Sunday, August 03, 2008

“...know languages, know countries, know people.”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
(Russian writer and historian).

We choose to live in a foreign country and feel very strongly that we therefore have an obligation to make as much effort as possible to learn the language and so integrate fully into the community. If “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” then our road to fluency is paved with cock-ups, some pretty spectacular ones too.

Some examples:
1.) Pondering the difficulties of finding the house of our dreams, Gabrielle wished to convey the need for persistence in our quest and chose to illustrate this with (in her best French) “if you want to find a prince, you have to kiss a lot of frogs.” The French verb baiser confusingly means both to kiss and to f**k and I still am not sure how to differentiate their use. [The mind really boggles how the French negotiate the early stages of a relationship!] Judging by the facial expressions of the two estate agents, what Gabrielle said was badly misconstrued, probably made worse by their undoubted knowledge that the term “Frog” is offensive slang for a Frenchman.
2.) Gabrielle once told our French neighbours that “Stuart a coupé la grande pine.”[Stuart has cut down a large pine.] Gabrielle didn’t know the French for a pine tree was, so did what we often do and use the English word but with a French accent. This is a surprisingly effective tool as half of English is French anyway, as a result of their Norman Invasion. Georges Clemenceau (French Prime minister 1906-1909 and 1917-1920) said, “l’anglais? Ce ne’est jamais du français mal prononcé.” [English is nothing but French badly pronouced.] The correct word for a pine tree is pin or sapin, pronounced “PAHn”. Pine, pronounced, “peen” is French slang for “dick” … oops!
3.)At a musical practice for the Breton Danse Group Gabrielle plays violin with, she asked her friend and fellow musician, Michelle, whether she was going to play her flute, “Est-ce que tu va faire la pipe?” Unequivocally, in French that means, “are you going to give a blowjob?”
You can see the difficulties (and did you notice a certain theme running through those examples?

It might be our duty to learn French but our friends and neighbours make their own attempts in English. We recently received an email from our good, French vegetarian friends Éric and Virginie. It made me laugh out loud as it made me wonder whether we sound like that to them, in French.
  “Good evening Stuart and Gabrielle xxx,
 We are sorry to answer you with long time. Heu..... You can come to visit us when you want. It will be better que nous soyons là chez nous [if we are there].
 Heu.... pfffffff dur-dur [hard hard] write english.
Donc vous êtes les [therefore, you are] welcome at home !
 See you letter

 we kiss you.
 Rico and Ninie"

Sweet, eh? And if you need any other persuasion to learn French, watch this … (Next blog, “Life and Death on the Farm, Part 1”)


Rosie said...

dangerous language isnt it...My best mistake involved the greeting kisses (bisous)
I said 'personne ne veux me baiser parceque je suis anglaise'

Anonymous said...

"Baiser" used to mean "to kiss", but not anymore. Now you have to say "embrasser" ("to hug") if you do not want to be sadly misunderstood. Note that "un baiser" still means "a kiss", though.

The problem with "pipe" and so many other otherwise respectable words, is that they have a vulgar slang equivalent, which make them tricky double-edged words (especially when you consider that "Franchouillard" humour is always on the watch for raunchy double entendre - which by the way, translates as 'double sens').

I hope you have other language questions - it will be fun answering them.

DOT said...

He he, or hi hi, as I believe the French say.

(Is it purely coincidental that you have chosen to quote Alexander Solzhenitsyn on the day his death is reported - or is it to mark that fact?)

Val Grainger said...

This reminds me of a friend near Antrain whose new british neighbours greeted another rather elderly neighbour by admiring their newly painted gates and large gateposts.

Pointing enthusiastically to the narest gatepost the husband enquired of the elderly gentleman in his best French as to which brand of ' preservatif' he used on his gateposts! The elderly gentleman nearly choked and virtually ran into his house......he avoided his new british neighbour for quite a while apparently!