Franglais Encore

French language

I’ve just come across another blog post I wrote while living in France, illustrating that however hard it tries, the Académie Française can’t stop the inexorable march of English words into the French language.  Which are your favourites?


February 4th 2010

There we all were, at Laroque Chorale last week, singing away, when our Director begged us to sing with ‘plus de feeling’.  I tried not to laugh, then realised everyone else was taking her words to heart, and agreeing a bit more ‘feeling’ wouldn’t come amiss.

It sometimes feels as if there really is no need to learn French – so many English words are an everyday part of life here now.

So let’s just imagine……what if, instead of being a retired Englishwoman of a certain age, I were instead a thrusting young 30-something French business woman?  What if, instead of being curled up with a gardening magazine, I preferred something more like ‘OK’, with stories of some C list celeb. – ‘un people’?  Perhaps my life might be more like this……

‘I always struggle to get up in the morning from the comfort of my kingsize. But it has to be done.  I dress quickly, pulling on my teeshirt, my shorts, and my pull, to take the 5 dogs out.  Didn’t you know I like dogs?  I’ve got a fox terrier, a labrador, a pointer, a setter, a york shire (sic) and a border colley (sic), all pedigree, of course.  We go jogging every day, with me plugged into my walkman.  At the week-end, when we have more time, I do a bit of cross country.

Un York shire.
Fernanda Prado, Unsplash

After a shower, there’s only time for a quick bite: toast, corn flakes, something like that.  Just occasionally, for a treat, I’ll have a cooked breakfast, like the English do.

Then I have to get to work. I’m a businesswoman, specialising in marketing, and first thing every morning, I have a briefing with the boss. We’re not doing so well in the recession, and we’re no longer a blue chip company.

I’ve got a very short deadline for an interesting new deal, but we’ve got awful IT problems.  E-mail, the internet, we can’t log in or download properly- you name it.  IT support’s always here trying to debug things.

We’ve just done a publicity drive via a mailing, but the feedback was awful, and my manager’s not pleased.  She’s the one stuck with the cash-flow problems. We all had a meeting, a real brainstorming session, and we’re working on a new business plan with a view to downsizing. I find it hard to offer leadership: I’ve no killer instinct.  Frankly, I think I’m a bit of a has-been…..

Towards 12.00, I really need to relax. So off to the gym for a spot of fitness training: stretching, and a bit of a work-out with a punching ball.

I’m starving after that.  I ring my manager to ask her to join me at a snack bar, but she’s a snob, and won’t come.  But I love fast foodHamburgers, hot dogs, nuggets – even a sandwich – bring them on!  And after that, an ice cream or a banana split, all washed down with a milk-shake.  No diet for me!

Le hamburger.
Amirali Mirhashemian, Unsplash

I hardly have time to get to the shopping centre.  But I prefer self service and luckily the shops here don’t shut at lunchtime – they do non-stop shopping.  Sometimes I go to the hard discount stores too, like Aldi, but not today.

Back to work for more of the same, then home for a well-earned break.  A cup of tea, some cake, and half an hour with my book, the new science fiction, a best seller.

Then my mobile rings.  It’s Marianne! She’s got tickets for the new one man show this evening: she must have been making eyes at the man in the box office.  Me, I’d prefer a film, a thriller, or something with a happy end.  Or even a night club with a spot of dancing……  Still, a night out’s a night out.

Marianne’ll be looking gorgeous as usual, with her look designer.  I get out my vanity case, and put my make-up on, the blush, the eye liner, the lipstick. What to wear with my blue-jean? And I’m not even clean yet. Too much to think about! I can’t stay here to chat to you any longer.  Bye-bye.

‘Comment Shoppez-Vous?’ revisited

France, French language

It’s that time of the month again, when I re-blog something from our years in France.  This one’s probably an odd choice, when shopping for anything but the bare essentials of life is pretty much denied us, but … learning something new is one of those educational opportunities we’re meant to make use of during Lockdown.  Though eight-years-old fashion vocabulary may not be all that helpful.

