French, as a language, has won many world titles – it’s the ‘most beautiful’, the ‘most stylish’, and the ‘most romantic’.
Obviously, being a champion of rights of the downtrodden and unappreciated (read: spammers), I found this absolutely unacceptable. Come on, Russian is pretty stylish too. And, you have to admit, German is quite a romantic language. Words like ‘dummkopf’ can really come in handy sometimes.
So I decided to undertake a mission aimed at systematically destroying the French language. And how would I do this?
That’s simple – by learning it.
Okay, I’ll admit, my real intention was not so dastardly. I had to choose between Spanish and French, and I chose French because I already knew a few French words. That is, if you count ‘gateau’, ‘baguette’ and ‘crème brûlée’ (Don’t laugh. They’re proper, useful French words. Look – the last one has the accents and everything).
Anyway, I chose French because of my vast, somewhat esoteric French vocabulary, and as a result I’ve discovered that I have a very special talent. I might even go so far as to call it a flair:
I can make even the most beautiful language seem absolutely hideous.
So absolutely hideous that Napoleon might just be tempted to arise from the dead and shoot me himself. I’m guessing he’s short-tempered (He’s definitely coming for me now).
One of my most fundamental mistakes is that I make ‘un’ (That’s the French word for ‘one’) sound like ‘uhh…’, and this makes me seem slightly slow-witted when my French teacher asks me a question:
Teacher (in French): How many pens do you have?
The teacher waits for a moment.
Teacher (in French): Come on, it’s easy.
Teacher: It’s ‘un’! One pen!
Me: I knew that!
And pronouncing French words that have an ‘r’ requires a certain combination of snorting, coughing and holding your breath while touching your toes, counting backwards from ninety-nine and hopping on one foot. Okay, maybe not the last three. But then you still have to snort, cough and hold your breath, and unless you’re French, this is impossible to master. Usually I can only manage the cough, and most of the time, I end up choking. It’s still impossible for me to say ‘français’ without having an asthma attack.
French is a sinister language.
To add to this, I usually have absolutely no idea what the teacher is saying. She says something long and convoluted, and then looks at me expectantly, so I know it’s a question. At this point, one particular French word I know very well becomes extremely useful.
‘Oui’ is my French word for all situations. Anything my teacher asks me, I smile confidently, and say, “Oui, oui!” Sometimes, I accompany it with an enthusiastic thumbs up. I must admit, though, that it doesn’t exactly work in all situations. For example, if she says to me, “You’ve failed the French test,” I don’t think it would be a very good idea to say “Oui!” and grinningly flash a thumbs up. But then it works for most other situations. I’m just hoping that I don’t fail a French test anytime soon.
I don’t think my French teacher’s too impressed either. She’s very patient with me, but I can sense her exasperation. The problem is that I’m terrible at following whatever she’s saying. All I hear is a vague jumble of words interspersed with many ‘le’s and ‘la’s. This makes it especially difficult when she gives us instructions. She tells us about the homework that we have to complete for the next day, and I have no idea what she’s just said, but I think that I’ve heard the French word for ‘dog’ somewhere in the midst of that vague jumble. So I come back the next day, with a whole paragraph on dogs, when everyone else has come with a paragraph critiquing a thesis on the evolution of the French language. To top it all, my paragraph isn’t even a good paragraph. Everyone else reads out their thesis: “The evolution of the French language is a particular important aspect of linguistic studies” while I’m left saying “I like dogs. Dogs are nice.”
To appease my teacher, I gave her a nice card for teacher’s day. It had a quote in it too – a particularly thoughtful one, if you ask me. It was by P.D.Q. Bach, and it read “I don’t know what it is about the French language, it seems to be scared of coming out of the mouth so it comes out the nose instead.” She laughed – but now that I think of it, it was more of a ‘Mwahahaha…I’m going to take revenge on this student who dares to mock the French language’ laugh. Hmm. That really puts things in perspective now.
Anyway, I must say, I’m still glad I picked French. Yes, it does have its problems: it, inexplicably, has a gender for everything (a blog is masculine, apparently), and to pronounce French words correctly, you need a bout of mild influenza. But then, when I was flicking through a friend’s Spanish to English dictionary the other day, I found these sentences on a page (they had been translated from Spanish): “Do you have the money?” “He doesn’t have the money!” “Give me the gun!”
I’m not an expert in these things, but their choice of sentences seems rather stereotypical to me.
So, I’ve concluded that I do, in fact, like French. It is quite beautiful, and speaking (or rather, annihilating) it does make me feel quite stylish.
And yes, I may speak (and understand) French worse than anyone else in the world, but I do have a reason for that:
I’m a dummkopf.