petite anglaise

May 27, 2008

en français

Filed under: book stuff — petiteanglaiseparis @ 3:14 pm

A French friend of mine once pointed out to me that translating my book into French would pose an interesting set of problems. ‘The problem with using Monsieur Grenouille,’ she said, ‘is that it would sound kind of odd, because the French word for Frog is a feminine noun.’ Likewise, the French translation of Tadpole is masculine: un têtard.

This reminded me of the day Tadpole picked up the UK version of ‘petite anglaise’ and, after pointing out that she’d ‘growded a lot bigger since then and didn’t ever never ride in a pushchair any more’, she began to leaf through the pages, looking for words she recognised. ‘Why doesn’t it say my name in here mummy?’ she said, a few minutes later, in a puzzled voice. ‘You did say that I was in this story…’

‘Ah, well,’ I said, wondering how on earth to explain without hurting her feelings. ‘You see, I didn’t want people to know your real name, so I called you Tadpole. It’s a nickname. You know, like when I call you sausage, or princess curly top…’

‘But why can’t people know my real name?’ Tadpole frowned. ‘My real name is very pretty. Much more prettier than Tadpole.’

I was loath to launch into a scaremongering story about needing to respect her father’s wishes and protect my daughter’s identity from nutjobs. What is more, I sensed we were about to sucked into a ‘why-vortex’, inside of which each answer I give begets another question beginning with the word ‘why’ and, ten questions in, I inevitably end up screaming ‘because I said so’, or ‘because it just is’, or ‘I don’t know’, or locking myself in the bathroom. (Unless The Boy is on hand, in which case I simply say “why don’t you ask Manuel?”)

Now that I’ve finally found a suitable French home for ‘Petite Anglaise’, it’s only a matter of time before these thorny translation questions are resolved.

It’s also only a matter of time (sometime in the course of 2009, to be more precise) before the ex-in-laws can finally get their hands on ‘petite’ in translation. So while I’m thrilled to be published in my home country – the land of the highbrow – I’m also a touch nervous. If it was too much for my grandma, and JonnyB claimed he had to close his eyes during the sex scenes, I’m not sure where that leaves the beaux parents.


  1. So what did you tell her?

    My own little girl was born Monday last week, two weeks early. I’m in love, and she’s so easy to manage… but admittedly we are far from the stage where such thorny questions have to be resolved!

    Comment by little_bounce — May 27, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

  2. Sex scenes? There were sex scenes in the blog? Why wasn’t I told? I LOVE sex scenes! I used to read all the “dirty parts” of novels in the back of a drugstore in Indiana during a tame youth. They were easy to find, with their greasy thumb prints all over the page.

    Comment by Michael — May 27, 2008 @ 4:13 pm

  3. I bet that Frog will stay Frog, and Tatpole will stay Tadpole, maybe with a little not at the bottom of the page saying what the English word means in French… translating will loose a bit of the mistery and will look to awkward…

    Comment by Vonric — May 27, 2008 @ 4:25 pm

  4. Right, I have *so* got to get my hands on copy now that I know there’s steam in it! Eh-hem of course I was going to get a copy anyway…because then I could smugly read it in public and profess to all who will listen that I’ve actually *corresponded* with the *actual* author… hee. My eldest son is just nearing three – and I’m starting to understand just how tricky they can be, like announcing to the paediatrician yesterday, how he only washes his hair Monday, Wednesday, Friday…embarrassing the *HELL* out of me, and leaving me to explaining, whilst a deep shade of beetroot that he screams blue murder to the point I’m convinced the neighbors are calling child protective services, and thus my nerves can only take it a maximum of three times a week.

    Comment by Ness — May 27, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

  5. Love the new banner by the way!

    Comment by Ness — May 27, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

  6. Go Dutch: keep Tadpole and Mr Frog in English. If they’re nicknames, does it matter in which language they’re written?

    By the way. your description of the why-vortex makes me happy my niece is still in her no-phase!

    Comment by Marjolein — May 27, 2008 @ 4:56 pm

  7. i haven’t read your book – but intend too – i read your blog for awhile and then stopped and because of you guest post yesterday returned to see what you have been up to.. so congrats on the pending nuptials.

    do you ever fear that one day your daughter will be angry at you for having an affair while with her father? do you think if you did not have this blog or written a book that you would have told her anyways?

    I am asking for selfish reasons and not to belittle or insult you by any means.

    thank you.

    Comment by justme — May 27, 2008 @ 5:16 pm

  8. In reference to one of your blog posts (Attack of the colon?), are they going to name the book something like, “La Petite Anglaise: un conte d’avertissement à tout le monde” or “La Petite Anglaise: la mère célibataire de Paris”?

