Speaking French – a blessing or a curse?

Sometimes I think that speaking French is both a blessing and a curse.

First and foremost I love it.

I love that Max and I can communicate ‘secretly’ in front of other people.  Like to tell the other if they have a little something in their teeth, or to stage a bill-paying coup in the presence of my not-easily-thwarted father.

It’s also nice to have two languages worth of phrases to call upon, a handy trick for any writer.  And sometimes, it just sounds better in French.  Take the word maybe for example.  Maybe, in English, is quick and throwaway and difficult to decode the true meaning from.  Whereas, peut-être I find to be wonderfully expressive.

I also hold out high hopes that one day I will overhear a snooty conversation had about me, in front of me, in French.   The scene for this occurrence varies, but tends to happen either at the hairdresser, or in a retail store (usually Kookai).  I imagine that I would listen for awhile, smile and then sweetly say something cutting in French as I glamorously sweep out the door – taking my business elsewhere.

On the flip side, however, speaking French can often land me in awkward situations.  Namely, when trying to navigate the minefield that is French establishments, in Australia.  In Melbourne in particular, one can find a whole host of options to escape to France for a meal, a movie or even just a macaron.

And whilst my inner Francophile adores these establishments, I never know quite how to behave.

Upon entering one particular French bakery on Toorak Road, I’m met by smiles and hello’s in slightly accented English.  Good, I think to myself, now I know where I stand – they have no idea I speak French, so English it is.  But it’s not quite as simple as that.  I find it particularly troubling to pronounce French words (such as tartare du boeuf) as if I don’t speak French.  But now that we’ve landed on English, I’ll sound like a right snob if all of a sudden I start rolling my r’s and ignoring the last 3 letters of most words.  Dilemma number one.

Dilemma number two occurs when I dial the phone number of a Carlton French food deli, wanting to enquire about their closing time.  This time, I’m met with a cheery ‘Marie, Bonjour!’  Put on the spot, and quite unprepared for a French conversation (telephone French has long been my stumbling block) I panic and hastily reply with ‘Bonjour, Marie’.  Thinking quickly, I determine it best for all involved if I proceed in English.  But not my usual, native Australian-English, no – instead I adopt an accent not dissimilar to John Cleese’s in ‘The Holy Grail.’

Yes, I now find myself speaking English with a fake French accent.

John Cleese photo courtesy of Vicious Bits on Flickr. 
Parlez-vous francais photo courtesy of Terence S. Jones on Flickr.
French film festival photo courtesy of alumnosartesvisuales on Flickr.


8 thoughts on “Speaking French – a blessing or a curse?

  1. hahaha, it reminds me of a movie I saw recently (Friends with Kids) where a guy leaves a girl because ‘she over-French pronounces French words’

    (By the way, I’ve just started following your blog as I live in Melbourne and will be moving to France in September! Can’t wait to get my hands on some Speculoos!)

    • Hi Denna, thanks for your comment and for following my blog! I haven’t seen Friends with Kids yet but I’ll definitely look out for it. You must be so excited about moving to France! Whereabouts will you live, will you study, or work?

      • I’ll be studying my Masters just outside of Dijon – WAY too excited! But, understandably, there’s a lot of anxiety that comes with it.. your blog has helped me keep that at bay and just focus on the excitement! I would love to travel to Paris for each weekend, hehe.. I’m learning French but my course is in English, luckily; though I’ve been advised that there won’t be much English spoken in the more regional areas… May I ask what the french deli that you like in Carlton is, please? Any amount of anxiety is overcome by my love of food!

      • That sounds wonderful, I’m sure you’ll have the time of your life over there. I totally understand the urge to head to Paris for the weekends, sometimes I close my eyes and wish really hard that when I open them I’ll be in Montmartre (hasn’t happened yet but I keep hoping!). I spent most of my time in Paris so can’t comment too much on the English levels of regional French towns, but in general I have found that the French always underestimate their own ability to speak English. And, as I’m sure you’ve heard before, making an attempt to speak the language will always be well-received. Also, I found everyone to be exceptionally patient with me, so no need for anxiety! Sure, the French deli is called La Parisienne Pates and is on Lygon St – we stumbled across it one day on our search for cheese to make tartiflette, and left with nearly $100 worth of delicious cheeses, terrines and rillettes (enough to feed a family of 6, all weekend!), so my advice – proceed with caution 🙂

  2. Ah! Heureusement pour moi, j’habite` pres de la`! J’ai mange` de la soupe a l’oignon et j’ai achete` une terrine et une baguette de cette visite, mais ils ne dura pas longtemps! Je vais revenir, c’est su`r.

    I’m definitely looking forward to patience, that took me a long time to write! 😛 I am loving your posts on food: it’s what I’m looking forward to the most – thank you!

    • J’ai pas gouté la soupe a l’oignon, mais c’est un plat que j’adore, donc il faut que j’essaye!

      I think it might actually be better for my wallet (and possibly my waistline) that La Parisienne Pates isn’t too close to home. That said, prahran market and toorak road are right around the corner from me.

      The food in France was absolutely my highlight. When friends and family would visit in Paris I’d make them a ‘things to eat’ list rather than ‘things to do’! Give me a slice of truffle Brie over the Louvre any day 🙂

      • Hahaha! That’s exactly how I like to live! My time in Melbourne has been a total food safari, and I seem to only have photos of meals on my camera – oops! I’ll have to make an effort to get a bit of a balance in terms of photography in France.. perhaps brie *at* the Louvre 😀

  3. Yes, I’m absolutely the same! Luckily you can combine food with just about anything in Paris! Outdoor food markets by the Eiffel Tower, a baguette in the Jardin du Luxembourg – a gourmet street festival by the Sacre-Coeur!

    The one place you struggle with is the Palace of Versailles – they were adamant about no food being allowed inside so they could preserve the integrity of the palace, and yet they sold snacks right outside the Hall of Mirrors! Go figure 🙂

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