‘Comment shoppez-vous?’

May 18th, 2012

Stuck in a waiting room with a pile of magazines between me and my appointment time, my idea of hell is a choice between fashion mags and ones about cars.

Less so in France, at least as far as the fashion ones are concerned.  It’s not that I’m more interested in being stylish and chic here.  I simply have fun reading the articles and noting the ‘English’ words and phrases on almost every line.

Are you a sophisticated lady? Cool? Relax et sexyShow-off? Perhaps you aim for le twist sporty-glam, or like le mix et le match, le style ‘street’, or le fun et le trash.

Down at the shops are you looking for un look color block, le style boyish ou girly, arty-trendy, crazy doll, grungy girl?  If you’ve any sense, you’ll have made a shopping list, to make sure you come home with le jean,  le blazer, le trench, le legging, les shoes (with kitten-heel perhaps), and perhaps one or two it pièces.  Then you could really get to show off and expect le red carpet treatment.

When it comes to make-up, I hope you don’t like le make-up too much.  Light is so much more subtle.  If you’re a beauty addict perhaps you should be looking for un effet sixties, or un twist, using liner and shadowing your eyelids en smoky or flashy to achieve le total-look of your choice.  Then you’d look a real star.

It’s pretty exhausting really.  That’s why keeping up with fashion isn’t very high on my to do list.

Le look sexy-glam as seen in Le Figaro.

What’s in a name?

French language
When I was at school, my French text books were peopled by characters such as Jean-Claude, Jean-Charles, Jean-Paul, Jacques and Georges.  There were Marie, Marie-France, Marianne, Jeanne and Jeanette.
My own classmates answered to names such as Valerie, Jean, Judith, Janet and Mary while the boys’ school along the road had types like Alan, Norman, Brian, Keith, and inevitably, John.
These names identify us firmly as children of the 1940’s and ’50’s.
So over the last week, on our journey through France, I’ve had fun looking for evidence of the latest trends in French first names, via Coca-cola’s latest marketing scheme of personalising drinks bottles with the current most popular given-names.

French as she is spoke

Ariège, French language, Laroque d'Olmes

Did you do French at school?  Probably, if you’re English.  You had all that stuff to learn about not usually pronouncing the final letter, that ‘choux’ (cabbages) is pronounced ‘shoe’.  Perhaps you battled to remember when to use accents, and whether they should be grave (`) or acute (´) or circumflex (ˆ)?  With any luck, you learnt some everyday phrases to use on everyday occasions.

And that was fine for the school trip to Paris and later, that nice holiday in Normandy.

Where you’ll come unstuck though, is down here, and across wide swathes of the southern parts of France.

You’ll be OK if you visit an attractive town some 25 miles from here, Limoux.  It’s pronounced just as you’d expect, to rhyme with ‘choux’.

Limoux, Pont Neuf

Limoux, Pont Neuf

But last week, we went walking near a little village a few miles north, Hounoux.  It doesn’t rhyme with ‘choux’.  No, you must pronounce every letter – sort of ‘Hoonoox’.

A snowy day near Hounoux: Thanks Anny, for this photo

A snowy day near Hounoux: Thanks Anny, for this photo

Driving there, we passed very near another village, Roumengoux.  It doesn’t rhyme with ‘choux’ and ‘Limoux’.  It doesn’t rhyme with ‘Hounoux’ either.  Instead, the locals call it ‘Roumengousse’.panneau-roumengoux.

Here, we spend our daily round with people who don’t talk standard French, as taught in all good GCSE textbooks.  They’ll go to the baker’s tomorrow (demeng) morning (matteng), to buy their bread (peng).  Then later they may work in their garden (jardeng).  In the evening, perhaps the Music Centre will put on a concert, with one of the local ensembles (angsambles) centre stage.  Très bien! (byeng).

