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Archive for the ‘Speaking the lingo’ Category

As a break from the more serious subjects I’ve written about in the past few weeks, I thought it would be fun to write about some of the language issues we’re currently dealing with Little Miss. If you have some speech funnies to share, please do leave them in the comments at the bottom so I can have a giggle also!

So, bringing up a bilingual toddler is fun right? Who said that? I think it is Frustrating with a capital F. I mean, how do you know what language she is going to speak in each time she opens her mouth and what about understanding those sentences when she combines both languages? Frustrating for Mum and Frustrating for her! Poor babe can’t work out why Mummy (or Maman as she also calls me depending on her mood) can’t understand her.

Until a few weeks ago, Little Miss wasn’t really saying anything but now it’s a constant dribble of bilingual blurb spouting from her mouth from 7am in the morning until 8pm in the evening, and if we’re lucky we get a two hour break at lunch time. That sounds harsh, but you try deciphering what a frustrated two year old is trying to tell you in 35 degrees heat and with extra kilos making you hotter than you should be and a blocked nose making you more temperamental than you usually are. Got the picture?

I am sure that somewhere, a Mum is going to look at this and think that’s so easy and wonder why on Earth I am complaining? Well, she is just really, very, very lucky and obviously didn’t get to experience the full on terrible twos at the same time.

So, back to Little Miss. As I said, it’s bilingual blurb. When she wants milk she says “mi-lait” which is half English with Milk and then French with Lait.

She doesn’t yet seem to have grasped that words have beginnings and ends and everything she says comes out without them. The other day she was in the pushchair and suddenly started screaming “apple, apple, apple”. Now, I took this as meaning she wanted an apple so got quite frustrated as she had only just had her snack and was telling her that there was no apple. Then a passerby stopped and handed me a hat – CHAPEAU except Little Miss was only saying APEAU which is part French for hat and of course I wasn’t expecting French at all.

So that’s pretty much the story of our communication at the moment. She says something, Mummy (or Daddy) grossly misunderstands and then there are tears. I was never any good at those games where you had the guess the actor or film just by clues so I’m not really very good at this game.

I’m loving that we’re able to communicate (eventually) but I’m really looking forward to less misunderstandings as I am zonked!

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In my last post I mentioned I was worrying about school and that I was learning that a parent never stops worrying.

Now I am worrying what English I am teaching Little Piglet. For the moment she only says the odd word in English and French and thankfully she hasn’t said any swear words yet.

But today I realised my English is so rusty that I say some pretty weird stuff and I really need to work on my vocabulary.

Since my husband launched his estate agency last, I have been helping out where I can and quite enjoying myself especially as I used to work in property.

Today I was showing some English speaking clients around and was keen to point out a properties features. Arriving in a room, I pointed to the corner and stated “that’s the nooky cupboard”. My clients burst in to laughter and I was the none the wiser, I thought they weren’t keen on the decoration but couldn’t see anything wrong with it myself other than maybe the colour which honestly wasn’t that bad.

Outside the room, the lady pulled me to a side and quietly told me what “nooky” meant and that maybe I meant “nook and cranny”? She was still in stitches and I was too as soon as I realised the error I had made!

Thankfully these people told me what I had said wrong, but what about all the people in French and in English who have a laugh at my expense and I’m none the wiser?

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I’m lucky in that I speak French fluently but it hasn’t always been the case. I moved to France aged 16 and didn’t speak a word, but the learning process was natural for me and I learned French through not having any choice. If I wanted friends or to be understood by my trainer then I was going to have to speak French. I can remember reading the dictionary for hours on end and phonetically learning how to say each word and then practising.

I know not everybody is in a situation where they can learn and have the opportunity to practise but I personally cannot imagine not being able to communicate.

Have you experienced language barriers where you live? Maybe you have some tips?

I’ve reblogged my Mum’s recent posting about this and her frustrations about not being able to speak Portuguese here:

Is Language a Barrier to Social Integration in Portugal?.

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In France there is a lovely term for finding temporary measures or for saving money on stuff known as “système débrouille”. I couldn’t find an exact definition of the expression but we recently experienced it in our own unique way.

Our Systeme D

As you know, we have been suffering from heating problems due to the extreme cold weather. Last Saturday our oil boiler decided it was going to work when it wanted to and I blogged about how we were literally freezing. Temperatures were as low as -20 degrees Celsius at night and on Monday our heating system packed up altogether. That meant no heating and no hot water!

Fortunately for us, a good friend had managed to get their neighbour to sell us some wood so we weren’t completely cold. Mr Piglet and I moved into the living room and the three of us huddled together in front of the fire.

Thankfully Baby Piglet goes to the Nannies during the day so I was comfortable that she was keeping warm. When at home she has an electric radiator in her room to keep her nice and warm.

On Tuesday disaster struck, Baby Piglet caught the dreaded gastro (tummy bug) and began projectile vomiting everywhere. At only 9 months old my poor, poor baby was very sick and I had no way of getting rid of the terrible odour that had invaded the house. I bathed her as best as I could using a flannel and a bowl of cooled down boiled water but by Wednesday afternoon desperation had sunk in.

