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Posts Tagged ‘French language’

Would you please have sex with that chair?

In behavior, business, culture, life, travel, work, world on July 16, 2012 at 1:50 am
The most commonly known foreign languages (inc...

The most commonly known foreign languages (including Irish as a second language) in the Republic of Ireland in 2005.

Je parle francais.

Hablo espanol.

I speak two languages in addition to my native English — “speak” means conducting a general social conversation. It does not mean discussing nuclear physics or how to perform some surgical intervention.

Nor do I have a handle on the boatloads of idioms that make one a truly elegant speaker; one of my favorite blogs is this one, which sends out a fresh French idiom — almost as good as a baguette! — every day. (Elle a du chien, je crois.)

I wanted to speak both languages to work as a foreign correspondent; by the time I’d acquired the necessary skill and experience, journalism had begun its lurching descent into cost-cutting and foreign bureaus worldwide were being shut down. Tant pis!

But being someone in New York who speaks two foreign languages has helped me win jobs, both staff and freelance. It seems to awe the uni-lingual. (Educated Europeans speak 4, 5 or 6 languages and think little of it.)

I’ve lived in France and Mexico, and have visited both places many times. I hope to retire to France, so speaking the language well (better!) is important to me. My American husband, Jose, who is of Mexican descent, had a fun time with me when we visited Mexico…as everyone turned to him and began chatting in Spanish, which he understands but does not speak. He’d point to me, the white Canadian girl, as the one who actually does speak it.

Speaking French gave me the best year of my entire life, on an eight-month fellowship based in Paris that sent me all over Europe to do reporting on someone else’s dime. It allowed me to work in Montreal, where I met my first American husband, at the Gazette. It allows me to think seriously about retiring to France, as no language barrier daunts me.

Maybe this is simply having grown up in Canada, which has two official languages, French and English. Growing up there means seeing many items labeled in both languages. It’s completely normal to meet fellow Anglophones who speak fluent French — without which any government job is difficult-to-impossible to obtain.

I never understand people who disdain the notion of learning another language, a second or third tongue. It has opened doors to me professionally and personally, allowing me to make friendships that would have been otherwise impossible, like those with Mila (Brazilian) and Yasuro (Japanese), who shared that glorious fellowship in Paris. I don’t speak Portuguese or Japanese, but we all got along famously in our second shared language.

I lived in Mexico for four months when I was 14, and quickly learned two new adjectives, often hissed suggestively at me by men on the street or the bus: fuerita and juerita. (Little foreigner and little blondie.) I had an older, fatter friend  — she was fuerota/juerota.

Of course, trying to communicate in another tongue means making some delicious mistakes.

In French, the verb baiser can to kiss or to have sex with. The meanings of words, in Spanish, can change significantly from one country to another — so coger (to physically pick up, one meaning) can also mean to have sex with. Yes, I’d like you to have sex with that chair, please!

You can imagine…

My mother, traveling for years alone through Latin America, once declared passionately that she had many toilets! (Tengo muchos excusados...meaning, she thought, “reasons.”)

Do you speak several languages?

Which ones?

When and where do you use them? Why did you learn them?

Dites-nous!

The Naming Of Things

In animals, antiques, art, beauty, life on October 1, 2011 at 10:45 am
How exactly do I milk this thing?

Image by Unhindered by Talent via Flickr

Holstein, Jersey…

Then I ran out of names for cows. I’m not a farm girl and, although a big fan of milk and yogurt (thanks, cows!) I’m at a loss to name more than two breeds of them.

For someone who prides herself on knowing a lot about the world, this annoys me.

I went for a walk and tried to name all the trees I saw. I could recognize plane, oak, maple, elm, chestnut, white and red pine, cedar, Japanese maple, birch…But not walnut. I’d feel a little silly carrying a field guide, but how else will I know how to name the things around me?

We know to name the things that matter most, but why can I name (sigh) the makers of $800 shoes more readily than I can cite the names of the trees and flowers and birds that give me the most pleasure?

Having studied a variety of disciplines, from photography to sailing to saber fencing to interior design to two languages (French and Spanish), I have a large and varied vocabulary I enjoy:

quoin, dentil, parapluie, tenedor, gunwhale, boom vang, crazing, metamerism.

What are some of the favorite words you use in your worlds?

Zut Alors! How A Can Of Shaving Cream Made Me Homesick

In culture, History on April 25, 2010 at 12:41 am

It hits you without warning. I’m sitting on the edge of the tub about to shave my legs when I realize the new can of shaving cream is eerily familiar.

The label — although I bought it here in downstate New York — is in French and English.

{{fr|Photo des Plaines d'Abraham de la Ville d...

The Plains of Abraham. Image via Wikipedia

Quel big deal, vous dites? Non, c’est super!

One thing I really miss about Canada, where I was born and raised, is seeing French on everything you buy even if your first language is English. A bored little kid, even in Edmonton or Iqaluit, ends up reading it on the back of the cereal box, learning by default.  You just end up knowing weird words like “rabais” (discount) or, if you’ve ever lived in Quebec, “depanneur” (which literally means someone who helps you out; “etre en panne” is when your car breaks down) which is — natch — a corner or convenience store.

The U.S. has such a thing about bilingualism. Some people froth at the mouth with indignation when a voicemail prompt says to hit another number if you want to continue in Spanish.

The French got their collective butts whipped on the Plains of Abraham on Sept. 13, 1759 when Wolfe defeated Montcalm; Montreal succumbed soon after that and Canada became English-dominated. The Quebec license plates, forever middle finger raised in reply to les maudits anglais, say “Je Me Souviens” — “I Remember.”

But Canada remains officially bilingual, which really pisses people off in places like British Columbia (its name might be a clue), as opposed to Manitoba or New Brunswick which still have some significant pockets of French-speakers. English speaking Canadians know they’re Anglophones, Anglos, and those who speak neither English or French allophones.

I miss seeing two languages everywhere, a reminder that life — certainly in a culturally as well as fiscally intertwined global economy — can never be seen through the lens of one tongue and one point of view.

Got Writer's Block? What If Every Word You Wrote Smelled Gorgeous? Try This Notebook

In design, Media on April 4, 2010 at 5:35 pm
Writing With Left Hand

Image by indi.ca via Flickr

Every stroke of the pen releases scent from this French notebook, made by perfumers Le Labo.

As someone addicted to: writing, perfume, putting pen or pencil to paper, I love this idea.

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