Garry was the most beautiful Frenchman I’d ever seen. The low-part of his flat-top afro was impeccably tapered. He was wearing an electric blue, camouflage trench and exuded a musky body odor that I imagined only him and those talking trees in Lord of the Rings could produce.
There was zero hesitation to exchange numbers once we spotted each other on the dance floor. Ours was that 3-am-in-the-club chemistry that throws both parties into a snow globe of pheromones, vodka Red Bull and uninhibited flirting.
The problem was knowing what to do with his number the next day.
I had just moved to Paris from my native California, and while my French was decent, it wasn’t ready to be coy and punny, let alone sexy. While getting his digits, I noticed that Garry had some generation of iPhone, which was better than my red Samsung flip-phone, whose stand-out feature was having three background themes: Water, Blade of Grass and Mountain. The prospect of sending something without the crutches of auto-correct or the Internet – aka spontaneously – inspired a crippling fear in me. I should just be straight up with him, I’d tell myself, and try to grab coffee as soon as I can. Things are always better in person.
The prospect of sending something without the crutches of auto-correct or the Internet inspired a crippling fear in me.
Instead, I did what so many of us do, and ignored my own advice. I decided to feign complete, nonchalant fluency in French and refuse to speak English.
I was too shy to ask my girlfriends for sexting help. Ego got in the way. If I was out when Garry texted me, I would wait until I was home to look up things like, “Flirty French text slang,” or, “French texting abbreviations” online. As a result, even entry-level sexting morphed into a whirlwind of cryptic sentences: the various prepositions for “inside” cock-blocked me to no end, and something like, “Qu’est-ce que tu portes? A plus tard ;)" (What are you wearing? See you later ;)), became a Da Vinci Code-level, “Qcq t portes? A+;).”
Eventually, I invited Garry over for a late-night aperitif, and body language saved the day. He became a reliable booty-call, and I started to wonder if there wasn’t potential for something more. “I mean, he’s so hot,” I told my French roommate while weighing up the pros-and-cons, “he’s got this sexy tattoo on his ribcage. It says pugnace or something.”
I told her about all the other things he’d tell me, and she confirmed my biggest fears...
She stopped me there, and explained that having pugnace (the French word for “pugnacious”) tattooed on your body in a large, gothic font was, in her opinion, the equivalent of fastening those fake metal balls that douche-bros put on their trucks in America onto your chest. I told her about all the other things he’d tell me, and she confirmed my biggest fears: I had semi-fallen for a guy not as myself, but within the confines of both my elementary language level and denial. In other words, I was being impressed by some pretty basic stuff.
It's been years since I've seen Garry, but I still live in France. I also call, text and sext with a lot more ease now – but I’ve learned to be frank and ask for help when I need it. If I could go back, there are four pieces of advice I would give my younger, horny self:
1. No Faking. Don’t pretend to know more than you do. It takes ages to become close to fluent, and you’ll just get more frustrated and feel incompetent.
2. Welcome Help. Tell him or her to correct you! All they have to do is make a quick, painless interjection when you get something wrong. Similarly, don’t be afraid to ask your native-speaking friends for advice, and download language applications like Reverso to help you on-the-go.
3. IRL ASAP. Let your natural chemistry do its magic. Meet up with your date in person to rekindle the flames of your first encounter, and to find out what they're like away from the glow of the disco ball.
4. Don’t Sweat It. If they grow impatient due to the language barrier, they're not worth it.