While driving to Lyon last Friday I found myself behind this lorry. I nearly giggled myself off the road and was forced to take a photo so as to de-sensitise other Anglophone drivers in France should they also get stuck behind this lorry company. Having said that, taking a photo whilst driving is probably one of the most dangerous things you can do. No officer, I’m not saying I took the photo, I have an automatic camera in my Aston Martin just like all sensible secret agents. My eyes remained firmly focused on the road. And sometimes on the back end of Transhit Transport Company.
Just a wee missive to say, yes – I have indeed stopped writing for a while, but no – this isn’t a permanent state of affairs. I will be back sometime in June when all, yes ALL, shall be revealed. Amongst other treats I have harvested a crop of Frenglishisms and I have what the French called a SCOOP. No, not an ice-cream one, nor an industrial shovel, nor one for dog poops – a scoop means a piece of juicy news that no-one else knows. Ah ha …
I’m not sure what I should call my partner (yugch), boyfriend (sounds like we’re fifteen), Tommy’s daddy (sounds like we’re seperated) in this blog. His name begins with an L so I’ve been referring to him as L, but this makes him sound like a character in a James Bond film, working alongside M and Q back at headquarters on a new parachute pen. My sisters refer to my man as Lozza but that would make readers think he was an Essex boy who’d never in his life pronounced the letter ‘t’ at the end of a word, and I would pass for a Shazza, or even a Clazza. He’s French for a start and he’s very good with t’s, so Lozza is too misleading. I often call him Honey when talking to him directly, but that would just become too sickly sweet and lovey-dovey when repeated in a blog, and we’re not very lovey-dovey, at least, not since our sexy little love couple was space-rocketed to another planet – the planet Parenthood – and passion-killing logistics took over, big time. So what do I call him? Chap? Lad? Man? Homme? Ah … there’s a thought : L’homme. It’s all in there : French, man, and not just ‘a’ man – THE man – ‘Le’ with a capital L (for Lozza) – he’d be pleased with that. So I’ll be trying that out for a while.
As for Tommy, well so much for protecting the identity of my child. I used to refer to him as Tiger, but when I started writing regularly on the Ist of January this year, I started using his real name. It’s a bit late to go back to Tiger. Or is it?
Baloo has become Baloo labrador just in case anyone thinks we’ve got a second child with a kooky name whom we make sleep on a blanket on the floor and who loses her hair, Dad covers both Dads so neither of them can take me to court for anything – I’ll just say I meant the other dad – sisters are One, Two and Three (in chronological order; not birthdates but sworn-allegiance-to-my-blog dates) and brothers are Brother Brain and Brother Brawn. Mum is Mum and I haven’t thought about what I’ll call my stepmother … Mama-Step? Madre? (She lives in Spain and has Spanish looks) or even Madrastra? (stepmother in Spanish) – I’m sure she’ll hate that. I’d better find something good fast and what’s more I had better write about her soon as I’ve just realised nearly everyone else has had a mention and seeing as this blog is read solely by members of my family (with the odd, and I mean ODD exception), Mama-Paso (literally mummy-step) may well be feeling a tad peeved. So the next entry will either be a plug to her soap making villa industry (as opposed to cottage) or to her and Dad’s B&B set-up in Malaga (which is a bit pointless really seeing as you’re all family members and could go for free … oh well.)
I have just realised this entry is CRAMMED full of things in brackets (see?) – a sign that I should be signing off (and going to bed to rejuvenate my brain cells).
Oh poop, oh piddle, oh pee, I’ve gone and left it too late to write anything of any worth. It’s nearly midnight and I’m wiped and I have a sinking feeling that a certain very small person shall be waking up way before daybreak to tell me about sea turtles and the sun still sleeping and Daddy coming on the train. So I’m going to go to bed and dream of all my ex-boyfriends and potential future boyfriends, just like I did last night which was rather nice actually. Unfortunately I woke up and discovered ‘it was all just a dream’ and got on with real life which involved porridge and laundry and potty rinsing and other extremely unsexy things. I wonder when life is going to jazz up a bit. Get hot and steamy (and I’m not talking about the porridge nor the laundry) and racey and risky. I do miss all that. I didn’t think it would all stop with motherhood. Well, it hasn’t entirely, but I still feel very hungry, I’d even go so far as to say starved of all that fun. Oh, which reminds me, the French also say “c’est fun”. Now I really have to go to bed before I throw something at the wall. Oh well, here I come, lads.
