petite anglaise

March 17, 2005

don't talk down to me

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaiseparis @ 2:14 pm

A colleague approaches my desk and I execute a rapid and discreet ALT+TAB.

“Where’s [the boss] hiding this time?”, she enquires.

“Uh, not sure, kitchen maybe, but he can’t be far away,” I reply vaguely, trying to remember if he had told me (as I was only half-listening, while sketching out a blog post in my head). Thankfully I catch sight of the top of his head in the stairwell. I point and say “THERE he is!”

I fight the urge to crawl under my desk and hide. The shame. I just went and used the wrong voice for those last three words.

Somehow they came out in that patronising voice, with exaggerated intonation and emphasis, which I find myself using when I speak to Tadpole.

It’s another of those things that I swore I would never do when I had a child, which fell by the wayside as soon as motherhood was upon me. I challenge anyone to try speaking normally to a toddler. The fact is that they do seem to learn faster if you use emphasis and repetition. And personally when I’m repeating and emphasizing I find it difficult not to adopt an annoying failed actor’s children’s TV presenter’s voice. I often think I sound like a female version of Geoffrey on Rainbow, but it’s frankly enough effort to keep on repeating things in English every time she says them in French, without having to force myself to speak in a normal, grown-up voice as well.

Obviously speaking to an adult in that condescending tone could get me into trouble. I have drawn the parallel before between being a PA and babysitting, but when I greeted my boss on the phone the other day with an over emphatic “how are YOU?”, in what he immediately identified as my Tadpole voice, I definitely took that analogy one step too far. Luckily, being that he is a father of young children himself, he was quite understanding, and not a little amused.

My worst fear now is that the baby vocabulary that Mr Frog and the childminder use with Tadpole will insinuate its way into my French conversations. French toddlers use words like doudou (favourite teddy or comforter), bobo (a place where you hurt yourself), caca (poo), dodo (sleep) and lolo (milk). A bit like saying ‘doggy’ in English instead of dog.

I sincerely hope the day will never come when I say, bleary eyed and yawning one morning at the cockroach/coffee machine after yet another long evening spent in front of a computer screen, “Oh là là qu’est ce que j’ai envie de faire dodo là …

The only thing more embarrassing than that, would be if I said it in my ‘Tadpole voice’.


  1. :roll:Aw petite, I don’t have any tadpoles yet, but sonetimes your stories make me fear the future…How can you win the combat of infant franglishness?
    It is so weird to think that my children light consider themselves…’French’!

    Comment by sammy — March 17, 2005 @ 2:24 pm

  2. Do you also have a “phone voice”? Because lord knows when I answer the phone I do not sound like the usual me, but rather some “adult” (god forbid!) version of me. Although it may just come off as me pretending to be an adult and failing miserably. I’m not really sure.

    My mom has used the “dog voice” to my siblings and I before though (even now that we’re grown… I guess talking to two wild dogs with that “did you get the toy?” squeaky voice all the time got to her). I’ll have to ask her if that happens at work too. ;)

    Comment by kim — March 17, 2005 @ 2:37 pm

  3. sammy – don’t let me put you off though, because it’s FUN!

    Kim – phone voiceS. A posh RP one for VIPs, a friendly but highly efficient secretary one, French versions of each of these…

    Comment by petite — March 17, 2005 @ 2:52 pm

  4. I always feel like my French voice is much shriller than my English voice, especially when I’m being extra polite. Weird…

    Isn’t “lolo” (as in “les lolos”) another word for boobs? (I was told this was named after Gina “Lollo”brigida’s ample bosom)…

    I’ve heard French adults saying “j’ai envie de faire pipi” and “dodo” before.

    Comment by witho — March 17, 2005 @ 3:20 pm

  5. As if English isn’t hard enough! There’s “baby English” to think about as well? also…. meaning..intonation…environment….audience. Makes me glad I dont intend learning French.

    Comment by Colin — March 17, 2005 @ 4:03 pm

  6. witho – lolo does mean tits too – you can kind of see how the two are related to a baby…

    Comment by petite — March 17, 2005 @ 4:12 pm

  7. You mean, “Oh là là qu’est ce que j’ai envie de faire dodo là …” isn’t acceptable? hehe.

    “Faire pipi” is an expression that I hear a LOT. It sounds so funny, but not as funny as “envie de pisser”. LOL.

    Witho, your shrill voice in french is not uncommon. I believe that French women speak at a higher pitch than English women. I notice it myself when I switch between French and English quickly.

    Comment by Katia — March 17, 2005 @ 4:14 pm

  8. I think using my French mouth makes me all pouty, but I think my pitch is lower however.

    Comment by petite — March 17, 2005 @ 4:54 pm

  9. I don’t think I have the same voice in french as I do in english, either. And somehow, I don’t think I manage to convey excitement very well in french (David just tells me I get too loud, alas).

    What about the french woman’s laugh? French woman are supposed to politely titter or something; a real outburst of laughter seems to be frowned upon. So odd.

    Comment by kim — March 17, 2005 @ 5:03 pm

  10. //I often think I sound like a female version of Geoffrey on Rainbow//

    Better that than Zippy ;-)

    As for the pitch of the voice, a brief experiment in the office (don’t worry – I’m alone here) has revealed that the pitch of my voice seems to be lower in English than in French. I have this vague sense of French being a more ‘nasal’ language than English – maybe that’s the reason?