    And WHY does every article about you refer to you as an “unmarried mother” as though that is the only noteworthy thing about you?

    I am looking forward to the book signing in July – thanks for adding it. I will ACTUALLY be in Paris at the time – very excited. For now I am practicing my French and reading your book and Sarah Turnbull’s; French or Foe is next.

    Comment by Zoe — May 27, 2008 @ 5:23 pm

  9. @justme – the unmarried mother thing irks me too. I mean, it doesn’t mean anything, for a start. An unmarried mother can be living with the father of her child, or living alone. Isn’t single mother a more informative term? And why should either define me?

    As for the affair thing (if it can be called such when it went on for all of one week before I called quits with Mr Frog), I hope that she can understand that sometimes when people need to move on, they can’t manage things as cleanly as they would like. Or need a push. And that there will be so much water under the bridge that it will be ancient history to my daughter by the time she reads it.

    Also, she’s French, and infidelity is not regarded in quite the same way. So she may just do one of her famous Gallic shrugs and say ‘so what?’

    Comment by petite — May 27, 2008 @ 5:55 pm

  10. I’m intrigued too – what was your eventual explanation? I loved the nickname Tadpole because it’s my nickname from my parents too. Except the German translation as I’m half German.

    I’ll be in Paris this weekend… do you know of anything fun going on by any chance? Or possibly any jazz clubs…?

    Comment by L.C.T. — May 27, 2008 @ 6:12 pm

  11. Little Tadpole is all ‘growed up’!

    Comment by girlwiththemask — May 27, 2008 @ 6:14 pm

  12. Now I know what Tadpole means :) Tetard is a lot more fun :D

    Comment by bart — May 27, 2008 @ 7:23 pm

  13. I just read your book (in Dutch) and really loved it! Love the fact that even after I finished the book the story or actually your life goes on on your blog. Wish you all the luck with your adorable daughter! Greets out of Belgium.
    Ps : Are you planning to write another book? I hope so, you’re talented!

    Comment by lejardindejuliette — May 27, 2008 @ 7:25 pm

  14. So, is his name “Manuel” or….?

    Comment by Karma — May 27, 2008 @ 7:25 pm

  15. I wrote, and then deleted, that the phrase “single parent” is so much less judgemental than “unmarried mother.” Just as we no longer call children illegitimate or even bastards we shouldn’t make judgements about the parents either. There can be loads of reasons why a person can be a parent and not married.

    I recall one interviewer (one of the British radio interviews I think) ask you if Tadpole was planned as though surely it must have been an accident if you were not married! Your response was quite poised. Mine would not have been.

    Comment by Zoe — May 27, 2008 @ 7:42 pm

  16. Trust the French press to pigeonhole you, as if ‘Petite Anglaise’ wasn’t self-explanatory enough [everyone in France young or old has heard of “A Nous Les Petites Anglaises”]. The translation is indeed a cultural headache – Mr Grenouille means nothing to a French speaker who is not au fait with the UK, and “le petit tetard” is not as cute as Tadpole… who perhaps should be proud to be leading a double life in the literary world. Maybe if you tell her that it’s like having a secret identity, the questions might be replaced by a proud and knowing smile.

    Comment by Ariel — May 27, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

  17. By the way, was this the first time you used The Boy’s real first name? Or was that a slip of the keyboard?

    I know the big day is coming very soon. Hope all is going well and I know you’ll be a very beautiful and very happy bride!

    Comment by The Bold Soul — May 27, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

  18. ‘I keep six honest men, they teach me all I know, their names are who, what, why, when, where, how’.

    I like the concept of a ‘why-vortex’, I wonder what’s on the other side.

    Question long and question hard Tadpole, because the answers to questions make you what you are. That and it obviously presses your mum’s buttons! ;-)

    Comment by Steve... — May 27, 2008 @ 8:22 pm

  19. If she’s honest it will be the Gallic shrug I fancy. You are quite brave nevertheless.

    Comment by Pat — May 27, 2008 @ 8:38 pm

  20. French translation ? It’s so easy ! “Little English. A Paris. En Amour. En Problème.” See ? Hey I can do it if you want !

