Monday, 11 September 2017

French Faux Pas - an excerpt from a transitory life in rural France

The French language and I have been antagonists since our first introduction. I vandalised the language - according to my Father and teachers, and the language tortured me. Despite the many long hours I spent trying to make friends with The Language of Love, it was not to be , until I hit my mid-life crisis and spontaneously bought a house in France off the internet , in a region where English is infrequently spoken or understood.

With the aid of the Alliance Française, a truce with cette langue was conceded toute de suite and I recommenced French lessons in 2011.

Now I hold the dubious honour of taking the longest time of any Alliance Française student in Melbourne (or perhaps the world) to successfully complete Beginners Level French.  And it's not for lack of trying - it's just that my efforts have been sporadic and the hearing in my left ear has prematurely ceased.

There are words I can understand and spell, but not pronounce. Then there’re words I can pronounce and verbs I can conjugate, but fail to be able to put them into coherent sentences, unless I have preplanned and rehearsed what I want to say.  A killer for spontaneous conversation.  However, the greatest language mistakes I’ve made are with false friends – French words that look and sound like English words, but have a very different meaning.

A further barrier to my communication is the spit-fire speed at which the French speak and the plethora of silent letters that can make a sentence sound like one, very long, indistinguishable word. My comprehension, when it exists, lags at least few paragraphs behind the conversation making me look like a village idiot: my facial expression is blank as the flight or fight mechanism musters the energy needed to decipher what I'm hearing.  Definitely not a time to multitask.

Our first foray into a hardware store (un bricomarche) was met with puzzled looks when I asked the carefully rehearsed question "Est-que vous avez des planchers de chien s'il vous plait?"  Have you (floor) boards (made) of dog please? “Ahhh chêne – oui, oui “ was the relieved response of the shop assistant when I produced the piece of paper on which I had correctly written my question.

Excité(e) is a French word that I can pronounce clearly and confidently. In the past I’ve told quite a few French people (including officials) that I was très excitée to be in France, only to get a reaction which ranged from a smirk to a look of indignation. With such responses, a prudent person would have referred to their dictionary. Not me. Unfortunately excité(e) remained in my oral vocabulary until last year. 

It was the retort of our close French friend, Guillame, that finally goaded me into checking on the translation of excitée.

After a 6 am start on a day in July, in order to make as much possible progress with our renovating before the expected 400 C heat arrived, a trip to the le bricomarché and le supermarché were necessary. As I was leaving My French Folly, clutching a shopping list, Guillame (artisan extraordinaire) appeared - just in time to advise me on what type and brand of wood preservative I should buy.

"Bonjour Guillame " I exclaimed, before kissing him on each cheek, “Je suis 
très excitée parce que tu es arrivé et je vais faire les courses . Quel préservatif, je dois acheter s'il vous plaît ?”

Loosely translated I said "Hello Guillame, I am sexually aroused because you had arrived and I'm going shopping. What type of condom do I need to buy please?"  

Note to self: excité = sexual excitement or arousal (not thrilled or excited); un préservatif = condom; chêne is not pronounced chien.


martinealison said...

Bonjour chère amie,

Votre petit billet m'a fait fait sourire. Merci pour ce délicieux moment !
Dans quelle région vous trouvez-vous ?

Je serais heureuse de vous rencontrer !...
Gros bisous 🌺

Wandering Wren said...

Oh Gawd.... I've been using excite in that way for years too! Mind you years ago when I was living with my now husband as his partner (& our three children) I was always recorded as his concubine on official documents so I suppose I got away with it!!
Wren x

Jeanie said...

Well, what I will say to this is you're faring far better than I would be in the circumstances! Granted, only one adult ed French class since high school, along with my Rick Steves phrase book. But boy, do I ever admire you! I'm sure the smirks are somewhat kind and at least appreciative that you are trying -- and doing pretty darned well. (Is Guilliaume cute? Just asking!)

I know what you mean about one long sentence. We just returned from Quebec City, which I call France-Closer-to-Home and the primary language is French. I tried. Hard. But mostly I succeeded only with please, thank you, hello, excuse me and a few other bits. Oh, and great with the menu! But I could look at the historical markers in French and at least get enough context to understand. Now, if anyone read it to me, I'd be lost!

I bow down to you in respect and awe for your accomplishment and your great good humour in writing about it!

Elizabeth@ Pine Cones and Acorns said...

Oh my that is the funniest story. I laughed out loud. I have the same problem with French. I have a much easier time reading and understanding what people are saying than I do responding. I think your attempt is admirable and you should be proud!

At Rivercrest Cottage said...

Excuse me while I stop laughing. I am with you on French. I spent a long grueling quarter of a year in French class until I finally fled. To this day I can still say "Open the window" and "Close the window", "Open the door" and "Close the door", or at least what I think is how to say that! And that's all I learned the whole quarter.

Your house is beautiful and every time I read about the area where you live I'm so jealous. I am amazed you bought you house off the internet! We have been traveling for 3 years to Alabama and Tennessee trying to find the perfect place to move to. And you just found one in a foreign country right off the internet? It makes me ashamed that I've lost my spontaneity and sense of adventure.

Decor To Adore said...

I am clutching my sides with uncontrollable laughter. This post was so good and yes, relatable. I have had my moments as well.
Have a wonderful week!

Paulita said...

Elizabeth, Your post made me laugh. I'm sure I'll make many of the same mistakes. I avoid saying bisous because isn't there a word that means F***ing rather than cheek kisses?

Marie-Thérèse Norris said...

Chère Elizabeth, this post made me double up in laughter. I have so many faux amis stories to add to this from friends and my husband's attempts to speak to my French family. He once tried to say to my cousin Jean-Louis that he was "middle-aged" and it came out "Je suis un homme du moyen age." (I am a man of the middle ages.) Everyone collapsed in hysterics and my charming cousin replied. "Moi je suis préhistoire." (I am prehistoric.) When I translated all this to him my husband laughed the hardest. It has become part of family legend.

And then there's the story of my American friend who spoke French quite well but confused the word "queue". Thinking she was asking a man to show her the end of the line that was forming she actually asked him to show her his private parts, to which he gallantly replied, "Delighted, Madame, but shouldn't we at least say 'bonjour' first?" I still fall apart over that one.

Keep up the good work.

handmade by amalia said...

So funny! I love your photos, I've always wanted windows with stutters on them, preferable blue ones.

Lynne said...

I will try to learn that language until I die! . . . and I almost did . . . laughing with while reading! Bless you, Elizabeth! You are "très authentique", my friend! Thank you for popping in to 34 on the weekend!

Ishu Sathya said...

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