The language that is called the language of love, was introduced to us shell Bs in our second year at Wellington College. That started a love affair with the French language, but I could never quite master it!
Learning the words parrot fashion never prepares one for exposure in the outside world, and spoken French is difficult to discriminate as the French accent loses clear definition of the pronounced word!
Add to that hard of hearing, dubious intellect and attention deficit disorder and you have a recipe for confusion!
This is a little faux pas that occurred in Marseilles in the early travelling years, an excerpt from Never Turn Your Back On The Sea:
My, far from basic oral French, would lead to numerous embarrassing moments on my travels later in life. One glaring moment was walking through the picturesque but, hot and muggy Marseilles, and buying an ice cream from a road side vendor.
The sign on the vendor’s trolley read glacé, but for some reason I had the name parfait as the name for ice cream, (the cafés and Milk Bars in New Zealand always had Ice Cream Parfait on their menus).
So in my naïvety and obvious error I stood there, having taken a huge lick of that delicious ice cream and asked the vendeuse if, what I was tasting, was called parfait! I think the words I used were “Est ce que parfait?”! (Is this perfect?)!
She didn’t reply, and her look with killer eyes told me exactly what she thought of me, and that I had better consult my dictionaire!
Taking that very basic French with me into the world was, quite bluntly, dangerous. Mind you our tennis matches are always fun with Danny Boy shouting out the progressive score in his version of French, and the rest of the quartet oblivious of the score unless they are keeping it themselves!
The Kiwi twang does help with pronunciation of French, with a couple of famous antipodeans from either side of the Ditch, making it to the silver screen in movies such as French Kiss and A Good Year!
One lovely little poetic French phrase I picked up in a well known author’s blog, and with her kind permission I will quote it here! Thank you Charmaine Pauls:
Charmaine had been out doing her motherly duties, as if she had the time, and had packed her two treasures safely into their car seats, and then driven off. Arriving home, Charmaine realized that she had forgotten to put the stroller into the car!
Out she came with: “J’ai perdu ma pousette, et ma tête”! I lost my stroller and my head! ………………..Cute!
More recently Natalie our middle child, ‘though no longer a child, has started taking French lessons as her job is attracting many requests from Le Français d’Áfrique and a basic grasp of La Langue has become a necessity. Natalie popped around for a tutorial, but more from Mama, who is an amazing linguist, than Papa!
Needless to say I sat in the background with my hearing aid turned up, and my Surflink device set on focus, so that I could listen in and give my tuppence worth! (The Starkey Surflink is a separate hearing and remote control device for a hearing aid! It has the amazing ability of being able to collect the sound and transmit directly from the table, or any media device directly to your hearing aid!)
So armed with this spy mike, how amazing was it for me to be able to, every 100 words or so, come up with a translation that works! I even managed sang froid as cool! (Garder votre sang froid – keep your cool!) I am not saying that I am actually qualified! I just keep on believing that one day I will understand every word when I listen to TV Cinq Monde! (The French channel on DSTV)
The French do get irritated when little anglicismes creep into their language! The English, on the other hand embrace Frenchisms and some are even introduced intentionly! Take the distress call Mayday, which goes back to the 1920s. A clever Englishman came up with the idea of using the French, m’aider taken from the phrase venez m’aider, meaning come help me, as a distress radio call!
If someone is considered to be savvy in a certain subject or generally knowledgeable, she / he has savoir-faire: literally translated as know – how, or to have the ability to know what to do, no matter what the circumstance!
If we manage to make a faux pas in English it is an inappropriate action in public, like burping or being caught out making inappropriate comments, not realizing the microphone was still switched on! A past British Prime Minister knows the feeling, as does a more recent one during a overseas visit! The French use faux pas in exactly the same context! The meaning: Faux – false, and pas – step!
My first attempt at a French poeme started life in Afrikaans, and from there directly into French. I tried my hardest to think in French, and although it came out as my emotions intended, I had to elicit help in the form of Isabelle Delvare, to correct my grammar and repair some misleading Google Translate translations! Thank you Isabelle! The original Afrikaans version is simply called: Linda!
My Deepest Love
L’Amour Le Plus Profond
Tu es, je sais, une belle étoile
Tes amis ont une amie spéciale.
Tu as, je l’ai appris, un coeur en or.
C’est pouquoi j’ai pour toi
L’amour le plus profond.
Ensemble nous avons conquis
De nombreux obstacles.
Et notre vie a été rendue
Fertile par ta présence.
Tes parents doivent être si fiers
D’avoir une enfant comme toi.
Bouffée d’air frais
Qui me fait rire et qui m’apprend
Les langues, la vie et les chansons
Tout ce que la vie nous envoie,
Nous vaincrons avec facilité.
Avec toi je suis comblé.
Tu m’as fait perdre la tête.
Dan Varoy 2012 07 26
My favourite French song of all time is Chanson d’Amour sung by that Canadian band from the seventies, The Manhattan Transfer!
Anyone who eventually deciphers the words Charles Trenet sings in La Mer must collect her / his prize and will surely fall in love with the language!
Another song about de l’eau, (water), is La Seine, sung by Vanessa Paradis, in the animated movie A Monster in Paris, (Un Monstre à Paris). I hear it quite often! It’s the ring tone on Linda’s phone.
St Vincent School For The Deaf translated into French is: St Vincent École Pour Les Sourds! (Les Malentendantes – The Hard of Hearing would be politically more correct!)