petite anglaise

September 11, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaise @ 9:55 am

The first time it happens, I’m sitting with Tadpole and The Boy in my favourite Chinese snack bar, tucking into pork and herb ravioli while rain hammers down on the pavement outside.

‘Ouch,’ I say, rubbing a raised bump on my arm which I’ve just knocked against the table. ‘Goodness knows what I’ve done to myself this time, but it really hurts! Look, j’ai un bosse, là…’

Tadpole’s face cycles through several possible reactions – confusion, perplexity, amazement – before finally settling on amusement. ‘Un bosse, mummy?’ she says teasingly, shooting a sidelong glance at The Boy, who is smirking into his Shanghai noodles. ‘But don’t you know? Un bosse doesn’t exist! A lump is called une bosse, in French.’

‘Okay, I’ve got une bosse then,’ I say, defensively, my cheeks smarting. It’s not as though I’ve never made a gender blunder in front of Tadpole before. But it’s the first time she’s noticed, or at least the first time she’s decided to call me out on it, pressing home her native speaker’s advantage. ‘You know, I didn’t even start learning French until I was eleven-years-old,’ I explain. ‘So it’s normal for me to make mistakes sometimes. I wasn’t lucky enough to learn two languages when I was small, like you. And the thing I find most difficult is choosing un ou une or le or la because they don’t even exist in English.’

Tadpole falls silent, her face deadly serious as she processes this new information. She may be fortunate enough to know, instinctively, which combination of words sounds right or wrong, but I doubt she’s ever stopped to wonder why English nouns don’t behave in the same way. In fact, one of her most common blunders, just now, is to refer to a chair as a she or a pencil as a he.

‘I see what you mean, mummy,’ she says, finally, turning to face me and putting a hand on my arm – right on my bosse – causing me to gasp. ‘Don’t worry,’ she adds in a reassuring voice, ‘I’m going to teach you how to say right ALL the words.’ She lets go of my arm and opens both of hers wide to illustrate just how many words we have to get through. ‘How about we start with table,’ she says, clearly enjoying herself, now. ‘Do you think it’s un table or une table..?’

On a Saturday morning a couple of weeks later, Tadpole and I are sitting on the sofa in our respective nightwear: ‘ello Kitty pyjamas – she refuses to pronounce the ‘Hello’ in ‘Hello Kitty’ with an aspirant ‘h’ – and a black silk negligé. She’s just finished reading me a story in English, which she now sets aside in favour of a French story anthology. The deal we struck when she came to interrupt me – mid Gum Thief – was that she would read me one story in English, then one in French. She chooses the shortest one, which is about a naïvely drawn blue teddy bear called Pénélope, who is trying to remember the words to a well-known children’s song. I’m not familiar with it, as this particular story book is reserved for French babysitters and occasionally The Boy, if he gets home from work before storytime.

‘Pénélope chante à tue-tête…’ reads Tadpole.

Before she can launch into the song, I interrupt. ‘What does tue-tête mean?’ I ask her, with a puzzled frown. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that before…’

‘Really?’ says Tadpole, as though she can barely believe her ears. I nod, bashfully, half-wishing I’d held my peace. ‘Tue-tête means Pénélope is singing as LOUD as she can,’ she explains in a decidedly schoolmistressy voice, cranking up her internal volume dial to better illustrate her point and eliciting a groan from The Boy, who is sleeping in the bedroom, a few metres away.

‘Right, I see,’ I say, nodding. ‘In English we’d say she was singing at the top of her voice.’

The next time Tadpole uses a word I’m unfamiliar with, I keep stumm, slinking off to my desk at the first opportunity to leaf quietly through my Collins Robert dictionary.

It’s one thing admitting I’m not absolutely infallible. But the word ‘boss’, in this household, is a feminine noun. An adult feminine noun, to be precise. And while I’m quite happy to let Tadpole savour the sweet feeling of superiority from time to time, I don’t think I want the balance of power shifting too far in her direction.

May 22, 2007

French masterclass

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaise @ 3:43 pm

If you have been following this blog for a while, you will be aware of the fact that I am rather irrationally fond of very scientific-sounding French words used to denote common things.

My love of the word podotactile, which can be translated into English with the slightly less elegant “strip along the side of a métro platform that has bumps on that you can feel if you are wearing thin-soled shoes” has already been widely documented.

Peeling the transparent film off a microwave dinner the other day (and yes, I know it’s bad, but believe me, that was one of my better moments, nutritionally, in recent weeks) I was overjoyed to notice that said transparent cover is called an l’opercule, a term which comes from Latin and is also used in neuroscience and botany. Imagine, if you will, that the instructions on your microwave meal asked you to “pull back the operculus”. Would you have any appetite left?

But my favourite new phrase by far is the one used to designate the place where water must be poured into my new steam iron (after old iron was accidentally melted in a freak hob-top incident at the weekend when I tried to cook pasta with a hangover). I give you: l’orifice de remplissage.

I’m looking at it warily right now and I just don’t know if I can.

