Despite being able to express myself easily in French, with over a decade of French living under my ceinture, I still find myself running into walls quite frequently. I’ll be talking — weaving a story or reacting spontaneously to something I’ve seen — then BAM! A word that I consider to be essential to the repertoire of human expression turns up missing. Ca n’existe pas!
Suddenly I am at a loss. I could, of course, find my way around this linguistic roadblock, grab the closest word and keep talking. But instead, my thoughts tend to screech to a halt and ripples of despair wash over me. I find myself taking it as a personal affront that no French person has bothered to make sure the word in question existed. Suddenly the cultural divide between my country of origin and my adoptive country feels painfully vast. A deep longing for my people bubbles up and I wonder if I will ever truly be understood here.
What many of these words have in common is multidimensionality. At first glance they may appear to simply describe an action or an emotion. But upon closer inspection one realizes that many of these words inhabit several places in our hearts and minds at the same time. It is perhaps in fact due to the richness of their inherent connotations that they become untranslatable, or in any case, hard to match. Either way, their absence in French has caused me more than a little chagrin!