I'd practise translation so much that I could say many things, at least the sort of things that typically I'd say in my own language. Comprehension, however, was another thing altogether. After I'd presented my own carefully displayed sentence like a diamond necklace on black velvet, the other speaker, the French person, would throw his sentence at me like a handful of wet sand. It would sting so badly that I'd wince, and an instant later I would wonder what had just happened to me.
At Marie-Claude's dinners no one spoke in any predictable way. They were all intellectuals and writers who I learned had to show how ironic they could be, how droll, how quickly and easily they could anticipate every objection their interlocutors might make. The advancement of a simple idea or piece of information was not the object. The task was to show they were civilized beings who caught every allusion. They were capable of enclosing linguistic brackets inside conversational parentheses.
Moreover, they interrupted constantly which, it amazed me to learn, was not considered rude in Paris. Madame de Staël in her book about Germany had written that German was not a proper language for intelligent conversation since you had to wait till the end of the sentence to hear the verb and couldn't interrupt.
(edmund white, from "american vogue," granta 126)