Getting my point across has been exceptionally difficult – even though everyone speaks very good English.
Firstly, there is the issue of the three national languages. Which are all used. All the time.
In a business setting people speak English. In a formal setting, and on the radio and news, people speak French. To each other they speak Kreole.
I went to a meeting with government officials. During the meeting they spoke in English. Half-way through the meeting, the man next to me leaned over and asked me a question. In French. (Speaking to women in French is considered polite). At the end of the meeting, one of the officials was trying to understand a technical concept. Explanations erupted in Kreole.
Which all means I go from mostly understanding, to understanding a little, to understanding nothing.
So while struggling through the accents, I also have needed to struggle through the thought process of whether I actually can understand what is going on.
Secondly, the Australian accents strikes again. Whenever I say ‘two’ people think I am saying ‘three’. No one understands “Monique”, until I say “French for Monica”
(Oh, Monique! They proclaim. Saying it exactly how I said it).
And when I was trying to get the third installment of my rabies vaccination I had to keep explaining that it was for me, not for my baby.
(Why do you want to get a babies vaccination if you are not pregnant? As a precaution?).
Finally, methods of explaining things and providing directions have a different flavour to that in Australia. Learning this method is like learning a new language – often I feel like a 5 year old. I think part of the reason for this might be that they are using the logic of a different language while speaking English.
I remember this from when I was speaking Spanish full time – my English changed to words and phrases that I could say in Spanish. It didn’t make my English wrong, it just made it - different.
I haven’t even come close to getting the hang of this yet, but here are a few examples of what are coming to be very standard conversations:
Me: “Would it be possible for you to do X?”
“I don’t know”
Me: “Would it be possible for you to check?”
“I don’t know if it is possible”
Me: “Please check for me”
“OK I will check for you and get back to you”
Me: “I would like to speak to Y”
“You cannot speak to Y.” Silence.
“Can I call back at another time?”
“You can call back in 10 minutes”
*10 mins later* Repeat of this conversation, followed by previous “X” conversation.
Me: “I need to do Z”
“You cannot do Z”
Me: “OK. Well, what would you do if you needed to do Z? Should I get someone else to do Z?”
“OK, you can do Z. You go straight through the main counter, before turning straight to the otherside.”
It might seem here that people are being unnecessarily unhelpful, but I do not think that this is the case. People are trying to help, and when they do finally understand what I am trying to say they are more than happy to help.
I have actually had people take me by the hand and show me what “turning straight to the other side” means.
So I am starting to think – with some patience, and a bit of luck – I might actually get there!