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.