One of the main struggles with languages is learning and remembering vocabulary. I know how to construct sentences, conjugate verbs and all that jazz but there will always be subject-specific vocabulary that eludes me. At university we focused on a different topic each week and as a result I am pretty clued up when it comes to terminology associated with discrimination in the workplace, linguistic tensions in Belgium and the pros and cons of nuclear energy.

What we didn’t cover were kitchen utensils, so working in a restaurant meant I had to quickly get to grips with the relevant terms. I knew knife and fork already but ash tray (cendrier) and cocktail sticks (des bâtonnets d’apéritif) took some time.

However, after being here almost a month I was satisfied that I’d mastered all the necessary vocabulary to carry me through the remaining weeks. How wrong I was. Last night we started rehearsals for next week’s staff show or spectacle as they call it. Everyone takes it very seriously; there are costumes, rehearsals every night until 2am (I’m not kidding) and complicated choreography. It’s circus themed and I have somehow been given the role of the acrobat. I can assure you that this was not an informed decision and I am quickly demonstrating just how ill-suited I am to the task.

I don’t know the French for handstand so couldn’t express how much I really really hate doing them. Similarly, I couldn’t explain that I’ve only ever done a round-off on a ‘sprung floor’ as that word is absent from my brain. This ignorance, combined with the year abroad mantra ‘say yes to everything’, meant that I spent most of the rehearsal unhappily upside down. For one of the routines I am balanced (I use the term loosely) in a handstand with Solène (who is knelt precariously on the second level of a human pyramid) holding my ankles. In another routine I have to do a handstand and flip over onto Artur’s back. I didn’t know the word for ‘dizzy’ to describe my discomfort I like to think it was obvious from my facial expression. Costume-wise, I asked what I’d be wearing but circus attire was equally lacking in my French education so I remain none the wiser. It was all a bit stressful, inelegant and embarrassing.

I think the moral of this story is to listen to French teachers when they tell you to study beyond the taught material. I may have succeeded in my exams but when it comes to real life (or life in a holiday resort) being able to discuss immigration policies is yet to come in handy. A bit of gymnastic-based vocab on the other hand could have saved me from this whole ordeal.

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