We’ve been in Paris three months now and my French has improved dramatically. I can even argue eloquently over email with the landlord over the black mold in our bathroom without resorting to Google translate. Times of duress bring out the best of my French Immersion French. But having been taught by Quebecois teachers in Vancouver, my French is a little old fashioned, if grammatically correct. Instead of “vente de souliers” (shoe sale) I say “vente de chaussures” which are something that Louis IV might have worn, possibly with a heel.
Murray, on the other hand, learned French while living in Antibes, on the Cote D’Azur, in his early 20s. He played semi-pro football for Nice’s “Les Pirates” which involved lots of smoking of Gitanes on the sidelines. He’s completely fluent in French swear words (naturally) and likes to say that he speaks French “come une vache Espagnol” (like a Spanish cow). When we first got here he ordered 8 slices of ham from the local butcher. Apparently, the butcher understood him to mean 8 kilograms of sliced ham. We ate a lot of ham that week.
Needless to say, it’s usually me who gets to ask the questions at the parent-teacher conferences. I even learned a new French expression at a school meeting this week. It’s the name for a grade 2 boy/girl dance party: Le Boom!
The Anglification of French in Paris has lead to more than a few “malentendues” (misunderstandings). Last weekend I was making chit chat with the sales rep at a free Champagne tasting at our local wine store. As I sipped through three vintages of Perrier-Jouet on the sidewalk, I tried to tell him that I went to a party in San Francisco where they served magnums of vintage Krug Champagne with Doritos and spicy chicken wings. “Les ailes de poulet?” I tried. He looked confused. “Oh,” he finally exclaimed, “les wings!” And then, “Why not foie gras?”
There was also the time that I went to get a French manicure. “Un manicure Francais s’il vous plait” I said confidently to the nail tech. Long pause. “Oh, she said, you mean Le French?