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Hé mec, elle est où ma caisse?

As Katie shared hers, so shall I share my French clash exshperiences. I am trying to alliterate.

First of all, I never wanted to take French in the first place. I wanted to take Latin, because Latin sounded like a smart-people language. Who wants to take a language you can actually use when you could, instead, learn obscure word origins and lord your vast knowledge of useless Latin phrases over people? Then only four people signed up for Latin, so they cancelled it and I had to pick another class. Fine, I thought to myself, I'll settle for stupid French... As it turns out, French is useful for sortiring useless snotty-sounding phrases too, so I guess my 11-year-old pseudo-intellectual self would be satisfied.

When my friend Cheryl and I were in 7th grade French, we got matching F-E/E-F dictionaries and would write notes to each other in French. We hadn't yet learned to conjugate and we didn't have anything to say, so the notes looked like Tu être un marmot. Je jeter toi dans la mer. Je être dans classe. Quoi "do" toi faire dans "your" classe?

Also in middle school, we watched a video starring Moustache the Cat, a cartoon feline who would meow along with the Marseillaise. I still think about that stupid cat when I hear the French national anthem. Someone also made Mme Ulrey's talking computer say of the kid no one liked, "Michael is a reject from the potato factory," but that has nothing to do with French.

I blogged a month ago about how I probably would have quit French about a year into high school, due to a lack of self-esteem that put me in a lower level than I belonged in.

As I recently bloggedback chez Lee, we also wrote dialogues in high school French, which in the case of our little partner-swapping group: Cheryl, Harini, Jane and I, often became skits with props and all. Our reoccuring characters were the ultra-seductive Jean-Jacques-Pierre, who either appeared or was mentioned in every skit, and the Dupont garçon (I don't remember Isabelle correcting us and making us call him le garçon Dupont, do you, Cheryl? Maybe she didn't understand a word we were saying. I'm sure I have records of some of the dialogues around, but the ones that stick out in my mind are the time il pleuvait et le ciel était couvert so we went to see Le roi lion instead of going to a café, the line Calme-toi. Je vais mettre la vaiselle sale dans la machine à laver, et après, nous allons téléphoner le camping et louer une caravane, and the last episode, senior year, where it was revealed that JJP was really a woman wearing a fake moustache... but that his great love was really a man, so it all worked out.

Although I picked up an amazing amount of French in Grenoble, I think the most valuable things were to actually understand how to use the words si and on. Those two short little words are extremely valuable but don't really have good English translations.

Si is a positive reaction to a negative question, corresponding roughly to yuh-huh. If I asked you "You aren't reading my blog?", rather than answer with the long and confusing "Yes, I am" or "No, I am", you could say "Si."

On is a pronoun that means "one", as in "One should not eat with one's mouth open" but, as I only learned once I was in France, it is also used for "we" - sometimes more often than the actual "we" word, nous.

I don't remember an exact moment of breakthrough, but I do realize that at the beginning of my year in Grenoble, I dreaded people talking to me and my host family would force me to speak over dessert if I hadn't made a peep through the rest of the meal, putting me on the spot with a good old, "So... what did you do today?" You could tell I had really learned something in France when I progressed from the one-word answer "rien" to the three-word "pas grande chose". Hey, I never said I was chatty.

I think I overuse the word truc, just like I do in English. It's so much easier to have that option than to actually look for the word. But those are my favorite things in French - the fake words, the noises and gestures, the coucous, n'importe quois and non, mais oh!s - the little things like that that you never pick up in the classroom, but learn from the people around you when you're there on the spot.

[The title of this post has nothing to do with anything, in case you wondered. I was trying to come up with a good French title, and all I could come up with was the title of the dubbed-into-French version of Dude, Where's My Car?, which is the kind of thing that, once it pops into my head, repeats over and over again until I go insane.]

srah - Monday, 16 June 2003 - 9:09 AM

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Comments (9)

gravatar katie - June 16, 2003 - 9:42 AM -

When you mentioned what you said about "si" and "on", I completely understood. Those were things that no one taught me on this side of the pond, but once I was there and picked them up, they made complete sense.

Also, I have the bad habit of inserting the word "quoi" in random, unusual places. For those who don't know, this is similar to how we dumb Americans will insert the word "like" in random unusual places.

I also picked up crappy speech, such as slurring "Je ne sais pas" into "Chais pas". That was a Poitiers-ism.

As for the dinner table, you're lucky they asked you what you did. My family in Poitiers had a beligerant father who would drink too much, and once he was a little bit over the top, he would grill me about American politics. I can't even discuss American politics in my own language.

gravatar srah - June 16, 2003 - 9:54 AM -

Everyone sais "Chais pas". Or even better, "Chais p"!

gravatar katie - June 16, 2003 - 10:00 AM -

Really? Hm. I always though it was regional. Silly me.

gravatar Cheryl - June 16, 2003 - 12:39 PM -

Three things:
1) Did you find notes from back in 7th grade or did you make up that little conversation?
2) I don't remember a correction of le Dupont garcon, but I do remember a correction of our translation of almost the entire song "What the World Needs Now". I do not remember the correction, however, only our really bad translation.
3) Maman, si je voudrais habiter sur la plage et march nu, c'est mon affair, d'accord?

gravatar Cheryl - June 16, 2003 - 12:40 PM -

Ooh, I also remember putting prostituees, David Hasselhoff and Fabio into our dialogs.

gravatar srah - June 16, 2003 - 1:06 PM -

I made it up as an example. I probably have our notes somewhere in my horrorshow bedroom.

gravatar srah - June 16, 2003 - 4:11 PM -

One thing I always forget in French is the phantom l'. The one that turns "comme je voudrais qu'on m'aime" into "comme je voudrais que l'on m'aime" in order to save you from saying "qu'on", which is pronounced "con", which is a swear word. I say "qu'on" all the time.

gravatar Cheryl - June 20, 2003 - 12:03 PM -

Horrorshow bedroom! I don't want to hear about what goes on in your bedroom!

gravatar srah - June 20, 2003 - 12:11 PM -

Actually, I shouldn't have said 'horrorshow' because that's slang for good thing in A Clockwork Orange, whereas I meant bad.

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