    Comment by Yogi — May 27, 2008 @ 8:39 pm

  21. the why vortex is a good way of putting it

    Comment by Babycakes — May 27, 2008 @ 9:20 pm

  22. I agree on looking forward to a new book!! Just swallowed up Petite Anglais – do love your writing.

    Comment by Ellen — May 27, 2008 @ 10:16 pm

  23. On peut tourner en partie la difficulté en prenant un autre animal dont les petits sont des tétards : le crapaud !


    Comment by marie-hélène — May 27, 2008 @ 10:17 pm

  24. You made me start writing again, how about that?
    Last monday I missed my train and, waiting for the next one, I bought your book at the trainstations bookstore. I liked what I read at the backcover and scanning through I decided to buy the book, because I want to live in France too one day (at least to study for a couple of months, that counts too, right?;) and I used to have a blog.
    Reading the book I recognized what you wrote about writing a blog in your head while you’re experiencing something our just living your life… And I started wanting to write about my life again. And now, a day since I bought your book, I started a new blog and already wrote two times;)
    Thank you for that, and now I’ll have to leave your blog because I want to finish your book before I read your blog and find out things I have to read yet. Don’t want to ruin the excitement!

    Greetings form a Dutch girl.

    Comment by Anna — May 27, 2008 @ 10:59 pm

  25. I think it would be fine to leave “Mr Frog” and “Tadpole” as names in the French version. In my experience, French people have been aware of this nickname, and so what if they learn a new English word with the addition of Tadpole?!! It lends charm to leave the English names, you are a native English speaker, and anyone reading your book will know this.

    Love the blog. Can’t wait until the book is available in the States!

    Comment by might i add... ? — May 28, 2008 @ 12:05 am

  26. I’m with Vonric at comment number 3. I can’t find my copy of the Dutch edition of your book at the moment, but I seem to remember that the only bits I understood were Mr Frog and Tadpole. After all, the word frog can be a term of endearment (one of my wife’s girlfriends used to refer to her husband as “my little frog” in a loving way), while “the frogs have done it again” is probably less loving. I don’t see how that can translate into French.
    Similarly, as you’ve said before, “la Petite Anglaise” is a term of endearment, and the meaning would have been completely if you had called the book or the blog “the Small Englishwoman”.
    By the way, I am French Canadian, not French from France.

    Comment by pierre l — May 28, 2008 @ 12:25 am

  27. Well, Tadpole could be cold Grenouillette, which is kind of cute, and I don’t find Monsieur Grenouille shocking…

    Comment by Citronella — May 28, 2008 @ 3:43 am

  28. I totally understand the need to protect privacy by not revealing names, particularly ‘Tadpole’ but also poor old Mr Frog. I was quite surprised back in March to read an interview with you in an English magazine, where Mr Frog and Tadpole were mentioned by the names (or maybe they weren’t their real ones ?)

    Comment by Kate — May 28, 2008 @ 7:25 am

  29. @Kate – they were invented names, of course, and I asked MC to make that more obvious by stating that names had been changed, but they ignored me…

    Comment by petite — May 28, 2008 @ 8:17 am

  30. M.Chateaubriand & Mlle Rosbif?
    M.Languedebois & Mlle Geuledebois?
    Will stop now as the third couplet is even worse, and wouldn’t wish to give offence.

    Comment by j — May 28, 2008 @ 9:28 am

  31. Congrats on getting published in France.
    I love the way you call it your “home country”! Home is where the heart is, right?
    Les beaux parents probably won’t read your book and even if they do, you portrayed their son in a very favourable light, which I imagine would be their 1st concern, not the steamy scenes….
    All the best for your wedding!

    Comment by happyforyou — May 28, 2008 @ 9:44 am

  32. I read your book before reading your blog, and now happy to continue reading your blog. Waiting for your 2nd book.
    Congratulations on the happy news of your wedding. I wish you lots of happiness.

    Comment by Ranadim — May 28, 2008 @ 9:46 am

  33. I agree with Zoe, “unmarried mother” has always struck me as judgemental and inappropriate. Even “single parent” can be confused with “lone parent”, which is not the case, as you have always described Mr. Frog as a participative, involved dad…
    Regardless of marital status, mothers are mothers and fathers are fathers. Why don’t they just describe you as a mum and then (separately) explain your marital status, if they really have to?

    Comment by happyforyou — May 28, 2008 @ 9:56 am

  34. #8 Zoe,
    Polly Platt’s “French or Foe” isn’t worth to read, (unless you belong to the “upper upper classes” :) )
    It’s a bunch of snobbish clichés and worthlessnesses about “The Right Behaviour In The 1% Ivy League Of The French Society For The Lame”.
    Don’t waste your time with it!

    Comment by Dan Dx — May 28, 2008 @ 1:54 pm

  35. I think after so long living there, getting engaged there, giving birth and raising her child there, aswell as being a fluent French speaker from what i can tell, France is definitely petites home country!

