Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Englishman, the Frenchman and the Maire...

They say that language is 50% formal learning, 50% application and 100% communication. Well I experienced that recently at a meal at the house of some French friends in the village.

An Anglo/Franco mixture of some fifteen people, part family, part neighbours  and part friends, we arrived greeting each other in a mixture of tongues and accents. From the patois of the Mayenne and broad Scotts, to the softer Loire tones and the open vowels of middle England, and, amongst our midst, the marie of the village and his wife.

Between us we had a variety of linguistic skills, from the truly bi-linguist (well actually multi linguist) to a mixture of language knowledge, learnt or acquired in our own respective  journeys through life. And, just as with international flights or voyages, whose timetables are set to the country of arrival /departure, our default language was French. We ate some excellent cuisine, drank some wonderful wines and all relaxed into that happy ambience, which is generated by good folk having a good time.

We had first met our French hosts some years ago at a  local village fete, where we had shared a communal meal, of vast meat proportions, all washed down by good red wine or local cidre. The husband spoke English & wanted to practise so it was agreed that he'd speak English & myself French. I was struck by how similar in looks one of his daughters was to him and tried to express this, "votre fille vous resemble/la fille et pere avoir le meme visage". Clumsy, but effective  I thought , but not fully understood so the daughter was asked to help translate. "They have the same face", I asserted. "Face?", replied the daughter, at which point the mother burst out laughing. It seems that the  word,'face' in English, sounds to the French ear like 'fesses', which is buttocks or bum! So here was I boldly asserting that father & daughter had a derriere resemblance.
Needless to say & thankfully, this linguistic faux pas was the beginning of a friendship  and here we were again sharing good food & communication.

After many stories, jokes and bilingual exchanges, over many courses and several changes of wine, it was decided that we should all play Scrabble. Two mixed nationality teams were set up & two scrabble sets appeared as if by magic. This was to be a bilingual game. Either language to be used, with the nationals of that language being the judge of the accuracy of the language & words in question.

Not a great lover of games and particularly word games, my husband quickly realised that he had no option, but to participate, if international relations were to remain intact. Everyone busied around, moving chairs, mixing nationalities and charging glasses until the scene was set. At this point the marie declared 'political immunity', stating that it was a politically strategic game and hence in order to be neutral he had to opt out. Strange as he was the only political person in the room and even stranger when he then proceeded to move between the two games; advising, studying, tutting and nodding in equal measures.

Its a curious mental experience trying to put together random letters to match your visual memory from two different languages; your brain goes into a strange overload. The letters 'z,y,v' were more usable in French and high scorers plus, 'au, ou , et', could all fill in those awkward gaps.

It was a great night; I learnt a lot of new words (not all repeatable) and developed new thinking skills. But above all I learnt the power of  'entente cordiale' and diplomacy. Our walking lexicon of a village marie, with his political manoeuvrings between the two teams, stole the day...he was the star.

Oh and how did my long complaining, 'I don't do games' husband fair?
Well he won hands down in both languages!

" C'est incroyable!"...