English and French were. Tu and Vous both mean you but one shows familiarity and the other shows respect and formality. In that instant I had to think about my respect for her versus how familiar I was with her, for me this was bizarre and a hard choice.   

“Eh je m’ennuie.” she didn’t seem to really care for the tu or vous but, there it was the moment I had been waiting for, the moment of not understanding. I looked at her with complete confusion on my face

“C’est quoi ennuyé?” I tried to repeat the word the way she had said it. 

“Tu sais quand tu n’as rien à faire.” Of course, I had heard this word before but had completely forgot it. She continued to tell me why she was bored, retirement had been well for her but most days she had very little to do. She was grateful to have finished work but the days just seemed to be passing by. Even though I was much younger than her I seemed to know what she meant. During the first few days of the break I had days where I had nothing to do and no one to see. These days just seemed to pass by without any significance. Talking with my host grandmother allowed me to not only improve my French but it allowed me to connect with her and realize our similarities.

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