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...