    Comment by Iain — March 17, 2005 @ 5:36 pm

  11. Kim, I so hear you on the laugh thing. How weird is that? I’m a loud laugher, and I often come out with a burst of laughter, only to blush when I realise the French women in my group are doing a polite little titter. Of course, then I think, “stuff it”, and laugh louder ;)

    Comment by Katia — March 17, 2005 @ 6:40 pm

  12. I wouldn’t mind the baby expressions occasionally creeping into adult speech. Like your boss, most people have a sense of humour about that. The mistake would be if you started using text messaging/IM slang shortcuts when you talk. I hope I never hear the day when people say “LOL” or one of the many other shorthand words in the various languages that have grown up around on-line communication.

    I stumbled upon this post the other day that may illustrate where we’re headed.

    Comment by Nigel M. — March 17, 2005 @ 7:07 pm

  13. I was under the impression that my voice pitch was lower in French tha in English. I tried to find some answers and came up with this (in French), which I found interesting.

    Comment by Jenny — March 17, 2005 @ 7:07 pm

  14. What’s even worse is being 43 years old and having your mother still talking to you as if you ARE still a child… I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to break Mom of this bad habit for over twenty years. I’m actually living with my mother for a while, as I save up the funds to move to Paris — and last night she decided she needed to remind me to BRUSH MY TEETH! I guess it’s just part of motherhood – some don’t make the transition with their adult children as well as others.

    Comment by Lisa — March 17, 2005 @ 9:07 pm

  15. that’s interesting Jenny, it might explain why the Brits and those from the other side of the atlantic don’t have quite the same pitch change…

    Kim, Katia – I wouldn’t have a clue how to titter. And I seem to have already taught tadpole my raucous dirty laugh. Oh well. At least she won’t laugh like a French person.

    Comment by petite — March 17, 2005 @ 9:24 pm

  16. Jenny – thanks. At long last, a good, scientific excuse for my terrible English accent.

    Petite – I think “pipi” and “dodo” are quite acceptable in casual conversation, while “caca” and “lolo” are reserved for toddlers (don’t ask me why). “Doudou” is an unavoidable subject in any discussion among parents of children aged 2 to 4. I predict you’ll write a post about Tadpole’s doudou one day :smile:

    Comment by ontario frog — March 18, 2005 @ 2:43 am

  17. Some words are definitively associated with specific group ages in French. I guess it is the same in English. It’s not a social class thing (well sometimes it is).
    Using some of those out of context kind of look retarded. At best quaint.
    Ex: une bagnole, la téloche, un bicloune, vachement, la quiquette, …

    Anyway, I would recommand, as an introduction to any good French society (and company) the reading of a book from Pierre Louÿs called “Manuel de civilité pour les petites filles à l’usage des maisons d’éducation.”

    Ainsi, finies les fautes de mauvais goût…

    See y’a

    Comment by Chicago — March 18, 2005 @ 5:01 am

  18. ALT + TAB… I’d never heard of that one before. I think my office just became a happier but less productive place. Merci mille fois.

    Comment by gwyn — March 18, 2005 @ 5:46 am

  19. Like you, I’m praying that I won’t be one of those “baby talk” moms. You’re not giving me a lot of hope here.

    Before I started babysitting, no one bothered to tell me what a “doudou” was, so imagine my confusion on the first day when the four year old was running around yelling “doudou!!!” It sounds the same as American toddler-speak for taking a poo. Thank god he found his security blanket before I plopped him on the toilet. ;)

    Comment by ViVi — March 18, 2005 @ 8:46 am

  20. Nigel, I hate to scare you, but there was a moment where some friends and I amused ourselves by saying “oic” aloud… except it wasn’t “oh-i-see” but rather “oik!” This also had an optional accompanying hand-gesture (the spelling out very quickly of an O-I-C).

    That said, we are odd like that. I also went through a point where I would say “oh god, that is SO straight!” It just didn’t seem fair that we couldn’t describe things as heterosexually rather than homosexually.

    Comment by kim — March 18, 2005 @ 9:43 am

  21. ‘I catch sight of the top of his head in the stairwell’

    If you and the creator of Dilbert are to believed, Petite, it seems pointy heads are de rigeur among the managing classes. I just hope for your sake yours is not so utterly incompetent as Dilbert’s!

    Comment by jonathan — March 18, 2005 @ 10:21 am

  22. Lolo and doggy aren’t strictly reserved for toddlers…

    Comment by reachy — March 18, 2005 @ 10:39 am

  23. ontario frog – she has no doudou! Amazing but true. No favouritism is shown towards any soft toy in the collection and therefore no ‘can’t find my doudou’ related drama.

    Comment by petite — March 18, 2005 @ 10:54 am

  24. petite – so I thought it would be with my Tadpole #1. She had a preferred toy for bedtime but did not need it around during the day. This worked until kindergarten, when she found another kid carried the exact same toy. Ouch…

    Comment by ontario frog — March 18, 2005 @ 7:40 pm

  25. I was surprised to notice a similarity between French baby talk and the baby talk my kids used in India! doudou (favourite teddy or comforter) for you and doudou (milk or breast-containing milk) for them; and caca (poo) for you was also poo for them.

    Maybe not so surprising when you consider that the vocal talents of the young are somewhat limited … mamamamumumuma is Mummy in any language!

    Comment by Omykiss — March 22, 2005 @ 5:23 am

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