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Sounds like a whisper ….

When I was at school I learned French. In fact I began learning at the age of 8 in Mrs Noble’s class. Mrs Noble liked me, having despised my older brother (the loathing was mutual). Given that I generally hated my brother (also mutual and absolutely compulsory at the ages we were), I loved Mrs Noble, which might have been why she liked me. Life is like that. We tend to like those that love us. Unless they are insane stalkers.  But that really is another story.

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I adored the sounds of the words and I enjoyed learning. At secondary school I was, to be fair, generally mediocre at the grammar and indeed only actually began to make friends with conjugating after moving here in September last year. But I perfected my accent and frankly I was waiting for the call to star in the remake of 80s sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo. I listened to Jane Birkin breathing her way through Je t’aime  and wanted to BE her.

Adulthood and a cheese business that took me back and forth to Paris to the gastronomic chaos that is Rungis Market.  Ad hoc travels to Provence, Normandy, The Auvergne in search of the perfect morceau to bear triumphantly back to Berkshire in the overstuffed boot of our car and present to our customers who would sigh in ecstasy and run home to devour their new best friend with gusto and self-congratulatory glee that they had found this ‘maaaarvlus little place’ which sold all things French-Cheese without their having to bother at all with la manche.

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During all this time, I listened French. I loved the sound. Compare the way that airport is said in English – two clipped syllables uttered in a reasoned monotone – with the same word in French. L’aeroport. The aer has the lightness of a soufflé and that for me is French. That for me defines what I adore about the language. Of course regionally and even more microscopically the way words are pronounced, the way sentences are constructed, varies. Standard French, the same as BBC English is not the standard at all. My radio station of choice when out in my car and indeed in my home, now that I have discovered the joys of listening on-line to the wireless, is RBA 104.4 Bort les Orgues. The main reason for my slavish devotion is the woman I know as ‘Over Enunciating Announcer Lady’. She is bliss. When she does her petits annonces I am captivated by her emphasis. ‘PerDU, un beagLE tricoloooooR a Bort les OrgUH’ or even more deliciously the moment when behind the wheel shortly before Christmas I heard her utter ‘Soob Millie Mettre aRAY ….. a Champs sur TarentaiNUH’ and realized it was a shout out for The Husband with Two Brains’ presentation on trous noirs and his observatory in Hawaii. Her fabulous iteration gilds my days and she has unwittingly helped my French from stuttering to fluttering over the last six months.

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That moment driving to Lyon in April when I realized the strange sensation I was experiencing was seeing Spring burst forth to greet me with its bumptious greens and yellows and pinks and whites and mauves in great swathes before my eyes is replicated in my sudden ability to assimilate and respond to a barrage of French with relative ease. But even in areas with harsher tones the words have elegance to me. Somehow Tortue sounds so much more evocative than Tortoise particularly if you can perfect that mysterious swallowed ‘r’ that the French absorb by osmosis in order to bewitch dull English girls like me later in life.

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I have lived in Italy and speak decent Italian, I learned Russian for six years at school but for me French is candied grace and refinement. If it were a scent it would be captured in a bottle made of a glass so fragile that you would think it was a bubble. Even in Cantal where we live. THAT Cantal recently described as le trou (the hole) by a friend in Grenoble … repeat after me. – Non, il est pas le trou! It isn’t. Fact. But that is not what we are talking about here and despite being innately discursive I am determined to stay en piste for this moment. No. Say Grenoble. Gren. Oble. Now say it with a French accent (it is after all French). Can you hear the chicly swallowed G? The way the ble whispers away at the end? That’s French. I speak it comme une vache espagnole but I hear it fluently. And it is music in my ears.

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PS: My title is taken from a song by the brilliant Tracy Chapman. She was Talkin’ Bout a Revolution – something else the French do rather well ….

