Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Some French things I'll never master

You'd think that after 10 years in a country where you are considered to master the language, you'd get it right...but no. After 10 years in France (and endless years of French classes), there are a few things I still can't get:

  • military time : if I make an appointment for "14 heures", the mental process goes something like this. 14 o'clock equals 2 o'clock equals a number with a 4 in it. So my appointment is at...2 or 4? Damn
  • G or J : In French, the pronunciation is the opposite of in English. Luckily my maiden name begins with a G so I have that one down, although each time I have to spell something with a G I have to first spell out my name in my head. But for the J, which is the beginning of both of my husband's names, I still get confused so I generally avoid spelling or giving his name.
  • times of the day: It seems that the French are famous for giving inexact times for appointments, for a return phone call, etc like fin d'après-midi (late afternoon) or debut de soirée (early evening). For me, the day breaks down to morning which lasts till around noon, mid-day which is till 2pm, afternoon till 5pm and evening which is anytime thereafter. But for the French ,you have to add on about 2 hours to all those times. so late afternoon is actually 6pm, the time I'm winding down. Midday is the only one I've mastered, since everything shuts from 12-2, even in a "large" city like Lille.
  • u vs ou : this one's a real problem when you are trying to say words like coup (hit) and it comes out cul (ass). I think I've just resigned myself to never being able to say it right.
  • poudre à lever vs bicarbonate de soude : I cook a lot. But I still cannot get the difference right in my head. Every time I bake, I take out both powders and have to visualize the orange arm and hammer baking soda box in my head before I can choose the right one. So when I found some arm and hammer at my local Chinese store, I was so excited. This will avoid much confusion in the future.
  • Ca va: when a neighbor asks you "ca va?" in passing, the correct response is "ca va bien et vous?". No, they don't really care how you are. You should not answer "oui". Each time it comes out of my mouth, and I feel like the person is looking at me like I have purple horns on my head, I berate myself. And yet, the next time someone asks me that loaded question, I say the same thing.
  • vous vs tu : I still don't get it, like at work. I generally just avoid calling people anything at all.
Makes me wonder what it must be like in Suzanne's little bilingual brain. Then again, as a "real" bilingual (ie with 2 mother tongues rather than someone who learned the language later), her brain may be better wired for this stuff. Or at least I hope so.

9 comments:

Emily said...

Now I feel better that it's okay if I never master some of these same things. I too answer "oui" when someone asks "ca va?". And happy 10 year anniversary in France! Is it today?

The Late Bloomer said...

I hear you. There are some things I'll never entirely "get" or master either, namely the whole tu-vous distinction, and how to know exactly when to use which one, and the whole interaction with commerçants. I'm sure I handle it incorrectly 90% of the time -- and yet I TRY so HARD! I don't think I'll ever figure out why the gals at Vidéo Futur hate me so much, aside from the fact that I slink in and out of the place often without renting anything, just to check out the new releases... But at least I say "Bonjour" and "Au revoir" when I do my slinking! Sheesh.

Madame K said...

Except for the bicarbonate thing, you just listed every problem I currently have with the French langauge.

Nice to know I'm not the only one!


Wow. You survived 10 years! The local prefectures really should have award ceremonies for this occassion.

jchevais said...

now would that be au-dessus or au-dessous?...

There's a difference between under and over?...

Really?

A Seattleite in Paris said...

It's reassuring that you still have these issues after 10 years. It makes me feel better about still having them after only 4 1/2 years here.

Reb said...

All these comments make me feel so warm and fuzzy andnow I know that I'm not a total idiot (or maybe we all are?)

Pardon My French said...

I've been happily hiding out in what I like to call "Little Virginia" with my youngun, so my French has really gone downhill. Add Celcius to that list of things I have trouble with...okay, so 0 is really cold, 30 is really hot, and for the rest I dress in layers. I'll never get that.

bibilamalice said...

sorry for asking, but as a "true bilingual" it has appeared clear to me that people NEVER really ask how you are - so are you telling me the americans expect the truth when they ask "how ARE you?" ??
funnily enough, I've never observed these things because I was brought up with them, so hopefully the same will happen to Suzanne. She'll just spend her life comparing and contrasting other things...

L said...

I made muffins that called for 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/4 baking soda and of course I mixed it up with my French ingredients. I ended up trying to scrap off the baking soda from the batter. Needless to say, the muffins didn't rise correctly...

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