There’s a sort of energy and vigour in the local speech patterns I find very attractive, as local people give full weight to every syllable in a word.  So rather than Laroque, it’s Laroqu-e.  I’m quite relieved it’s nothing more complicated than that, and that in any case, everyone round here is quite prepared to listen to standard French, or even Franglais.

The multi-tasking baguette

French language

Everyone knows what a baguette is.  Don’t they?  Here’s one:

But here in France, a baguette is so much more.

It’s a conductor’s baton.

It’s a wand for a wizard or a fairy.

It’s a chopstick.

And it’s also beading for those woodwork projects.

And a divining rod.

As well as a drumstick.

Or the side-trim on your car.

There seem to be one or two other things it could mean as well.  Who knew that one small word could have so very many different uses?

The Pronunciation Unit

French language

The Chorale at Laroque.  We’re limbering up for a Christmas concert, and for one of the numbers, I’ve been put in charge of Pronunciation Studies.

‘Amezzing gress, ’ow sweet zuh soond….’.  Every week, we practise sticking out tongues between our teeth in a thoroughly exaggerated way to get that dreaded ‘th’ sound out of our mouths, but it’s so hard for the French to remember, even harder to do….

I’m not mocking here: I’m all too well aware how difficult it is for us English to get certain sounds right as we mangle the French language in our turn.

How can it be that we’re all born with the same vocal equipment and ears, and yet only a few short years after we first learn to speak, seem unable either to hear or reproduce the sounds and inflections of any other language?  The ‘r’ sound is often especially problematical.

We have a young English friend here. She’s eight, and has been here since she was three.  To our ears, she’s utterly French as she chatters away to her friends, but apparently, if you listen carefully, she gives her origins away.  It’s lucky that most of us, wherever we come from, find that our own language spoken in a less-than-perfect accent can sound both charming, and on occasion, even sexy.


France, French language

Voilà!  The most useful word in the French language.

Here’s what happened at the baker’s this morning.  Translations appear in brackets.

Me: Oh!  Isn’t the pain bio ready yet?

Madame: Voilà! (Nope.  Quite right)

Me: So if I call in after 9, you’ll have some?  Could you please save me a loaf?

Madame:  Voilà! (Yes, and yes).  Would you like to pay now, then it’ll be all done and dusted?

Me:  Voilà! (Makes sense.  I’ll do that)

By the way, I was all grottily dressed in my oldest paint-spattered, holes-in-the-knee-ready-to-face-a-morning’s-tiling gear.  This is Laroque after all: no shame in working clothes here.

Madame:  You’re looking very chic today, if I may say so!

Me:  Voilà!  (And don’t I know it).

Why bother to learn more French?  Voilà donc!

Lost in Translation

England, France, French language

Umbrellas sheltering the unjust?

The rain it raineth every day

Upon the just and unjust fellah:

But more upon the just because

The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.

This daft ditty came into my head as a sudden shower threatened to stop our concreting efforts in the yard – we’re nearly ready to show you the final result – watch this space.  And I thought – ‘If you, dear English reader of my blog, had been here with us, whether you know that verse or not, you’d probably have come up with some doggerel of your own – a nursery rhyme perhaps’:

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester

In a shower of rain.

He stepped in a puddle

Right up to his middle,

And never went there again.

And then I realised that if instead you’d been with me, dear French reader, I wouldn’t have been talking about ‘just and unjust fellahs’ at all: lost in translation doesn’t even begin to cover it. I’m finding that more and more, I’m missing that shared cultural experience. By culture, I don’t mean the literature, the art and so on. To an extent you can mug up your Molière, get up to date with Gavalda.

One potato, two potato, three potato, four….

I mean the shared heritage we all grow up with from childhood. In France I don’t know the equivalent of that whole children’s choosing routine that involves ‘one potato, two potato, three potato, four…..’, or ‘ip dip dip, my little ship, sailing on the water, like a cup and saucer…..’

I don’t know how to criticise someone’s persistently down-beat attitude other than by telling them not to be such a Tony Hancock. Or a Grumpy Old Man.

