Sunday, 6 March 2011

tant pis pour moi


So I was having a marvelous conversation in French the other day -- and by marvelous I mean that I understood what was going on. The topic itself (local rental properties, their location, cost and availability) was pretty dull, but I was working hard and catching on and basking in the radiance of my own linguistic competence ... and then it emerged that my interlocutor was an anglophone.

Quoi? I said, my bouche hanging open.
But it is the truth, he said.
You are making a blague, I said.
But no, he said, his sourire illuminating his visage.
And you speak Francais so bien, I said.
He shrugged.
He had a French name. He came from Montreal. And he looked French, if you know what I mean -- kind of darkish, with a hidden lazy power. Like Jean Reno. When he shrugged he looked more French than ever.
So we could have been speaking Anglais all this temps? I said.
You betcha, big guy. He punched me on the shoulder.
Merde, I said.

My words flowed more smoothly in English, but the thrill was gone. The conversation was dull, not marvelous. After a minute I shook Guy's (I wasn't pronouncing it Ghee any more) hand and left the rental property office.

I should not have been surprised. This has been a personal Catch 22 for me going back to a high-school band trip to Quebec City, where local girls dissolved in laughter and my initial confidence turned to blushes and stammers. I can speak French -- but not to French people. Any francophone over the age of about six is going to go too quickly and idiomatically for me. And most non-francophones have English as a second language. So my French is adequate only when there is no need to speak it. I've been invited to join a club that never meets anywhere. Merde indeed.

8 comments:

Sandra Love said...

Hey, hope you found a place you like. There's no place like home, eh?

Sand

Richard Scrimger said...

right now, home is where the drum kit is ...

Juanma Agudo said...

Jean Reno is actually more Spanish than French, he's from Spanish parents born in Morocco, an his real name is: Juan Moreno y Herrera-Jiménez

Not that many people know that ;)

PhilJ said...

'The club that never meets.' That's a great expression and there must be thousands of us. Arrived in France in 97 with a solid determination to learn to speak French.

My 'terror French' was about running linguistically in to a brick wall almost every day. There are shops even now I am too embarrassed to go in to.

But 'terror French' became 'Battle French' and I could buy a baguette with supreme confidence.

The killer? The French like to speak English. I was asked, no ordered, to use English with all staff so my exposure to a potential sixty million conversations was zero.

'Club Merde', yes I like that.

PhilJ said...

'The club that never meets.' That's a great expression and there must be thousands of us. Arrived in France in 97 with a solid determination to learn to speak French.

My 'terror French' was about running linguistically in to a brick wall almost every day. There are shops even now I am too embarrassed to go in to.

But 'terror French' became 'Battle French' and I could buy a baguette with supreme confidence.

The killer? The French like to speak English. I was asked, no ordered, to use English with all staff so my exposure to a potential sixty million conversations was zero.

'Club Merde', yes I like that.

PhilJ said...

'The club that never meets'. I like that and there must be thousands of us.

Arrived in France in 97 with a solid determination to speak French.

My 'terror French' involved running in to a linguistic brick wall almost daily and even now there are shops I am too embarrassed to enter.

But 'terror French' gave way to 'Battle French' and I could buy a baguette with supreme confidence with head held high.

The killer? The French like to speak English and I was asked, no ordered, to use English with everyone.

So, years later I know what they are talking about but not what they are saying.

Club Merde it is.

Richard Scrimger said...

French or Spanish he is pretty darn cool. Maybe his slightly more southern background adds to that darkish hidden power thing he has going on.

Richard Scrimger said...

Club Merde is a great name! Who would want to join? And yet there we are.