Monday, January 15, 2007

The French Connection

There's a little inside joke between Mr. French and me.

I would tell Mr. French something I'd read from the boy's school papers.

For example, "did you know that they have math after the lunch break?"

And, of course, he would say, "How do you know?"

And I reply in an exasperated tone, "I can read French, you know."

I can't really. But there are so many cognates that with a little context you can often figure out about half of it. That also probably means I am getting half of it wrong too, but it works for me.

The other great thing is that a lot of what we buy is shipped from other European countries. So there might be ingredients and descriptions in 10 different languages on the back of the box. (just look for GB-Great Britain) Then Mr. French can be impressed by my French reading ability, for about 2 minutes, until I take it too far.

"It also says it contains gluten."

"What is gluten in French again?" he asks suspiciously.

"Umm....ahhh.... gloo-ton?"


Then, when that got old, we turned it around. He'll hand me a bill or something and say, "Look at this."

I'll pick it up and look and then throw it down in surprise and disgust. "It's all in French!"

We like to pretend we're surprised everything here is in French.

"It was a good talk, except it was all in French."

"That's looks interesting. It's probably all in French though."

Another time:

Me: "Were there any announcements at school?"

Mr. F: "Yeah. But they were all in French."

Another thing that surprises me, I guess because I feel like I must look different to everyone, since I don't speak French, but I get stopped all the time for directions. I sometimes have to wait a few seconds while they keep talking, until I can shake my head and say, "Sorry, I don't speak French." One woman, who had stopped me, started laughing and said, "And I'm German!"

Mr. French thinks I should learn how to say that in French, but I think that would be confusing.
-"Je suis désolé, mais je ne parle pas français."
And they're thinking, "Do you speak French or not? You just did, you know."

Case in point. Just today, a man held the door open for me while I pushed the stroller through, loaded with groceries. He continued on in French, asking if he could help bring them upstairs for me. (Context and gestures!) I declined, as it meant several loads and I'd just seen him talking to the police (!) (I have pictures, see below!). There was some back and forth, me speaking some English and French but mostly gesturing that I was fine and thank-you for helping, and him speaking French. Finally, he seemed to understand and he started up the stairs,

"English?" he asked.

"Yes, yes, I speak English." I said.

"I don't speak English." He said with an accent, emphasizing the "don't".

And I thought, Really? How much English don't you speak?

When we first got here, Mr. French would start every inquiry with an apologetic ...
"Je ne parle pas français tres bien." ("I don't speak French very well.")

And after he asked his question, many would reply, "You speak French well!"

And then Mr. F would want to say, "But that's all I can speak!"

S had a substitute teacher the other day. I asked him how he liked her.
He said, "I just say, I not talk."

Sometimes you have to wonder if immersion is all it's cracked up to be.

Oh well.

C'est la vie!

And here's the picture of the man in question talking to the police (out our back porch). He's the one in jeans. (He was still talking to them when I got back from the store.)

J was trying to wave to the nice police (wo)man but they didn't notice him.


Kate said...

I'm delurking to say that I really enjoy your blog. The pictures are marvelous and your stories are very entertaining. We live in the midwest (U.S.) and have two children who attend a French immersion school. It's a great program with the kids speaking French all day long, learning all subjects (even art, gym and computer) in French. Most of our teachers are from French speaking countries like France, Belgium and a few South African countries.

Anyway, thanks for a great blog. I look forward to reading more of your experiences in France.

Doug (french property writer) said...

Hi. I write about France and French property and was surfing the internet for inspiration when I came accross your blog. Very nicely written. When we first moved to France, my wife and I played a similar "only in French" game. We had to do something to see the humour or otherwise we would have cried (with fustration).

Anyway, being middle-aged, we found it pretty difficult to pick up French. We tried everything from books to private lessons. Finally a friend told us about the Michel Thomas CDs (you can get them through Amazon). This guy is really amazing. We learned more in a week with his CDs than we normally did in a few months. So, when I saw your post I wanted to drop this comment to let you know.

Swimming with frogs said...

Wow, so interesting.

Kate, what made you decide to put your kids in immersion school? And was it hard for them to adjust or were they very young? From what I've seen, although not so much with our kids, but the girls, aged 7-8, have had the most trouble adjusting to French school (not knowing any French). And is it public or private?

Doug, thanks for the tip. We'll have to look into it. Did you ever attend formal classes to learn French? My husband finds the most difficulty in learning French when the teacher willonly teach in French. No English whatsoever.

And I definitely think the "only in French" game is a coping mechanism.

Julie said...

Oh, my, don't tell Mr. Frenchy about the Michel Thomas CDs. And to think you could have remained in the US, continue working, attending church in English, and hang out with that weird family with 7 kids. Yeah, they must be weird. No one wants to go to church at their church! (still) It can't be because they only sing Psalms for service, (God's inspired word) and it is not because the pastor does not preach his heart out (because he definitely does) so it must be because of the weird family with 7 kids who homeschool. No one has joined since they did, and we lost one family (to France) you lucky dogs, er, I mean frogs.

shawnee john said...

Please state in both English and French if you wanted French Salad Dressing?

How would J ask for it?