    Comment by Maxi — May 28, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

  36. #27 Citronella
    Unfortunately, “La Grenouillette” is a disease of the tongue… :(

    Comment by Dan Dx — May 28, 2008 @ 2:05 pm

  37. some things just don’t translate. The French attitude towards infidelity, the American attitude toward voluntary single motherhood, and the absolute adoreableness of the nickname “tadpole” being but a few examples.

    Comment by meme — May 28, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  38. Don’t you just LOVE the “why” phase?
    Last week Mr. Man and I had a half an hour conversation about “why” the Enterprise were the good guys on Star Trek.

    Their little minds are just fascinating. Patience, they absorb it all.

    Comment by Mad William — May 28, 2008 @ 5:22 pm

  39. Wow, time is flying! Can’t believe Tadpole’s old enough to be asking the big questions about the book already.

    Comment by Marianne — May 28, 2008 @ 5:49 pm

  40. thanks for the explanation petite, v unprofessional of MC though but at least no-one was any the wiser

    Comment by Kate — May 28, 2008 @ 7:02 pm

  41. What prettier name can there be than Tadpole!?
    Congrats on the book.
    And a wedding is nigh…
    My advice, on the day try and take it all in and enjoy, it whizzes by and don’t drink ’til after the meal.Then crack on…
    I am going on a hen do this weekend and am trying to avoid all shots…but it is with hard drinking northerners….I don’t stand a chance.

    Comment by aconfusedtakethatfan — May 28, 2008 @ 10:25 pm

  42. I’m not sure if girls ever outgrow the “why” phase. I have a fourteen-year-old who is equally as difficult to reason with. “WHY can’t I stay out all night with my friends?” *sigh*

    BTW, I thoroughly enjoyed your book! I spent the weekend at a friend’s cottage, just so that I could read its entirety in solitude without any distractions.

    Reliving my sojourn in Paris through your eyes was a plaisir.

    Comment by Koko — May 28, 2008 @ 11:46 pm

  43. Dan (# 36) > I learned something today. I’m not so sure about the cuteness of the word anymore…

    Comment by Citronella — May 29, 2008 @ 12:22 am

  44. Dan Dx: Unfortunately I have already bought “French or Foe.” An old friend from university who has lived the last 15 years in Paris said it was compulsory reading. Perhaps I will have my speed-reader husband read it instead and he can fill me in on the useful parts.

    I actually have found Petite’s blog to be one of the most useful sources of what to and what not to do while in Paris: don’t eat on the street; get your masculine and feminine nouns straight; don’t wear clothes that are too flashy, don’t bother with a stroller (pushchair)… Then of course, no shorts or white runners – not that I would be caught dead in that in any country. Any other suggestions from readers are welcome.

    My plan is to start every interaction with, “Je suis très désolée, mon Français est très limité. Pouvez-vous m’aider, svp?”

    Comment by Zoe — May 29, 2008 @ 5:24 am

  45. The beauty of the ex in law situation is that everything can be waived off with a “it was an error in translation” wave of the hand explanation. Too bad I can’t use that with mine…

    I agree with everyone else, Mr. Frog and Tadpole should remain. I’m sure they could simply make a little footnote or something to explain the names.

    Comment by mrs. bee — May 29, 2008 @ 2:10 pm

  46. #44 Zoe
    Don’t worry, be happy! As I use to say to my US friends before their big jump:
    As long as (WARNING: Stereotype!) you don’t shout loud in English, as long as you’ll say “Bonjour”, “S’il vous plait”, “Merci” and as long as you don’t order Ketchup with your Ratatouille, then you’ll be warmly welcome and then you’ll get friendly smiles. That’s easy, isn’t it!
    Another tip? Leave Paris as soon as possible, “la province française” is charming! Ready for the great adventure? Go to the North (Lille), northerner “Ch’tis” are fashionable in France nowadays :)

    Comment by Dan Dx — May 29, 2008 @ 3:14 pm

  47. @29 I’ve got the copy of that issue of MC magazine here and if you look very closely it does say “Some names have been changed” on the front page, right next to the spine, in very tiny letters.

    Comment by old school friend — May 30, 2008 @ 9:26 am

  48. PS maybe “front page” wasn’t quite the right expression – I meant on the first page of the article, to the left of the photo with the blurred faces.

    Comment by old school friend — May 30, 2008 @ 9:28 am

  49. I used to be called “mon grenouille” by a British female friend of mines

    Comment by Froggywoogie — May 31, 2008 @ 11:07 am

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