Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Theory and Practice of Frenchness

The tiny son of a friend of mine started at a French speaking school a few weeks ago. His reaction has been to stand with his back to the wall in playground or classroom and shout at anyone who comes near him, "Parle anglais!"

What a sensible boy, I thought, after No. 1, seeing this little dog on my walk this morning:

and, No.2, wondering what the word for "frisky" might be in French and then, No. 3, looking it up.

When I read the dictionary entry, it brought to mind my entire stock of vulgar Anglo French jokes, (poor taste alert, stop reading now, if you are easily offended by references to bizarre sexual practices). The first is about a man whose wife dies in France while he is in England; after crossing the Channel to attend her funeral, he realises he hasn't brought a hat, so he goes into a department store and asks if they have any black hats as he needs one because his wife has died. Sadly, he uses the noun "capot" instead of "chapeau" and so the shop assistant's response to his request for "un capot noir, parce que ma femme est morte" is to say, "L'angleterre, what a nation of style and finesse", (as if any French person has ever, ever said that, or anything like it - far more common is the conversation we overheard at Waterloo on the weekend between French speakers and Dutch about whether the English or the Australians are bigger pigs, [ it went on at a high emotional intensity and for quite some time; as a dual national, I realised I was doubly appalling; I thought about pointing this out to the people in question as I left, but sadly as usual in such situations I simply didn't have the nerve).

The second joke (or "joke") is about a woman who finds there is no mattress in her hotel room in France and so requests one at the front desk as she says she cannot sleep without one. Unfortunately, she uses the noun "matelot" instead of "matelas", provoking the receptionist to cry, "Ah, l'angleterre, quelle nation maritime", or something along those lines.

Anyway, when I read No. 3 under the entry for "frisky" in my Oxford French-English dictionary, as well as remembering these so-called jokes, I thought, "Ah, what a limited, unsubtle language French is compared to English", although on reflection is there much subtlety in saying, "I'm feeling frisky" if what you mean is what the French say in No. 3 (shall I sheer off here into a discussion of the relative merits of bluntness over euphemism? No, I think I won't today - or possibly ever):

But let's forget all this disgusting smut. My actual favourite joke about Anglos and French people is this one:

An American & a Frenchman have been working for months on a project & have finally come up with a plan. They are about to sign off on it but the Frenchman still looks worried, so the American asks him if he still has concerns. "Well", the Frenchman says, "I am a bit worried - I mean I can see that the strategy works in practice. But does it work in theory?"

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