La Langue de L’Amour

Riding the Metro throughout Paris is great for observing the fascinating acts of people. What people do when they think no one is looking at them; what people do when they know no one knows them; what people do when they are completely alone, except for the group of strangers sharing a car for a few minutes.

One of my favorite observations during a recent Metro ride to Charles de Gaulle airport led me a conclusion I had never considered before, due to my lack of language barriers in my life. I realized that, as corny and predictable and Hallmark card as it sounds, love truly knows no language.

Early on a Saturday morning, the RER B, the direct line from Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport, the cars were filled with people headed to exciting destinations for getaways. Of course there was the obligatory recorder player who plays classic French songs with his recording device and then goes around asking for loose change, and there were other lone travelers accompanied by heavy duffels and suitcases, but what caught my eye was the first inter-national couple I have actually taken the time to look at for a few minutes.

They were sitting diagonally opposite my seat, barricaded in by a large silver wheeling suitcase. Clearly they were going somewhere for an extended time. The woman’s eye makeup looked smudged, so it was clear that she hadn’t been awake for very long. As her husband gently stroked her knee with his hand to keep her eyes from closing, I hear him speak to her in French. I can recognize the French language much better than I can understand, so all I could make out of his murmur was something about the morning, le matin. She rested her head on his shoulder and much to my surprise, answered him in German. A recent trip to Austria, via the airport in Dusseldorff, Germany, taught me that German is a very distinctive and, excuse me, but an incredibly ugly language. She was not speaking French with a German accent, she was speaking distinctly German. The nasality and harsh throaty accent with which she spoke immediately recalled Heidi Klum’s “Auf Wiedersein”s  on Project Runway, and of course the flight attendants’ harsh Germanic accents on my Austrian Airlines experiences.

The vast difference in the cultures of these two people, in addition to the fact that they each spoke in their own native language in the midst of one conversation, started me thinking about how they could have met and what language they communicate in most often. Do they say “Bon Jour” or “Guten Morgen” to each other in the morning when they wake up? Is it “Je t’aime” or “Ich liebe sie” to communicate love? Were they both fluent in both languages?

I was reminded of the adorable storyline in one of my favorite movies to watch at this time of year, Love Actually. The love affair between Colin Firth’s character and his maid blossoms despite a severe English-Portugese language barrier. When he finally travels to Brazil and proposes in her language, she answers him in English. The commitment to learn a new language and attempt to woo the one you love in their native tongue is a testament to the great gestures that people are capable of. The couple on the Metro made me happy- with so many depressing and tumultuous events taking place all over the world, it was nice to have a little visual reminder for a few moments that sometimes love conquers all, even if “all” in this case was just a Romance language versus a Slavic Germanic language. Their obvious comfort with and devotion to each other despite the language barrier was a quietly beautiful example to remind me that, in this international world, the language of love is truly universal and knows no boundaries.