E. and I had been dating for, I dunno, 36 hours?, when we found our new relationship being tested by the limits of my French.
It was the day after my birthday, which had started off fairly calmly with my housemate telling my recent ex-girlfriend that I’d been having sex with her friend, and then proceeded to a civilised dinner with four friends at the popular Frenchie restaurant.
E. and I had kicked on to a small gay bar in the Marais, then got it on, and, well, the next day here we were…
Earlier that night we’d dropped by a jungle-themed party in a large Haussmanien building near the 9th, the lasting memory of which was leading a conga line of 30 people to the tune of Lion King past a candelabra…which I’d knocked over on to E.s new clothes, staining them with a large splash of white hot wax (luckily this had dripped on her shoulder, otherwise the explanation would have been less credible).
Be that as it may, we’d successfully found a cab despite the rain – in the pre-Uber era this was a feat in itself – and now found ourselves quietly shattered, lying next to each other in bed.
It’s a quirk of multi-lingual relationships that the language you start communicating in, depends on whether you speak worse French than her English. If her English is better than my French, English usually dominates. And vice versa. Somehow, however, we had started this relationship in French, despite my obvious deficiencies and her fluency in my mother tongue.
Perhaps I was pondering this and not paying full attention which is why I then royally misheard what E. was about to say.
Turning to me she said, quite clearly I thought, “Je t’aime” – which anyone with schoolboy French or who’s a fan of Serge Gainsbourg (anyone?) will know means, “I love you.”
Let me reiterate that we’d been dating for one and a half days.
I know things move quickly in France, especially by my glacial Australian standards, but this kinda felt big.
Put on the spot, and not keen to make an awkward situation any more uncomfortable, I took a deep breath and responded: “Je t’aime aussi” – (I love you too).
Oddly this didn’t seem to be the desired answer, however, as she sat bolt upright and moved to distance herself from me before letting out a loud giggle.
“Non!” she said. “Je t’avais demandé ‘j’éteins?”… which I soon realised was not the verb for “to love”, but to “turn out the light”.
“Ah.” I replied. The full impact of what I’d just declared starting to sink in, before all of a sudden I saw a way out:
“I know. I said ‘I’d love you to’.”