By the time I'd lived four years in Brazil I was virtually bi-lingual. Not entirely, because there were whole areas of Brazilian life where I didn't have the vocabulary: like discussing the previous night's episode of the latest "soap" on TV (didn't watch it), or visiting a beautician (which all Brazilian women seemed to do weekly), or taking the car in for repair (mind you I struggle with that in English). But my business Portuguese was pretty good and I even wrote reports and gave presentations, which most people seemed to be able to understand.
By contrast, my French is still abysmal. There is still much that I do not understand (at least on first hearing) and I often have to ask someone to slow down and repeat what they have said. I managed that in the post office this morning - a reply paid package to Belgium that I wasn't sure would be accepted. The lady behind the counter smiled and rattled something back at me. We started again. This time, S L O W L Y. Ah! if, I'd brought a copy of the label with me she would have stamped it so I would have had a record of the despatch - sensible idea!
I left feeling smug that I'd understood, but then rapidly deflated as I realised that I would not have been able to say any of that in French to someone else.
Yesterday, after I'd dropped Tod off at Bergerac airport I popped into Jardinland, pretending I was there to buy compost, but really for a tea and cake in the glossy small cafe surrounded by the sweet smell of fresh greenery. I stood at the counter waiting to make my choice. A woman alongside me struggled with three words of French, gave up and said (in English) "I'll have that one". The French girl behind the counter smiled and said (in English) "of course". The "that one" was a tarte au chocolat.
Although I am far from fluent, what my time in Brazil has given me is the courage to gesticulate, make a fool of myself, make up words that are a mixture of French, English and Portuguese and to realise that quite often the French I need is not that different from the English.
However, I may just not understand the reply!