Monday, 28 July 2008

Version française

"You can stop speaking English now*" says Fingers, witheringly, as if it's some kind of affectation on my part. "We are not in the Ile de Wight any more".

Noone in my family seems to like English. I am not even sure I like English. Since discovering my school's stash of Elle France magazines at the age of 14 (odd, I know. It was that kind of place. They gave a prize each year for best decorated egg cup and we had yoga classes on Wednesdays) with their shimmering promise of a world outside North Yorkshire filled with esoteric beauty products, brooding men and assymetric haircuts, I had to escape, to no longer be English, and devoted my life not becoming as un-English as possible. So far, so good. The CFO and I have always spoken French with each other. His English, whilst serviceable, is extremely unsexy, and peppered with management speak. I do not need to be told that there is insufficient resource to manage the lunch issue by my conjoint. "Qu'est-ce qu'on mange ma calinette, le frigo est vide" is just much nicer, somehow. If I had to speak English with him, I don't think we'd have survived 6 months.

The eurospawn are hilariously French, and I love it. They look like they have escaped from a Cartier Bresson photo (no sign of my genes there); play pétanque with great seriousness, give good shrug, and when they open their mouths, this perfect stream of French comes out, to my hand clapping glee. Again, again! It's like having someone else's children, but I am allowed to do all the stroking. Lashes in particular, with his honeyed skin tone, enormous brown eyes and long legs appears to share no genetic material with me at all. He's like a vastly expensive exotic handbag that I can't believe I'm allowed to touch.

I put my hands up here- mea culpa. I have been weak, inconsistent, and generally crappy about maintaining their English. I do speak English to them, but I don't switch to English to talk to them when it's all four of us together. English has become the language of telling off for them, because I just can't get the necessary stern tone in French. It's just too sultry. I don't force them to watch English TV. They don't have any English friends. As a result, Lashes talks with a perfect London accent but is hard pressed to form a whole sentence. He speaks French rather like I speak Spanish - with a handful of nouns and verbs with indiscriminate endings, and no prepositions. Fingers - already a man of few words - sounds like Inspector Clouseau on Temazepam.

Of COURSE I know this is actually a Bad Thing. My children must speak English, language of the free world, language of Shakespeare, language of large salaries and successful careers in the financial services sector allowing them to put their aged parents into the superior sort of retirement home where we will be fed and bathed occasionally. It would, I can quite see, be a shame if they could no longer ask the Bearded One searching questions about whether whales' teeth are made of wood, or if they could not read 'Would you rather', or watch Mars Attacks. And there are some words that just have no translation, or that I love the sound of and want to share. Baleful. Sardonic. Fattybongo. Spode. Ferret. Skinnymalinky. Slart. Feck. Manky. Spong. (Yes, I know that strictly speaking many of these are not actual words, but they form part of my daily vocabulary nevertheless. Maybe not Spode, but the others). And I want to share jokes with them, and cultural references. I want them to understand why the CFO says "Go on go on go on go on go on go on go on" when he makes me a cup of tea, or why my family say "up to a point Lord Copper" for no.

So I plough on, trying to speak English to them, feeling like Joyce Grenfell most of the time whilst they stonewall me with repeated cries of "Arrète maman!". I am occasionally rewarded with the odd single syllable utterance, but only if I am offering something pretty special, like a giant Pokemon coated in Haribo or a bag full of lizards. We have devised a mutually entertaining game of finding words and phrases that the CFO can't pronounce and making him say them. "Dis 'big wide mouth frog', papa! Dis 'through'!". I don't know if it's helping.

But perhaps all is not lost. Posh Mum told me that when she took them onto the pier they said to the man in the dodgems "She is not our mother" disdainfully. A whole sentence (albeit a rude one).

Any ideas people? Bribery? Blackmail? A Skybox? Answers on a shorter Oxford English dictionary....

* You should assume that all conversations with my children reported on here are in French unless otherwise stated.


Parisgirl said...

Definitely bribery. From now on boys you will speak to your mother in English or she will not buy that ice cream/Pokemon card/bag of every time!x

justme said...

Oh are back! I just LOVE your always make me smile.
No idea how to get the sprogs speaking english.....I shouldn't bother too much! They will probably have picked it up enough to improve later if they want they think in French?

blogthatmama said...

Bribery is the only way forward, nothing else will do.

Anxious said...

Ignore them when they speak to you in French. Buy them books in English. Make them watch English stuff.

I disagree with justme - I think it's SOOOOOO important that they pick up English now, while it's easy for them. The older they get, the harder it will be...

Waffle said...

Thanks all. I am going to work on it. Will try the ignoring/bribery axis!

Just me - you are very sweet. I think they think in Martian.

Anx - 2 years ago they both spoke only English and no French, so it must be in there somewhere....

In other news I have a giant mosquito bite on my eyelid and it is not at all funny.

Marianne said...

Oh dear, it's such a struggle - do you think it'll be ok if I shout "arrete, patron!" when I get tired of hearing my colleagues speak French at my new job?!

You're right, the most important thing is for you to be able to share jokes and cultural references with them, so one day they too will be able to find things like "nary" funny. x

Waffle said...

Hi Marianne
I am sure that will be fine in the new job. Very Parisian to shout. Good luck! I hope it is a nice one with lots of breaks for cake and pretty things to look at and sympa colleagues.

Anonymous said...

Inspector Clouseau on Temazepam...

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