I have to start by apologising for returning so soon to the subject of condoms, but it’s nearly eleven o’clock in the evening and I need a short anecdote that will tickle ribs and take me a mere ten minutes to pen, so here it is.
When I first came over to France, nearly fifteen years ago, I spoke very dodgy French – at least, I spoke the sort of French you learn at school which has strictly nothing to do with real life French. But I learnt fast, mostly thanks to an extremely patient boyfriend (not this one – this one is about as unpatient as they get) who spoke English and French and took the time to say everything twice, once in each language. Anyway, one morning, on tour with the little Paris-based theatre company I was working with, I was in the hotel breakfast room eating croissants and what-not, and I tried some strawberry jam which tasted like it was 95% chemical additives, 4% sugar and 1% half a rotten strawberry. It really did taste like Cillit Bang – with a strawberry on top. So I called the hotel breakfast chap over from his coffee machine and told him that the jam seemed to be ram-packed with preservatives: “Il y a trop de preservatives dans cette confiture”. He flickered his nostrils (only French waiters know how to flicker nostrils; they learn it at French waiter school alongside various other nasal techniques designed to express disgust, contempt and pity whilst retaining a killer condescending smile) and replied, “non Madamoiselle, ici en France on ne met pas de preservatives dans notre confiture.” And he turned back to his mini-butter organisation. Of course, I’ve rather pre-empted this story by giving you the punchline in the title. ‘Preservative’ in French means condom. Beware. And if ever you find yourself in a situation with a French man who asks if you use preservatives, at least you now know he’s not talking about salting hams nor using hardcore anti-age creams. Although he might be. They’re very kinky those French men.
To those of you loyal and closely-related enough to check in every day, excuse my absence. That tummy bug dragged on and on, knocking me for six, making me feel nauseous and burpy and reducing my energy levels to that of a squashed gnat. So basically I have spent the last four days doing the strict minimum while all the rest went to pot as I kept collapsing in a small farty heap in my bed.
But I am back, if not on fighting form, at least stable enough to be able to focus on the screen and identify most of the letters on the keyboard.
The feedback on my last two weeks of entries has been that those of you readers who are British (or American) want more more MORE of the Frenglish spoken over here amongst the French in-crowd (language then filtered down to the not-so-in-crowd, the plebs and eventually, probably, into French dictionaries). It makes you titter and guffaw and no doubt feel slightly, or hugely, superior. So here are a few more examples of English words humbly adopted, and often squashed, by the French.
Tommy is into Toy Story at the moment and he even found himself a Toy Story book at the local supermarket last week. All the characters from the two films are in the book, but some have different names. Bullseye the horse is called “Pile-poil” which is quite a good translation, but Tommy shouts Bullseye! Bullseye! whenever he sees Bullseye, which led to his daddy asking what he was saying. So I translated and explained the meaning using darts as an example and Lorenzo said “Ah oui, bull-eyes”. “No, bullseye” I repeated, “Oui, bull-eyes” he replied and explained that that’s what the French shout when their dart hits the centre of the board. BULL-EYES!! And while I’m on the subject of games and sports, they also call the goalie on a football team ‘le goal’, thus confusing the person with the wooden, netted, rectangular structure the chaps kick balls into and possibly reducing the goalie’s self-esteeem to le zero.
I shall do some more research into the subject (this basically involves phoning up friends who work in culturally-swayed offices in Paris and Marseille and asking them to listen to le conversation around them for half an hour) and get back to you oh so soon. I realise my four day absence has probably traumatised a large number of you and for this I apologise humbly. And yes, in a way I have indeed broken my New Year’s resolution to write something EVERYday. But I don’t think it matters. Having written daily for over two weeks seems to have reprogrammed my brain and I think I’m hooked now. I might even do a double-whammy today. I might write something absolutely mind-blowing this evening and be spotted by the Guardian. BULL-EYES!
It has just occured to me that we English call condoms “French Letters” and the French call them “capotes anglaises”. ‘Capote’ means ‘hood’ or even ‘bonnet’, which makes me imagine a willy wearing a little rubber Bo Peep bonnet, tied on with ribbons and all. So, French Letter, Capote Anglaise – why is everyone so desperate to lump the blame on the other nation? In my opinion it’s a marvellous invention – I thought they’d all be racing to snap up responsability for this clever little rubber sheath. So where did condoms actually come from? I wikipedia-ed ‘condom’ and discovered that there is evidence of them existing before the fifteenth century in Asia, China and Japan, but the earliest uncontested description of condom use is Italian Gabriele Fallopio’s treatise on syphilis. He describes linen sheaths soaked in a chemical solution and allowed to dry before use. The cloths were sized to cover the glans (that’s head, helmet or end-of-bell to you) of the penis, and were held on with a ribbon. Which brings us back to Bo Peep.