I called my Mother in Law hoping that we could escape down to her house for a few days, as she answered the phone my hopes plummeted, she was sick with laryngitis! Not something I wanted her to give to Baby Piglet.
So I started calling on local plumbers and heating specialists.

Deep down I hoped that there was another issue with the boiler and that we would be able to get some heat. After numerous calls and being told that nothing was possible for days, I finally found a firm that prioritised families with young children. We were in luck!

The guy came out and spent a few hours looking at our boiler and concluded that it was definitely down to the frozen oil. I sighed, oh well, at least I had tried.

Later that evening after Baby Piglet had gone to bed and I was drinking wine in a bid to keep warm, my phone started ringing. It was the owner of the plumbing firm – he had a temporary solution to offer us! Systeme D!

At 9pm he rolled up and came in carrying two jerry cans full of car diesel. We watched, intrigued as he dismantled part of the boiler and sunk two tubes into the jerry can. He explained that this would keep us warm and allow us to have hot water and when we ran out, we’d just need to pop down to the petrol station. Even I could mannage that!

I’d heard of local farmer folk using red diesel to run their cars but not of anyone using car diesel to run their boiler! This was upside down, topsy turvy living. Systeme Debrouille in all it’s glory.

So the innovative plumber had found a temporary (if not expensive) solution to our coldness and I felt much better knowing that my darling daughter would be nice and warm.

Each jerry can costs 30 Euros to refill and the first one run out this morning but I think that was more to do with the fact that it had to re-heat everything back up.

Jerry Can!

I am so grateful to the plumber for not giving up on us and am so relieved that he found a solution for his, his innovation has made us warm and also proved that solidarity and good service from companies does exist.

I did have a chuckle as well as Mr Piglet was getting on well with him and they were chatting just like old friends and the apero (at 11pm mind you!) was being served. Mr Piglet asked what the Plumbers wife was doing and I just loved the Plumbers response: “she’s probably in bed” he sighed! Mr Piglet was asking in fact what she was doing in her life which is the literal translation from French, the information he was seeking is what profession she had!

Do you have any Systeme D experiences?

ps. I’m pleased to report that as of todat Baby Piglet seems to have recovered although she will only eat Strawberry yoghurts right now!

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I have loved this November so far and have had lots of positive energy, something I have been somewhat lacking previously. What I like even more, is the two bank holidays we enjoy here in France, one for the day of the dead (All Saints) and one for Armistice. I especially liked Armistice Day this year as it was on a Thursday which meant I got to have a long weekend as I closed down on the Friday too!

On Thursday, after over 12 hours of labour, my sister in law gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Alyssa. We went to visit them at the maternity ward in Beaune (such a beautiful town in the Burgundy area) and I was astounded by how something so big could possibly have been in my SiL’s tummy just twelve hours earlier! I left the hospital feeling slightly nervous about things to come for me, slightly older now that I’m an Aunt but overjoyed for my SiL and her boyf.

Bienvenue Alyssa! Born 14.11.10 at 0130, weighing 3.4 kilos

On Friday, we took advantage of the long weekend and visited a property in a town called Groslee. If you don’t get the pronunciation of the town 100% spot on then you end up saying (or hearing) Gros which means fat and Laid which means ugly. So imagine me with my lovely English accent telling someone where I live? Fat Ugly!!! Not good!

I should have known from the start that a property in such a badly named town would not be appropriate; it had to have something wrong with it and the name should have been a warning sign. Needless to say the property was no good and I could have strangled the agent as we had once again wasted our time despite best efforts to eliminate inappropriate properties before visiting.

We had asked our list of questions before arranging the visit, one of the questions being: is the property on a busy road?

We were informed “que non” it was on a quiet village road with little passage. LIAR! The agent is a big fat liar! In the 10 minutes that it took to tour the outside of the property, no less than 5 lorries went hurtling by. I was fuming! It turns out that the road was the main road to a nearby town and it was the only road the lorries could take once they left the motorway. So, a wasted trip!

A shame really as the property corresponded perfectly in terms of size and style – built from stone, lots of outbuildings, spacious inside and beautiful white shutters.

Beautiful house in Fat Ugly

Whilst looking for properties we have also come across some really strange adverts. I think the strangest so far as been for a private sale where the owner is selling their llama with the property.

Yes, you read correctly. The property is being sold with a llama. The llama comes part and parcel with the property! In the property details you get a full description of the property, the land and the llama as well as a couple of photos! I can just imagine the owners considering their llama as being a major selling point and surely there must be something wrong with Mr Piglet and me for not having this as part of our criteria?

Is a llama really a selling point?

Have you ever seen anything really strange whilst hunting for property?

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A lovely evening - View from the north - East Lyon region

Sometimes I wish I was more daring. That I would dare to say what I really thought and that I had the courage to stand up and defend myself. I recently wrote an article for Expat Focus and mentioned how I admired the French for standing up for themselves with regards to the Pension Reform. I wish I could do the same, but no, I am mousy me, an English girl that is too polite to rock the boat.

