I've met a few inspirational people in the past couple of weeks and despite their differences in age, humour, interests and circumstance, a theme has emerged: give yourself permission to say 'no'.
So I've decided to say 'no' to formally learning French. There. It's out, finally: like a satisfying session on the toilet, it's a big load off.
Before arriving in French-speaking Switzerland, I bought a couple of DVDs, two textbooks and researched online. There was no way that I was going to be a 'Garcon? Garcon? Geez you can't get good local help here' kind of harridan. Au contraire; I was going to immerse myself, blend in, be at one with the language, culture and people. Learn and absorb, gather and grow; suck it and see.
But plans and assumptions are like market-stall underpants - they disappear up your butt when you least expect it. Once Sapphire started school and our holiday tutor selfishly returned to her law studies in English, my French learning ended.
Then Sapphire got sick and I missed the two-second window to enrol in the UN French courses for 'epouses' for the 'bargain' cost of 800 francs. When the new year arrived my attentions were on snow skiing, holidaying, eating, drinking, socialising and dallying with The Fratman, all thoughts of learning online for an hour every day crumpled up into a smaller ball than the screwed up foil on a family-sized block of Cailler chocolate.
Getting some new freelance writing gigs has also filled up the tiny space left in my brain for active thought or expansion. When I'm out walking Milly and thinking up different ways to describe farts, French people and bread rolls, how can there possibly be enough remaining mental energy to remember the seven different ways to say 'I am, you are, we are, they are', let alone describe what the people depicted in the 'I am, you are, we are, they are' scenarios are actually doing?
Which brings me to yesterday. The plumbing firm finally arrived to check out the pong in Sapphire's bathroom and the leaky kitchen sink. "We 'ave found one who speaks Anglaise," Monsieur Steiner told me over the phone. I thanked him effusively which always tends to help. Exceeding gratefulness makes even the most stern-looking Swiss person thaw themselves out to crank out a vague, smug smile.
I was ready. On Love Chunks' iPad I had written a thoroughly absorbing and accurate account of what we'd done to clean the pipes/combat the bathroom smells and where the leak was occurring in the sink.
"Bonjour Monsieur! Parlez vous Anglais?"
I showed him the iPad, noting that stale BO, cigarettes and cheese seemed to be at war under his coat. He grunted to indicate that he'd finished reading and I pointed to the kitchen.
This is when I knew that he must be The Fratman's cousin. He rabbited on and on in French, despite me saying, "Je suis desolee, je suis Australien," over again, smiling, hoping he'd see that I wasn't trying to be rude or obstructive. All my previous gestures and charades were studiously being ignored.
In frustration he shook the tap, speaking louder. I decided to speak even louder - in English - back to him. "NO, THERE'S A LEAK UNDER THE SINK........ Oh wait, let me get the iPad and we'll talk that way............"
When I entered the kitchen with LC's black magical tablet in my hands a few moments later, Ponce Pants the Plumber rolled his eyes and sighed, muttering something quite lengthy that I knew was something about wasting his time, me being an ignorant idiot and him with his fish-finger sized-digits meant that there'd be no way he'd be able to type anything other an 'asd' when he only wanted the 's'.
At his rather obvious impertinence, I decided to keep talking in English, knowing that he didn't understand, "Yeah well I'm sorry this is an inconvenience for you, but you read my explanation; I pointed out where the pipe is loose and yes, it's annoying that you have to wipe your hands on your pants before trying to type something for me, but that seems to be life for us both at the moment, doesn't it....."
Tappita tappita tappita I went, my anger increasing my typing speed.
He read it and sighed, placing the iPad on top of the stove hot plates and slowly s-l-o-w-l-y picked out the letters. 'The tap is loose is not your pipe.'
Tappita tappita tappita 'The tap might be loose also but the pipe is leaky too - take a look at how it can pop open - it has done this already and water has leaked all over the floor'
Still he made no move to bend down and peer under the sink. Trying to calm down, I ruffled Milly's ears as she stood by and sniffed at the Ponce Pants' pungent work boots. 'I will order new tap. We call you.'
"But what about the leak?" I said this out loud, before Tappita tappita tappita, this time adding several exclamation marks after the question.
'We call you.' He put the iPad down, indicating that he no longer wanted to use it. "La bains?"
Ah yes, Sapphire's bathroom. Tappita tappita tappita - long story about the terrible odour, the steps we'd taken to use drain cleaner, water flushing, keep things clean.
"Oui. Nous laver le bidet." Tappita tappita tappita - Yes, we flush the bidet regularly because we know that when we don't use it the water can sit there and start to smell very bad.
He shook his head. "Vous devez toujours l'eau de rinçage dans le bidet."
What? I handed him the iPad. He shook his head.
It was my turn to sigh. "Look buddy, I don't understand what you're saying; I've waited three weeks for an appointment to be made and most mornings Sapphire is afraid to open her mouth to clean her teeth in case the aroma jumps in and makes her vomit, so please use the iPad." I thrust it at him again. I swear he was typing even slower this time, just to make me sweat. 'You need to clean the bidet.'
Tappita tappita tappita - 'But I told you that we DO clean the bidet - regularly! I flush it with water all the time!' My furious fingers were flying and Ponce Pants noted my speed with a tiny skerrick of admiration.
Raising both hands up in the world-recognised, 'Ok, whatever you say, lady' gesture, he set to work in the bathroom. I huffed off into the study and Tappita tappita tappita-ed on some freelance stuff. Sounds of monkey wrenches on tiles, running water and Milly's paws on the floor rang out as she oscillated between her Angry Alpha Female and Ponce Pants.
An hour later he stood at my doorway, grunting. 'Termini.'
I brushed past him and swept into her bathroom. The pong had gone!
"Merci! Tres bien! Merci monsieur!" My smile and gratitude were genuine.
He pointed to the base of the toilet and then to the iPad. Yes, he wanted to use it. 'Toilet base is loose. See if this is OK and if not, I come back.'
I nodded. "OK, thank you."
He nodded in response and typed again. 'And back with new kitchen tap.'
The leaky pipe can wait. Sapphire can use her bathroom again; the basin under the sink pipe manages to catch most of the drips and Ponce Pants smiled at me before he left.