The term condom first appears in the early 18th century but its etymology is unknown, or at least, disputed. In England, the popular belief is that the invention and naming of the condom came to be attributed to one “Dr. Condom” or “Earl of Condom”, but there is no proof that he ever existed. Just the tabloids making it up again then. In France there exists a town called Condom and the land in front of the town’s signpost is suffering from serious soil erosion following years of Brits stopping their cars and getting out to stand in front of the sign while their holiday partner takes a hilarious photo. However, Condom is in fact famous for being a resting place for weary pilgrims on their way to St-Jacques-de-Compostelle. In 1319 a hospital was built to tend to the weariest of the pilgrims, those whose water gourd had a leak or who’d forgotten to put sun factor in their rucksack. The founder of the hospital? … Cardinal Teste. I’m not joking. I love it when a plan comes together.
The pressure is on. One sister has suggested I submit something to the Guardian, the other has posted the words “read my sister’s very funny blog” on Facebook and added the address for those curious to have a peek. My reader numbers are averaging out at 50 a day (who? where? why?). I now feel that I’ve got something to live up to and it’s making me eat chocolate. I had a look at the Guardian website and read the Contributor’s Guide and Freelance Charter and had to run to the loo halfway through. Scary indeed, taking things seriously. Ten days ago it was just a laugh, a personal writing exercise which only my Dad was reading. Now it feels like the entire world is waiting for the next day’s installment, pushing me to come out in publishing glory, pounding on my door and shouting at me to rise to the occasion. But maybe I should calm down. Those comments did, after all, come from my dear sisters who clearly love me more than I imagined (I already knew they liked me a lot as I’ve had 37 years of generous presents sent across the seas plus hand-me-down designer jeans, but this is proof beyond all doubt) and are clearly heavily biased, reading my words through rose-tinted Gucci sunglasses. In fact, maybe they’re solely responsable for sending my blog statistics soaring up up and up; maybe they peek in fifty times a day on purpose to make me feel good.
Anyway, I’m wiped tonight so this isn’t going to last long. Just to rectify a wee error in yesterday’s entry : the phrase “c’est tendance” in fact doesn’t draw on the English word tendance (1/to attend to the sick, 2/ servants) but on the French one, which does indeed mean “trend”. However, this doesn’t excuse them for using a noun as an adjective. At least we bung a “y” on the end of our nouns to transform them into useful descriptions. The French don’t bother, they just say “It’s trend”. But I am diverging into dangerous Extremely Dull territory so I shall make a sharp turn and inform you of my latest discovery in the way of French Englishisms – definitely the worst yet – I am having to bite my duvet to write this in order to stop me biting the dog instead. It was my neighbour who let me in on this odious, warped phrase which apparently is now storming Paris as I write. Not the neighbour with the shoe thing (see Sole Man), the other one, but I can’t write anything about him as he speaks rather good English and may find my blog). Anyway, here we go, the phrase to kill an entire army of sensitive British souls … “le fooding”. I know, I know, it’s horrible. Distressing. Excruciatingly painful. Like waxing a bikini line. And what does it mean? – I asked my neighbour. It’s the title given to a new trend in France, that of eating fast yet gourmet food. Or gourmet yet fast food. In short, foie gras pointy sandwiches and salted caramel pretzels and other such gastronomic treats that took as much time as it’s taken you to read this far, to put together. I googled “le fooding” and discovered that it’s a huge movement. There’s even a site : http://www.lefooding.com which talks about la semaine du fooding, le grand fooding, wine et fooding (I know, I know – breath deeply and maybe get yourself a glass of water) and each time the word fooding is written, it’s followed by a little copywrite sign. Amazing. Someone said the word and then copywrote it. I’m clearly breaking some kind of rule having written the word at least twenty times without its accompanying R-in-a-circle but I actually don’t know where to find that on my keyboard and in any case I don’t care. But it’s all very spooky. And the front page runs an article entitled “Les tables les plus feeling de nos campagnes” – translated: “The most ‘feeling’ tables of the countryside” and thus I discover that the word “feeling” is also being used in totally the wrong context by a zillion French people. What words will they crush and crumple next? On another site, “lefoodingdamour.com” which happens to be in English as it appears to have been set up for a gastronomic event between Paris and New York, the source of le fooding is revealed :
“Le Fooding”? Born in 2000. In Paris. On the seventh ﬂoor of Radio Nova, in the rush to meet an article deadline. “Food” + “ing” to make food rhyme with feeling… A barbaric gerund in English. An outrage in French.”