My desire to be more assertive was further increased last Saturday evening when we went to a Birthday dinner celebration at friends.

I’d met their other friends a year ago for the same occasion, so it wasn’t as if I was meeting new people (I am quite shy) so I was looking forward to the evening.

Quickly after arriving however, I realized that I was going to be in for a long, long evening as I remembered my evening of English bashing from the year before. “oh no”, I groaned, “what have I done?”. I longed to go home and to enjoy a nice glass of chilled Rose by the pool, but I thought of my friends who I simply adore, and I wasn’t going to abandon them as they’d moved the party date especially so that we could be there.

As the other guests arrived, they each took it in turn to remark that I am the English girl and that they hoped I spoke French. For goodness sake, they had met me a year ago and whilst I was greeting them couldn’t they tell from what I was saying to them I spoke French? It wasn’t promising that they couldn’t even understand their own bloody language was French and not English as they replied to me!

They hardly spoke to me all evening and any time I did try to speak to them they took the piss out of my accent and launched into private jokes amongst themselves. My friends were dismayed and kept apologizing, they were so embarrassed by their friends but I told them to leave it, it didn’t matter. I didn’t want to ruin their celebrations.

So, I attempted humoring the English insulting, ignorant French friends (thankfully not all French are like this, like not all English are mousy like me!) realizing the evening would be extremely long if I didn’t, after all, sometimes you have to make an effort to fit in as people can be uncomfortable with difference. It wasn’t worth the effort. Whilst trying to make conversation with them, my inner assertive voice was dying to scream out “Do not label me, you, you…French PERSON!” but my exterior mouse kept my assertive voice at bay and was more of an ally to them than to me.

As I served up the salad I’d made (Courgette Summer Salad – see recipe here), everyone looked at it suspiciously, muttering that they didn’t like English food, saying it was gross, would give them tummy ache, would make them retch, would be tasteless… So rude! Seething, I would have had steam coming from my nose and ears, but thankfully they were blocked with pollen allergies, I wanted to shout at them. I had not stood grating courgettes and making salad for an hour (I had made enough for 20 people) for them to instantly turn their noses up, like spoiled children, and declare they weren’t going to eat it without even having a taste first! Had I mistaken the evening for La Maternelle school?

So I betrayed myself and told them it was my Belle-Mere’s recipe. As soon as they were satisfied it was French they all tucked in and the compliments flowed. Instantly I regretted what I had said, this wasn’t her recipe, I didn’t know it and had only been inspired by it. I should not have been a traitor and I should have stood my ground and been assertive.

I was dreading dessert. I already knew that under normal circumstances that I was going to be the laughing stock, as I had made a ridiculous attempt at a Victoria Sponge birthday cake and had spotted that I was the only person who had brought something homemade with them.

Can you read what is written?

I had encountered every disaster in the kitchen; my cake wouldn’t rise, it then stuck to the tin and crumbled when I managed to release it and I’d not been able to buy double cream to go inside. I had covered the cake with choccy icing sugar and M&M’s to try and add some height and to cover the monstrosity but I was not kidding anyone.

As the birthday cake was served up, I had an instant pang of pride and the belittling comments of others had no further effect. This was my vengeance. Dry, crumbly cake with lots of chocolate – I hoped they choked on it.

4 Useful Suggestions to Frenchies who meet me from now on:

1. Do not assume that I don’t speak French, just because you don’t speak any other languages don’t automatically think that everyone else is as ignorant.
2. Do not make jokes about me in French. Because you are convinced I don’t speak French you don’t think I’ll understand you. But I do!
3. Do not take the p**s out of my foreign accent: this stems from points 1 & 2 but deserves it’s own point. By this time you’ve understood perfectly well what I’m saying but you still take the p**s because for you it’s amusing. Stop and think: I get this EVERY day!
4. Do not label: okay, I wasn’t born in France but I live here now. Aside from my foreignness I am a real human being, with hobbies, interests etc just like you. I am not an alien from another planet. You can communicate with me.

My tolerance bowl is full, so I strongly, strongly recommend that any Frenchies read the above and pay attention before they meet me. The next person to be so belittling will experience the full wrath of my inner voice. Even mousy me is determined to let it out!!

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One of the loving things about speaking a foreign language is the endless amusement that making a faux pas can provide.

I heard a fabulous language Faux Pas the other day and I have been chuckling ever since so I thought I would share it with you all here!

A business colleague of mine whose grasp of the French language is somewhat limited to ordering in French restaurants, wanted to congratulate an important French person on his achievements.

Extremely seriously, the English bloke held out his hand for a hand shake, grasped the French guys hand and said “Bien cuit Monsieur, Bien cuit”.

The solemn atmosphere soon descended into guffaws all around, as the French guy looked at the English bloke as if he was mad, obviously not understanding what Bien Cuit means for the average Brit. For those that were aware of what they’re asking for when they say Bien Cuit, there was no end of stifled giggles!

ps. Just in case you’re not a francophile, asking for your steak “Bien Cuit” in a French restaurant means asking it to be well done. In French however it means well cooked.

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