Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tongue tied

For a change instead of the usual travelogue commentary I've been posting I thought I'd pen some thoughts on living here and adapting to french life.

I'll start with the language. Before arriving in France I took a year long french course at UCSF. I walked away with the oral and writing skills of an 8 year old, tops. This is not to say that the course wasn't worth the time, it's just that French is a difficult language to master, especially written. It's true that I improved upon the very basic french required of all Canadian school children up to the age of 14. But not by much. Combining what I had learned from my various french courses I could sing Frère Jacque, ask for the time and declare that it is raining. As we all know the best way to learn a language is to completely immerse oneself in the country of the desired language. And then to promptly make an ass of oneself for a very very long time. The experience is severely humbling to say the least, but after some time now I can finaly say that I have progressed. But according to some folks not in the right direction.

You see, I have been picking up not only a number of bad grammar habits, but I have also developed, apparently, quite the potty mouth. For the longest time B, my live in tutor, never taught me how to swear in french, and rightly so. It would have been too tempting not to flex some provocative verbal muscle and then forget it was provocative. So, for a while I was pure, preoccupying myself with proper verb conjugations, the use of the preposition in french, the subjunctive, etc.. Then I started working and it is during then that I learned some new vocabulary. When I told B how I was conversing with people at the boulangerie and at the pharmacy he promptly made a list of words and expressions that I am forbidden to use.

They are as follows:
fait chier - to make one shit (apparently I pronounce this like a real Parisienne!)
bordel - hellish (I don't why this creates such a scene)
putain - prostitute
salope - bitch (this is bordering on the punch the c sharp word gives in english)
connard - asshole
enculé/enfoiré - sodomized
putain bordel de Dieu - not sure of the translation here, but apparently it gets quite a reaction
merde - shit
Any combination of the above

B and all his friends and even his parents could use these words, but not me. I thought that was unfair, and rather hypocritical. He told me that he didn't want people to get the wrong impression that I was raised by wolves. He has a point there. So instead of "fait chier" I say "quel galère", and instead of describing something as "bordel", I substitute with "vraiment pénible". Especially if I'm in an interview or speaking with an immigration officer. I know that it seems pretty self evident that one does not easily drop these words in conversations, but hell, I hear people (respectable ones) use them everyday! The French, it's true, like to swear. A lot.

So then to add to that there are words and expressions I have picked up that no educated adult would say. I once asked for "des patates" from a potato vendor. She looked at me a little strangely as she passed me my 'taters. B has pointed out that "pomme de terre" is what I should've used.

All in all still trying, still making an ass of myself, but ultimately getting a handle on this strange and lovely language.

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