I am American. I grew up in New York, although I do have an English mother from Essex, London (and please spare me the Essex girl jokes for those of you that are thinking them….!) and I was born in Denmark (but that is another story altogether). I have spoken English my entire life, except for a couple of exceptions. The few exceptions would be when Chris and I were working in Indonesia in the Raja Ampat and we found ourselves in charge of about 20 staff, none of whom spoke English. They only spoke Bahasa. Bahasa Indonesia (the language of Indonesia) is not difficult at all. In fact, just by learning about 100 words, you can get by really easily. So that is what I did. So, one exception is when I was speaking Indonesian in the Raja Ampat with all the wonderful locals there. The respect that I gained from learning their language truly outweighed the time it took to learn the language, that is for sure. The second exception would be in high school in French Class with Madame TenEyck. I know it isn’t a very French name, but she was the best… THE BEST… French Teacher ever. I am so grateful to her for what I know today.
Now, as you can imagine, I speak French quite a lot. When we first arrived, I have to say I was a little rusty, to say the least. However, there were French people, and they wanted to dive. Chris doesn’t speak French. Well, he actually understands a lot more than he lets on. There came to a point though, one day, where we had a French gentleman and he wanted to do a discover scuba dive. He was French, and he didn’t speak any English. The diving was actually a present from his friends. They were all in St. Martin for the soon-to-be-diver’s wedding. So, it was sort of a bachelor party. In France, for the Bachelors party, it is more of a day affair. The friends come up with a list of terribly embarrassing, yet fun, things to do. So, my first ever French Discover Scuba Diver turned up at the dive shop in a pink tutu! It was super funny, and it took a bit of explaining to understand why he was in the tutu, but I eventually understood. His friends made it clear that he would have to dive in the pink tutu, no exceptions.
We went out to the dive site, and I gave him a briefing, all in French. There are some really super important things that we share with people in order to give them a fun, safe, diving experience. So, it is a little nerve racking to do this in a different language for the first time. Well, I did it. The pink tutu diver did great, and it was fantastic. This helped my confidence grow. I have had some briefings where my confidence diminished a bit. Like the time I was teaching a French family of 5. I was explaining in the briefing how if I wanted them to breathe out, I would show them my bubbles… I apparently said that I would show them something else… something that men have that women do not! After the father in the family told the children to stop laughing, I continued, with a bit of a red face. How is it even possible to make that mistake???
I am telling this quick story because this morning I went diving with 4 French people. 3 of them had never dived before, and the 4th was a certified diver. So, once again, I gave my briefing in French. My vocabulary is much stronger now, so I was able to gesticulate less and explain more. It is amazing what you can describe with your hands. Of course, under the water, we all speak the same language, but on the boat it is a different story. I was so proud of my divers today as well, they did great. The diving was fantastic, which really helps. We saw turtles, and rays and two huge barracudas, as well as tons of fish. They were controlling their bouyancy (or “flottability” in french) like professionals, and I put this down to my fantastic briefing (not any natural ability on their part… all right, maybe they were naturally gifted in diving, but my briefing helped).
So, I am glad that when we first arrived in St. Martin I swallowed my fear and started taking French people diving. You know what, they may speak a different language, but they are really nice people and today was super fun.
(Sally wrote this blog 🙂 )