My fingers trembled slightly as I dialled the number and my stomach quickly turned into knots. My fingers hovered over the call button. “Relax” I told myself “worse comes to worse – you just hang up”. After a few deep breaths I pressed the call button and waited as the phone began to ring.
One ring… Two rings, three and then “Bonjour, you have reached Hair Style Creations how may I help you?” Now was my moment, I looked down at my French cue cards “Err…Bonjour Madame, I’m calling you because I would like to make a hairdressing appointment for a cut and blow-dry”.
“Um… no, for next week? The 19th?”
“And it’s your first time with us?”
“Ok – next Saturday for a cut and blow-dry”
“No problem – Au revoir!”
I hung up the phone and gave myself a mental high five. It had taken six weeks of living in France to build up the courage to call a hairdresser. After over a month in France and over three months since my last hair cut, my hair was starting to look a little ratty – dry ends and the long bob I had cut it into before I left was now long gone.
I would have to make an appointment.
I had avoided making the dreaded phone appointment for two key reasons –
1. I am not fluent in French
2. I had never spoken to someone on the phone in French.
I have opened a French bank account, had dinner with a French family, listened to a one hour lecture and done my weekly grocery shopping – all in French. You might be wondering what was making so nervous.
It was because I would have only one tool at my disposal to figure out what people were telling me – words.
Most communication experts will tell you that ‘words’ make up a very small percentage of the message we understand when we’re speaking a language. Some say as low as 3% others say as high as 7% but regardless more than 90% of the messages we understand come from something other than words. Whether it be our body language, our tone or facial expression – I’ve bullshitted my way through many situations to figure out what people are saying in French.
The only other time I had spoken on the phone was with my host mum when I had to call her to let her know that she didn’t have to pick me up from my work. This is a lady in her mid-fifties, so passive forms of communication such as e-mail and text were out of the question. That time however the conversation went like this:
Me: (dials number)
Me: (in French) Hello Elisabeth I have some good news you won’t need to pick me up tonight because the buses are no longer on strike so I will see you tonight at home – no need to pick me up.
Elisabeth: You can catch the bus? Great – I’ll see you later
As you can see from the above example I didn’t allow her to get one word in, I explained everything I needed to without taking a breath because I was afraid I would not understand a word if she spoke back to me.
But with the hairdresser it had to be an active exchange – I had to answer their questions, they had to ask questions. Luckily the ending was a happy one, and I’m amazed to find out how much of the words I am now understanding and I’m starting to rely less and less on other language cues. It’s amazing how clear a person’s voice can be on the phone and it wasn’t as different as I thought it would be. So for other foreign language students – do not fear the phone so much, if you relax it may be easier than you think.
And if it’s not? They don’t know who you are – you can always hang up on them and try again next week.