My paternal grandmother was French, but that is not why I took French as my elective in high school. We had the choice of Spanish, German, Russian, Latin or French. Spanish was not considered useful. (How little we knew.) Russian seemed impractical since I didn’t intend to be a diplomat. I still associated German with Hitler, so it held no appeal. But French supposedly was the language of the intelligentsia. Not that I knew who they were, just that I was supposed to learn French.
I never mastered either speaking or listening to French. In fact when a clerk spoke to me in Paris, I fled. It took me some time to realize she had said,”May I help you?” But I did learn to read French, enough so that I passed a written exam in it for my Master’s degree. It has also been very useful to read the genealogical records in France for my grandmother’s ancestors.
And what I have learned! My very unpleasant grandmother hid an interesting truth from us as she presented herself as the epitome of grace. She had never married my grandfather and was in fact still married and the mother of four small children when she ran off with my grandfather to Canada at the end of World War I. And intriguingly, her mother had been born in San Francisco when her family went there to supply goods to the gold miners. And her family was Jewish. A complete surprise, but all there in the French newspapers and cemetery records.
So while I can only read French, it has saved me from parking tickets in Quebec and has allowed me to learn much more about my family background. Things my grandmother was determined to keep to herself. C’est la vie!