petite anglaise

February 7, 2005

attack of the colon?

Filed under: Uncategorized — bipolarinparis @ 12:38 pm

The CSA (French broadcasting watchdog), which counts among its missions the responsibility for protecting and regulating the use of French on television and radio, has requested that television channels make more of an effort to give their shows French titles. If an English title is used, the CSA recommends an accompanying translation into French.

This is the latest manifestation of a futile ongoing battle against la surabondance de termes anglais ou anglicisés à la télévision et à la radio. In the firing line are a whole host of mostly Endemol-produced reality TV shows with names like ‘Star Academy’, ‘Loft Story’, ‘Popstars’ and ‘Fear factor’.

Oddly these do not have the same English names as their UK/US equivalents. ‘Star Academy’ is known as ‘Fame Academy’ in the UK. ‘Loft Story’ was the French version of ‘Big Brother’ (after three seasons of ever-declining ratings the format was scrapped and consigned to the audiovisual graveyard, although Loana – the pneumatic bimbo who got laid in the swimming pool during the first week of season one – seems to be a permanent feature of the Paysage Audivisuel Français).

Are we about to see a new tendancy emerging in French programme naming – the Attack of the Colon? Star Academy: l’Ecole des vedettes? Fear factor: le facteur de la peur? An amusing article in Libération points out that the literal translation of “Loft Story’ would give us the following catchy title: ‘Loft Story: Une histoire de local a usage commercial ou industriel amenage en local d’habitation’.

Probably not. The CSA is not actually planning to use its power to sanction TV production companies who do not toe the line. TF1 have already made a statement to the effect that Star Academy, the show responsible for inflicting Jennifer and Nolwenn on the French pop music scene, will not undergo a name change.

The English titling phenomenon is not limited to made-in-France reality/junk TV shows. Quality programmes imported from the USA tend to be broadcast nowadays using their original titles. ‘Nip/Tuck’, ‘Six Feet Under’ and ‘Desperate Housewives’ (coming soon on Canal+) are examples which immediately spring to mind. Personally, I’m thankful for this, as if they had been renamed I probably wouldn’t have noticed they were on at all. It took me long enough to work out that ‘Chapeau Melon et Bottes de Cuir’ = ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Deux Flics à Miami” = ‘Miami vice’.

If these programs had been re-baptised, I suspect the result would have looked something like this:

Nip/Tuck – Les Docteurs Troy et McNamara: chirurgiens esthétiques
Six Feet Under – La famille Fisher: entrepreneurs de pompes funèbres

Unimaginative indeed, but you only have to look at the number of French programmes in circulation featuring the name/job title of the protagonist in their title (‘Les Cordier, juge et flic’, ‘L’instit’, ‘Navarro’) to see a pattern emerging.

The CSA is worried that the use of English words in TV programme titles devalues French language and culture, making programmes with French titles seem inferior or old-fashioned in comparison.

Personally, I can’t help thinking that the CSA is missing the point. Perhaps more attention needs to be paid to the quality of French TV production itself, and not simply the language of titles. Why are so many shows and reality TV formats being imported, I wonder? Could it possibly be *whispers* that home-grown productions are actually Not Very Good?

February 1, 2005

caramel shoe shoe

Filed under: Uncategorized — bipolarinparis @ 12:18 pm
on a one way ticket to my thighs

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?

January 24, 2005

superfly guy

Filed under: Uncategorized — bipolarinparis @ 1:21 pm

If ever I decide to kill two minutes at work surfing Blog Explosion (usually between 17.58 and 18.00 when the countdown moves even more slowly), I invariably spend a few seconds of quality time in the company of 3 Republican wannabe pundits, 2 Democrats, 1 prairie apologist (whatever that means?), 2 knitting bloggers, and an animal lover. I am aware of the fact that this many sites = >2 minutes, but I do not count patience among my qualities.

Last week I stumbled across a blog (which sadly I can no longer find) which helpfully listed a great many figurative phrases and proverbs in the English language referring to cats. This set me off on a train of thought (m’a mis la puce à l’oreille) about similar expressions in French involving animals, and how these are translated into English. Just the sort of thing which keeps me awake at night.

After extensive research (i.e. looking at four or five entries for animals in the Collins/Robert dictionary and brainstorming with Mr Frog, for all the good that did me) I now share the fruit of my labours.

