When we reached a certain age, our parents sent us to France.
I arrived at my host family’s house late at night. The next morning I went down to breakfast and said, “Bonjour,” to each family member. I sat quietly and started to stew as I ate my toast, my ear searching for words it recognized.
I couldn’t hear one familiar word. Then it dawned on me. Our French teacher hadn’t been from France: he had been an Egyptian gentleman who happened to teach French. Surely that was why I couldn’t understand these gracious and smiling people. My toast got jammed in the top of my throat as I thought that I would have to spend the rest of the month not understanding any words.
As I was coughing up bits of bread, Madame C. asked me if I wanted some water.
And just like that I realized that I had understood Madame. I took the offered glass gratefully and my love for French took off.