If there’s one thing that really makes me cringe, it is feeling obliged to pronounce English words with a French accent in order to make myself understood. I’ve been doing it with my surname for about nine years now. It never ceases to feel silly. It’s yet another reason why I’d quite like Mr Frog to pop the question someday in the not too distant future. (But not on Valentine’s day, obviously, because that would be nauseating.)
Last night, bad non-wife that I am, I sent out for pizza. When I got to the obligatory, non-negotiable dessert part of the order, I spied a range of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. And I was faced with a dilemma. How does one pronounce ‘Chunky Monkey’ in French? Or ‘Caramel Chew Chew’ for that matter? I’m guessing the latter would involve a ‘shoe shoe’ because the ‘tch’ sound doesn’t exist in the French language. I opted for 500 ml of ‘shunkay monkay’ in the end, cringing all the while, and sounding like Michelle from the British comedy Allô Allô.
I don’t patronise McDonalds very often, for precisely the same reason. I have been known to get Mr Frog to do my dirty work when a junk food fix is The Only Thing That Will Do. I challenge you to try and look someone in the eye and ask for ‘un ambourgeur’ or ‘un sheezbourgeur’ without blushing or smirking. But trust me, if you pronounce your order the English/American way, you are likely to end up having to repeat yourself, and you will inevitably end up Frenchifying it in the end, out of sheer desperation.
When I did my time as an English Lectrice at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, I remember finding it nigh on impossible to understand my students’ English when they tried to tell me about their favourite non-French pop star, or actor. The names of famous people, known the world over, get the French treatment to the point where they are completely unrecognisable. Meet Broooz Weeleez (possible anatomical abnormality?) and Tom Aunks (my least favourite actor and the person guaranteed, in my opinion, to make the screen adaptation of the Da Vinci Code truly unwatchable).
The French seem to be blissfully unaware of the fact that that their pronunciation of a person’s name or film title can actually change the meaning altogether. My favourite example of this is the computer game/film ‘Tomb Raider’. Oddly, this title has not been translated, as is often the case. Instead, the official French pronunciation is ‘Tomb Rider. I can never hear that without picturing Angelina Jolie surfing on a headstone in her slinky little outfit, pouting all the while with those luscious lips of hers. A nice image, but haven’t the French missed the point slightly?
Edit: there was a film title on the tip of my tongue all day and I’ve just remembered it. Speeederman. Sounds like he should be wearing speedos, non?