Anyone in the UK, I guess, would immediately understand ‘I speak English. I learn it from a book’. That’s Manuel in Fawlty Towers. Astonishingly, a French woman actually said that to me last week. How could I have explained, if I’d given in to the almost uncontainable urge to burst out laughing?

Then there are all those people we feel we almost know, but who are probably unknown abroad. Anne Widdecombe and other politicians like her have gone from Scourge of The Left to National Treasure in the blink of an eye.  In France, who cares?  People like me rely on the likes of Nigel Slater and Nigella Lawson to come up with new ideas for Thursday’s meal.  Who does the job in France?

I’ve not heard programmes like ‘The News Quiz’ on French radio.  It would be lost on me if I had.  But then I can read ‘Private Eye’ with some enjoyment and comprehension.  ‘Le Canard Enchainé’?  Not a chance

Mine is the popular culture of an already bygone age. I know cream’s ‘naughty but nice’, and that ‘life’s too short to stuff a mushroom’ (it isn’t), but in the right company, I understand and am understood.  Of course I’m not really complaining that I can’t go round France talking in clichés.  What I do mind is that here, I don’t recognise the allusions that I do hear, and I certainly can’t make them myself. It’ll simply have to remain a closed book (or switched off TV).

Euskal Herria meets the Yorkshire Dales

France, French language, Patrimoine, Pyrénées, Pyrénées Atlantique, Travelling in France

This week was a first for us, when we made a quick visit to the Basque country (Euskal Herria), way over to the west .  When we got there, there were no frontier posts, but we knew immediately that we’d arrived.  Suddenly, houses, instead of being colour-washed in creams and beiges and ochres, or not at all, were  all tidily painted white, every single one, with ox-blood coloured shutters and paintwork.  Place names were in French and Basque, and quite a lot of other signage too.

But the thing is, despite all that, we thought we’d arrived in Yorkshire, or Lancashire, or somewhere in England at any rate.  Softly rambling ranges of hills, so very green, and studded with sheep.  Roads which preferred to ramble gently round the contours instead of going straight in the French style.  Take away the Pyrénées in the background, their jagged peaks still white with fresh snow, add in a few drystone walls, and – voilà! – the Yorkshire Dales.

After all the hard work back at the house, we needed the peace of the countryside, so we’d chosen to stay at an Accueil Paysan farm. We knew that  meant that we’d be welcomed into simple comfortable accommodation at the farmer’s house, and share a family meal with them in the evening.  Always good value in all sorts of ways.

The welcoming committee in this case turned out to be six cheerily noisy pigs, a gang of chickens, and a sheep dog.  The humans were no less friendly, and we settled in by exploring the small farm with its 30 or so cattle, and about 300 sheep.  Sheep’s cheese is the big thing round here, and throughout the autumn and spring, when there’s plenty of milk, this family makes cheese every morning (far too early for us to be there, it turned out: all over by 7 o’clock) in their fine new cheese-production shed.

Our hosts are Basque speakers.  Their children only learnt French when they went to school.  Now that one of these children has a son of his own, he and his wife (who’s not a Basque speaker) have chosen to have the boy educated at one of the many Basque-medium schools, so that he will be among the 30% of Basques who are comfortable using their language.  It’s an impenetrable and complex one.  Its roots are a bit of a mystery, and certainly it’s not Indo-European.  With French, Italian and Latin at out disposal, we can make a good stab at understanding Occitan, the language of our region, but Basque remains impenetrable to anyone who hasn’t been immersed in it.

The next day, we explored St. Jean Pied de Port. From before the time of the Romans, it’s been a market town, an important jumping off point for Spain.  It’s been a garrison too, and an important stop-over for pilgrims on their way to Compostella.  Now it’s a tourist centre too, for walkers in the region.  It’s an attractive town, surrounded by ramparts.  We pottered around, enjoying views from the ramparts, pilgrim-spotting, ancient doorways, and watching the river, before setting off for a leisurely journey home.

And next time we stay, we’ll make it much longer than 36 hours.

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