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’.

February 21, 2005

who's your daddy?

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaiseparis @ 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.

February 16, 2005

building blocks

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaiseparis @ 5:06 pm

“Labouche”, says Tadpole, pointing at her mouth.

“Yes sweetie, it’s your mouth”, I say, in my best educational voice, showing that she is correct but that mummy has a different word for this.

“Mouth”, she repeats.

“Well done darling!” I say, thinking how similar child-rearing techniques are to those used by Barbara Woodhouse on dogs. All that is missing is a little dog treat to hand out as a reward when I say “well done!”, and possibly a firm, congratulatory pat to her rump.

It occurs to me that if I were able to train Tadpole to obey dog-training commands like “sit” and “stay” then I might be able to prolong my life expectancy by several years. At the moment, I get to see her life flash before my eyes several times a day. Every time she manages to work loose her hand and dart towards a car/bicycle/the gap between the metro and the platform my heart does a little somersault. Which can’t be healthy.

I don’t discourage her from bringing me my slippers when I get home either.

Dog tangent aside, what I have noticed about the way Tadpole acquires French language is that for her “labouche” is one entity. As are “lesoreilles” and “lenez” or “lafourchette”. Aha! So that’s how French people instinctively know what gender something is. They learn the gender and the noun as one indivisible unit of language from the beginning. And separate it all out later on. None of that puzzling over whether a table leg ought to be feminine or masculine, or trying to get their head around the illogical concept of a breast being masculine (le sein). I imagine it won’t be long before Tadpole starts correcting my gender bending tendencies. In fact, soon I will have my very own walking, talking dictionary.

Similarly, in English at the moment there are a few words that she never uses in isolation. “Hat” is either part of the phrase “haton” or “hatoff”. “Light” is “lighton”. Her lasting fascination for lights is actually getting quite tedious: almost every single shop in France has a neon sign outside the front of it, and Tadpole feels the need to point at each and every one of them to show me that the light is indeed on.

It occurs to me that I should probably curb my language a little going forward to ensure that she doesn’t pick up any of the following phrases and decide that they are indivisible language blocks:


February 10, 2005

what a drague

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaiseparis @ 4:24 pm

In the interests of preparing female readers for the inevitable harrassment they will encounter if strolling around the capital unchaperoned (or chaperoned only by a furry leopard), here is petite’s rough guide to common French chat-up lines.

“Vous avez de beaux yeux…”

The French equivalent of “Do you come here often?”. Although it might sound like a charming compliment the first time you hear it, it doesn’t age well. After about the twentieth re-run I found myself hard pushed to even muster up enough enthusiasm to bother responding with a sarcastic “Ah bon?”. However my real problem with this well-worn line is that the sleazy dragueur types using it very rarely look you in the eye while saying it. I don’t think I’m suggesting that the line should be changed to “what a lovely cleavage you have there mademoiselle. ” But a little eye-contact would be nice.

“Vous êtes américaine?” [or “suédoise” or “anglaise”]

Wrongly or rightly the French male seems to have the impression that all American girls are easy. So this line is likely to be delivered with a ‘hopeful’ intonation. Being more or less blonde (depending largely on the frequency of my visits to the hairdresser) and apparently non-French looking, I have been asked all of the above time and time again. The best line of defence seems to be to pretend not to understand a word of French. Either they give up, or the motivated ones start practising their dreadful Ingleesh on you. Which is likely to be good for a laugh if nothing else. And puts the dragueur at a distinct disadvantage.

“Vous avez une cigarette?”

Careful! There is nothing more bitterly disappointing than a drop dead gorgeous gentlemen requesting a cigarette, only to turn tail in disgust when no “clope” is forthcoming. Often French people who ask you for a cigarette are looking for just that: it’s a perfectly acceptable thing to do in this country. Similarly “vous avez du feu?” can be a genuine request for a light, or the oldest chat up line in the book. A vous de juger.

“Vous êtes charmante”

Thank you kindly. What a pity that you, Monsieur, are old enough to be my grandad and fug ugly.

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