It transpires that French people do indeed shed crocodile tears on occasion, can be as stubborn as mules (personally I know of no-one more stubborn than my partner, so perhaps it should be changed to ‘as stubborn as a frog’?) They are wont to stick their heads in the sand (faire l’autruche – literally, do the ostrich). French females often eat like birds/sparrows (don’t believe any of this nonsense) and an unattractive person may be compared to a toad (être laid comme un crapaud).

However, for a French person, the day that pigs fly will be the day that chicken grow teeth (quand les poules auront des dents). It never rains cats and dogs, but like a pissing cow (pleuvoir comme vache qui pisse). Petite anglaise minus her glasses is as short-sighted as a mole (myope comme une taupe) rather than as blind as a bat. When French people feel a bit chilly they develop chicken skin (chair de poule), which is similar, but not identical to, goose pimples. The Gallic equivalent of having ‘other fish to fry’ is having other cats to whip (d’autres chats à fouetter). I’m not sure what the RSPCA/SPA/Brigitte Bardot would have to say about that kind of behaviour. A French person with a croaky voice has a cat in their throat, as opposed to a frog. (I can’t help feeling that the latter is a good thing and has probably spared me exposure to some rather unsavoury Mr Frog/throat jokes.)

But by far my favourite phrase, because of the lovely image it conjurs in my mind’s eye, is the French expression enculer des mouches. Which can be translated literally as ‘to bugger flies’.

In English we use the rather less colourful expression ‘to split hairs’.

January 5, 2005

cultural schizophrenia

Filed under: Uncategorized — bipolarinparis @ 11:15 am

I’ve come to the conclusion that being bilingual is not just about speaking and thinking in two different languages. It’s about having two distinct personalities.

When I first moved to France, despite my twelve or so years of French lessons at school, culminating in a university degree in French and German, I found it horribly difficult to express myself in French. I could get my point across, make conversation and understand what was being said around me, but I struggled to translate my actual personality. French people I met thought I was rather reserved and shy, quiet and not particularly opinionated. As painful shyness was something I had suffered from as a teenager and subsequently conquered, it was intensely frustrating to relive that awkward phase all over again in French. Another sticking point was humour: any attempt to communicate a dry Northern English sense of humour into French tended to result in disaster. What I had intended as sarcasm was often taken literally.

Ten years down the line I am far more comfortable in conversation in French am often mistaken for a native (a compliment I never grow tired of). Nonetheless I have realised that I am a slightly different person when I speak French. I think this is due in part to a conscious or subconscious desire to conform to French expectations of what it is acceptable for women to say (which means, for example, less swearing and crudity, even after a few drinks). Whatever the reason, my French alter ego is undoubtedly rather more polite and deferential than my English self.

Take answering the phone for instance. The English me is congenitally incapable of uttering the phrase “your welcome”. My mind goes blank when someone says ‘thank you’ and I mumble a bashful “no problem” or “that’s alright”, only to remember the existence of the phrase “you’re welcome” as I replace the receiver. My French self, on the other hand, adopts a syrupy sweet voice not unlike the invisible anchorwoman on the Arte channel (think the Cadbury’s caramel squirrel and you get the picture) and never ceases to amaze me when “il y’a pas de quoi” or “je vous en prie” trips effortlessly off her tongue.

In previous jobs, where I was the only native English speaker in the office, I often found it frustrating to be trapped in my polite, too nice French self all day long. I longed to let down my guard and relax into my English personality, and to have honest dialogue with my bosses and even inject a touch of humour once in a while. Eventually I made the move to an English firm where I really could be me all day long: the sarcastic, occasionally subversive, mercilessly piss-taking and smutty (after a beer-or two) me. It was the best move I ever made. My very mental well-being depended on it.

I doubt I would have ended up living with a Frenchman if he hadn’t been fluent in English. In the case of Mr Frog, I am not his first petite anglaise, so he already had some experience in that department, and in the early days he saw me mostly in the context of my group of heavy drinking, bar-hopping friends and definitely fell for the English me. I honestly don’t think I could have had any sort of meaningful relationship with someone whom I only ever spoke French to.

At the end of the day, although I did move to this country with the aim of becoming fluent in the language, and to live a French life, I am adamant that I don’t want to lose touch with the English me within. My French personality doesn’t feel quite genuine, it’s more like a mask I wear sometimes.

And it gets a bit uncomfortable after prolonged wear, not unlike my contact lenses.

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