February 6, 2007

gros mot

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaise @ 11:07 am

It recently came to my attention that a fantasy swear word coined, I believe, by my very good friend in blogging Anna Boat may soon be the subject of a heated debate chez les Prud’hommes.

A comment I took the precaution of removing from my site some time ago has seemingly found its way into the possession of a certified translator, for use in my industrial tribunal case (which theoretically takes place this month, if no-one defers it).

It went something like this:

petite: “I’m thinking of setting up a parallel secret blog named “my boss is a twunt”.

Hmm. Clearly a tongue in cheek play on words which any self-respecting blogger/blogreader would understand as a reference to the famous zed and her award winning blog, no doubt a quip made in response to another comment, although I no longer have the faintest idea of the exact context.

The problem being that the French translator, clearly coming a little unstuck at the sight of the inventive slight, an amalgamation of two words of differing intensity which share etymological origins with the word “ladyparts”, decided to opt for the rather stronger French expletive “enculé” in the version to which he/she put the holy certified translator’s stamp. Unfortunate in the extreme, as “enculé” is a word which has nothing whatsoever to do with “ladyparts”, is the strongest French swearword I know of, and is emphatically not a word I would ever dream of sullying my fair lips with. I think it is fair to say that many layers of intended humour and irony have been well and truly lost in translation.

The upside of all this (aside from the fact that my audience is likely to be interesting for those involved, and indeed for spectators) is that surely it can only be a matter of time before the Académie Française falls in love with the neologism and deems it necessary to add “twunt” to the official French dictionary.

Now there’s an achievement of which I would be truly proud.

October 13, 2005

slippery slope

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaise @ 10:00 am

Tadpole is having her bath. I am seated next to her, on the toilet, as there is really no where else to sit in our two and a half square metre bathroom.

“Mummy mummy mummy!” shouts Tadpole, excitedly. “Look mummy!”

I lower my copy of Heat and give her my full attention.

“What do you want to show me?” I enquire, feigning interest.

“Mummy. Regarde! Le bateau, il a chaviré!

Oh. My. God.

Just twenty eight months old and she is now using French words which I can only understand with the help of a dictionary.

March 17, 2005

don't talk down to me

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaise @ 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’.

February 21, 2005

who's your daddy?

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaise @ 9:30 am

Tadpole suddenly started speaking in phrases this week. French ones mind, which are not nearly half as gratifying to me as English ones. I am not yet ready to admit even to myself that French will be her dominant language, while my mother tongue is likely to be relegated to second language status.

Overnight, everything she pointed at was suddenly accompanied by a “c’est … ça.”

“C’est mummy ça”, “C’est daddy ça”, “C’est teddy ça”, “C’est quoi ça?”.

Or with a triumphant “there it is”: “Il est daddy” “Elle est mummy.”

Accompanied without exception by exaggerated finger-pointing and arm-waving. As far as gesticulation levels go, Tadpole most definitely qualifies as a French person.

Pushing Tadpole plus wobbly trolley around the supermarket (no security harness, this is France) on Saturday evening, stocking up on edible provisions for the week, (which now include various additive-laden but child-friendly snacks that I hitherto swore I would never feed my child, including fish fingers, which I am currently rediscovering), Tadpole gets it into her pretty little head that a complete stranger, who looks absolutely nothing like her father, and is at least a decade older than he is, is her daddy. The only plausible explanation I can find for this is that she was confusing the word “daddy” with the word “man”.

“C’est daddy ça!”, shouts Tadpole, loudly, with extended arm and pointy index finger.

“Er… no sweetie, that’s not your daddy. It might be someone else’s daddy though.”

We turn into the next aisle, and I begin my search for a breakfast cereal not containing ten times the recommended daily intake of sugar. A toss up between porridge oats and cornflakes, again: Rice Krispies are like gold dust in this city.

“C’est daddy ça” cries Tadpole earnestly, volume turned up a little higher. I start and look up hopefully from the packet of ‘Honey Smacks’ I am examining, wondering if daddy has actually deserted his powerpoint presentation and elected to join us in the supermarket. No such luck. Just the same man, who is not, never was, and never will be Tadpole’s father.

“Don’t be silly, it’s not your daddy,” I repeat firmly, wishing that it was, because I’m unsure how I am going to get both shopping and Tadpole home on my own, even if it is only 200m from the local Franprix to our own door.

I swing a hasty left, and pounce upon a packet of Jacobs crackers. Not because I actually like them, you understand, but because they are a brand from home, and Franprix don’t usually stock them, so I feel I have to seize the opportunity. I have an unopened bottle of HP sauce in my cupboard, also purchased at Franprix. They can keep each other company.

We take up our position in the queue.

“C’est DADDY ça, il est LÀ daddy.”

I lose my patience.

“Good grief [Tadpole], give me credit for some taste! That man is not your father!” I snap.

Tadpole is stunned into silence by my tone.

And I spend five minutes in the queue praying that the man in question isn’t an English teacher by profession.

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