So there you have it. But I don’t agree that the French think it’s an outrage – they adore the concept and they adore the word and before long we will be forced to say that we too fancy a bit of fooding.
So I thought I’d make up a word too : le dicking. The French will surely jump at this as they haven’t yet created an “ing” word to refer to sex. “Ah oui, j’adore faire le dicking”, “Il est très bon au dicking”. But that does imply a willy would be involved which, let’s face it, is not always the case. So maybe “le bonking” would be better. “Voulez vous faire du bonking avec moi ce soir?” Nah, I prefer le dicking®.
Before I start tonight’s much-awaited entry (my sisters are at this moment curled up on sofa/in bed with laptops on knees and checking my blog page every three minutes in anticipation of what is now to come) may I announce that this is Day 10 of my New Year’s Resolution To Write Every Day and I feel I deserve a pat on the back for having got this far. It might all go jiggery-pokey soon though, as I’ve noticed my brain drying up bit by bit as the snow keeps me stuck at home playing fire engines all day. But this afternoon I managed to creep my car up frozen death slope and across the ice-packed village square in a wheel-spinning manner and park it out at the front of the village where the roads have been cleared and salted, so if all goes well I shall be able to get out tomorrow and receive stimulation that doesn’t involve shouting neeee-naaaww or doing digger noises.
So … le blog. I’m following on from my entry “A Day Off” written last Wednesday, which I thought was one of my weaker scrawlings but which, apparently had at least three of my readers doubled over giggling. Why? Because those readers are British and the Brits love to laugh at the French. So, hungry for more readers and ready to do anything to swell those numbers, I shall continue where I left off. Please trust me, the following (mis-)use of English words and phrases are all very real and very common in today’s hip and cosmopolitan France.
If you announce something that people think is wonderful you will hear the words “C’est le top”. It’s the top. I find this painful. Even worse, if it’s something that is so wonderful it really shouldn’t be missed, “C’est le must”. Yes, must. It’s the must. I assume this treacherous twisting of language stems from the idea that “you really must go to that event” or “you really must see it”, but whoever went from there to “C’est le must” deserves to be castrated or have their boobies droop into used condom shape and consistency.
Next horror: the way the French take an activity and turn it into a noun which is totally and utterly misleading for an English speaker. In general they choose the wrong part of the word. Football becomes “le foot”, snowboarding becomes “le snow” , basketball is “le basket’ and I assume skateboarding is “le skate”. Table football, being smaller than the real thing is called “babyfoot” shortened to “baby”. So in a bar you may hear people saying things like “j’ai vu le foot, c’était top! Alors, le snow, c’était le must? Bon, tu veux jouer au baby?” You might think the person was saying he’d seen an actual foot and that it was up high – maybe placed on something else, then asking if his friend had seen the snowfall that day and finally did his mate want to play at mummies and daddies with a toy doll. Bizarre and creepy you’d say to yourself, whereas in fact the chap was at his peak of trendiness. This brings me to “Les People”, pronounced pee-pearl. This does not refer to the population of a nation nor human beings in general nor the body of enfranchised citizens of a state. No. Over here it quite simply means “celebrities” or “the in-crowd”. So they have taken our word, which in England carries notions of strength, togetherness, community and other such noble values, and put it through the tumble dryer on a very hot setting until it comes out all fluffy and shrunk and unwearable. People = celebrities. It’s just too horrific to reflect upon for too long. And not only do the French use “people” as a noun, but as an adjective too. “C’est très people” meaning, “the celebrities do that a lot”. Which reminds me that they also say “c’est très tendance” – ie. “that’s the latest trend” (which is wierd because in English tendance means “care as to the sick” or “servants” so god knows how they got from there to the idea of something being fashionable) or “it’s very cool”. Oh my god, they also say “C’est cool” ! Bloody hell! Next thing they’ll be saying “C’est très bleudy ‘ell”! And when you get angry with them, as I am right now, I’m told “Soit cool, bébé”.
