Monday, 13 October 2008

Es que vous parlez English?

I loved reading Chris' account of his schooldays, and it started me thinking about my own far less interesting and distinguished scholastic career. I was a very lazy student - which meant that whilst I scraped enough qualifications to get into a decent university, I failed to get to grips with most of the subjects at school.

Once you've failed in something, it's very difficult to go back. I'll never be able to understand chemistry, or history, or French.

My most important failure was French. Once you leave school chemistry and history really don't seem that useful. On the other hand, a language might have been.

French was pretty much compulsory when I was at school. This was for historical reasons, perhaps dating back to when it was the only language that our royal family spoke, and that until relatively recently all our laws were written in. It was also the language of diplomacy, and in the 80s, the language of Europe.

Nowadays English is the language of choice in the European Union, since most of the newer member states use it as their second language. And in schools children are as likely to be taught Spanish, or if they're lucky Urdu or Chinese.

But we were stuck with good old French. I remember when I'd just started it at school, coming home with a list of words to memorise, probably the first 20 numbers, or something. I spent 5 minutes or so looking at the list and gave up. As I said, I'm lazy.

The next five years were much the same. Lists of words came and went. They were usually grouped by topic. Furniture, jobs, the beach. For me, all missed opportunities. If I ever end up sur le plage in the Riviera, not only will I not be able to chat up the bikini-clad beauties, I won't even manage to rent a deckchair, or buy a bucket and spade. All because I didn't learn that beach vocabulary.

I had another major problem with French, which I don't think I've ever admitted before to a living soul - the accent sounded really effeminate. I couldn't bear to try and pronounce the words properly, just in case...

When I got married, we went to Paris for our honeymoon. My wife made me do all of the talking, and I discovered that I'd remembered more that I'd thought. The major problem, though, was eating. She always had a Salad Nicoise, while I would confidently pick something from the menu, thinking that I could make an educated guess about what it was.

Unfortunately, I was never right. One evening I was presented with a plateful of meat that didn't look like it had been cooked. I suppose I should be grateful that I never actually got anything that was still moving.

But it wasn't all bad. Once, when I was 14, the teacher commented at the end of a piece of writing, "Sounds very French". Most of the words were spelt wrong, conjugated wrong, or whatever, but I'd caught something about the idiom. Of course, it wouldn't have sounded French if I'd said it out loud. I wouldn't have wanted to sound like a woofter*

*Not that there's anything wrong with it.

To illustrate this post, I hunted far and wide, but could not find a picture of a typical Frenchman - you know, with the blue striped shirt, the garlic and the bike. So I had to make do with Brigitte Bardot. Sorry, but I did try...


Dan said...

Drive by firsting, have to walk the dog be back

Dan said...

I was wondering what that woman had to do with the post. I got it made cause anywhere in the world I should be able to find someone who speaks English or Spanish.
I think the US was one vote away from making French the official language.

Brian o vretanos said...


You might want to avoid China, but otherwise you should manage okay.

Bee said...

Where was I?

I would have loved to learn French. My brother Sergio is learning it now and he's doing pretty good! His wife Crazy Ez only knows "white dog" I'm hoping she doesn't use her one and only phrase at a resteraunt when they go to Paris... worse yet if they bring her a plate with questionable meat.

Manager Mom said...

Hmmm... I think if you had REALLY been trying to find a picture of a Frenchie, there must have been some John Cleese photo SOMEWHERE on google images.

Jean Knee said...

I have never learned a foreign language. I choose instead to perfect all the subtle nuances and crazy spelling rules of my own native English. as you could already tell

Tracy said...

First, I have to ask before I forget, what happens in 16 days in Ubuntu? And where is that exactly? Is it on the border of Canada?
I took four years of French in high school and two in college and today I could only introduce myself. Isn't that sad? I blame all of those drugs that my peers pressured me into doing.
It's funny, I never cared for history in school but now I find it fascinating and am always trying to learn something new or old as far as history goes.

Tracy said...

Oh and another thing.
Brian, darling, how did I end up at the bottom of your blog list?? Not that I'm bitter about it or anything but I used to be much closer to the top. Have I fallen out of your favor?

Brian o vretanos said...


Where were you? I don't know. Where?

Manager Mom:

I wasn't looking for John Cleese, I was looking for a real Frenchman...

Jean Knee:

Yes, there's a lifetime's learning in English alone.


It's just the countdown to the next release of the operating system.

I used to have the blog list in a different order, and I alphabetised it a while back, except for Bee and Jean Knee, who have always been at the top. I'd like to put them in too, since I want to be egalitarian, but I expect I'd never hear the end of it.

Anyway, I think you're better off at the bottom where you're more noticeable, rather than lost in the middle somewhere. It's certainly not an indication of losing favour...

Tracy said...

Somehow that just seems unfair. What if you never hear the end of it from me?
And I think it makes me look like an afterthought or a pity listing instead of being more noticeable.

Brian o vretanos said...


As they say, Last But Not Least, but you have given me an idea - maybe I should have a list of "Bloggers I Pity"? Or, since I don't do pity, "Big Cry Crys". The only problem is, I don't know whether o put you or Dan first...