Basically, they’re using English words but in the majority of cases, giving them a totally different meaning. If, in English, I complain my foot hurts the French think I’m talking about the latest football results. If I talk about the people of Sheffield, they think I’m talking about Sean Bean, The Arctic Monkeys, Jarvis Cocker and Ray Ashcroft. It’s a sad state of affairs when you reduce the people of a city to their five celebrities, and it makes me want to hit someone.
Here’s another one : “le after”. It means a late party. ie: the place you go to at the end of a night’s clubbing. It’s horrific. “Tu vas à l’after?” Sounds like laughter when you say it like that, but I am definitely not laughing. If your schedule is too full, you’re “overbooké” (“je suis désolé mais je suis overbooké”), if you have your hair blow-dried you’ve had “un brushing”, a talkie-walkie becomes “un walkie-talkie” and if you try to correct them you get tutted at or steeped in condescending looks. Your Schott bomber jacket is “le bombers” with the ‘s’ pronounced no matter how much you try to tell them it’s singular, and a pair of jeans loses its plural form and becomes “un jean”. I’m going to wear a jean to the party. Poor Jean. Or lucky Jean as the case may be. That handy all-in-one tool gadget known as a “Leatherman” is pronounced “laserman”, which I have broken fingers over (other peoples’) as I work in the theatre business and all the technicians wear those things on their hip and constantly talk about their “lasermen”. Chewing-gum becomes “schwinghum” and took me about ten years to understand what they all were talking about. And before I throw my computer out of the window and thus be freed of this painful task of recording such utter idiocy, here’s the killer : “C’EST TOO MUCH”. Yes, the French really say that. And it doesn’t mean you’ve served them a gigantic mountain of mashed potato, no, it means that something is over the top. ie: you put on your skin-tight red sequinned party dress to go out and everyone else was wearing “le jean”. Well then you’d hear whispers of “c’est vraiment too much” or even “elle est too much” as you lean over the drinks’ table to get to the little finger sandwiches. Oh yes, there’s another one: “Le sandwich” pronounced “sond-wish”. I can’t bear it. I’m coming back. Sheffield, let me join your people.
Unless I get some sort of inspiration meteorite hitting me straight between the eyes by the time I go to bed and infusing my brain with phosphorescent creative zing-a-zing energy waves, I hereby pronounce today a Light Day in terms of writing; a lazy day, a day when I’ve drunk about thirty cups of tea and eaten too much toast and cereal and spent hours and hours on the computer up to my ears in emails and flight bookings, with Facebook chat boxes opening up to greet and tease and tickle me as I try my hardest to concentrate on whatever task I’m meant to be concentrating on at that moment. At one point I realised I was “chatting” (do we say that in English? The French call the live message-on-your-screen phenomenom “le Chat” not to be confused with “the cat”, in the same way they call a car-park “Le Parking” and going for a jog “Le Footing”. I despair of such twistings and misinterpretations of our language but what can I do? They all find it incredibly modern and trendy to be using these English words sprinkled throughout their daily conversation and would be loathed to give up such groovy labels for fear of sinking back into nerdness and uncosmopolitanism, so I let them get on with it and hide the pained look on my face whenever such words strike my ears. I also avoid asking any of them to come for a run with me or park my car.) … anyway, I realised I was simultaneously exchanging Facebook messages with an ex-lover, a potentially-future-lover-if-I’m-not-careful, and my brother-in-law. When I realised what trouble I might get myself into if I got them muddled up I slammed the computer shut and went for a roll in the snow.
So, as I was saying, today’s missive is going to be short as I don’t have much to say. No car crashes. Just a walk in the icy-snow with Tommy and a sort of fully-clothed mini sunbathing session on the terrace when the sun came out and surprised us all. Actually that’s not true, I do have things to say, I’m just feeling lazy after all the screen gazing I’ve done today. Future subjects will no doubt include : France Telecom sending us a bill for 275€ as we wired the phone wrong and ended up calling England on the paying line rather than the freebie line, Happy New Years’ e-cards being naff/cringy/painful/narcissic or all of the above, Buzz Lightyear nearly being stole on the plane by the mother-of-two in front of us, and my future star appearence at the Little Angel Theatre. All very exciting and I’m sure you’re all hanging off the edge of your screen and drooling in anticipation. I can now say “all” as my reader numbers have indeed swelled. I think it’s mostly down to people looking for Lhasa information, but there are a good few family members and close friends who keep peeking in. I should be careful as I won’t have anything to say to anyone when I actually see them.
Right, off to make some toast.