It should be noted that this piece was originally written for a writing competition … it didn’t make the cut but I rather felt it worthy of a place here nonetheless …. you are free to agree or disagree or remain Swiss and neutral.  And the photographs of mountains?  For me learning the language is like walking in the mountains: sometimes the climbs seem endless and the struggle never ending, you feel you won’t ever reach the top, you feel the task impossible but when you turn the corner on the path and take stock of how far you have climbed and breath the air and survey that vista, the effort evaporates.  And  aside from that, I simply love them.

46 Comments Post a comment
  1. I loved learning French at school. It was the only subject that interested me and at which I was any good (I don’t count English as a subject, and could never understand why anybody needed to learn it, it just came naturally.) French and English teachers were the only ones who loved me, and it was reciprocal. French was the one subject for which I won prizes. Each time a book – ‘Delorme in Deep Water’, and ‘Mrs Harris goes to New York’. Sadly, avid reader though I was, neither of those did anything for me, and I never finished them.

    My French is quite reasonable, and I also once spoke Italian, in another life, and Swahili. The idea of studying Russian would intimidate me, more than anything because of having to learn an entirely new alphabet, which is what has put me off attempting Arabic or Chinese.

    Even after 20 years, I still can’t hear any difference between dessus and dessous, and when using them have to make arm movements to indicate what I mean. 🙂

    Like

    July 12, 2014
  2. Swahili?! Wow … I remember thinking I had made the wrong decision to take Russian rather than German at school as we spent class after class learning the alphabet and the German students were already able to order a meal, buy clothes and flirt with boys called Heinz or Fritz. I am so glad I stuck with it though, because although it was horribly rusty when I finally visited Moscow, it quickly stepped out of the wardrobe in my mind and began to flow again 🙂 Love the remark about above and below – I live above the Ecole Maternelle and I am sure many think I live in the cellar! 🙂

    Like

    July 13, 2014
  3. Lovely piece honey. I’m sure the judges were biased. Or maybe they had Spanish in their families. Over here we’re not amused by the “une vache espagnole,” quote. XX

    Like

    July 14, 2014
    • Thank you Carl! And my humble apologies to the people of Spain and her Islands on behalf of France for her rude expression 😉 xx

      Like

      July 14, 2014
  4. Fully deserves a prize in my view – not just because I am pre-disposed towards you! Although I have mixed feelings about the French people, I do enjoy speaking their language. That’s partly because I am pretentious, of course, and enjoy rolling my r’s and so on, but it is a beautiful language.

    Like

    July 14, 2014
    • Ah the rolling of the r’s and all the other nuances of an accent are my favourite bit too! And I refuse to be branded pretentious … thank you for being kind enough to say it should have a prize – its always entirely subjective and the pieces that were chosen were all of a VERY high standard. It was interesting, actually to be back in class … I’d have been happy with a C+ 😉

      Like

      July 15, 2014
  5. Reblogged this on Half Baked In Paradise and commented:

    I’ll fly to Paris tomorrow and then on to Boston (with The Flying Bean) so here is one more post from the past before I start to half-bake some fresh stuff.

    Like

    August 16, 2016
  6. I identify with you entirely on French; but I bet you speak it better now

    Liked by 1 person

    August 16, 2016
    • Debatable after a year spent mostly in the US though my husband (fluent) says I do and I believe EVERY word he says, naturally 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      August 16, 2016
  7. French is it beautiful language that I have never been able to master.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 16, 2016
    • My mastery is tenuous … I’ll write a post about my continuing bloopers one of these days!

      Liked by 1 person

      August 16, 2016
  8. Still mastering, but the French language is the most beautiful in the world and the simplest phrase sounds so lyrical and evocative and graceful and classy.
    Strange then, that this melodic, delicate spoken language can come over somewhat clumsily when sung (sometimes)

    Liked by 1 person

    August 16, 2016
    • It is a beautiful language though I would argue that Italian is also but then I was fluent in that early in my life so it has never caused me a headache! I know what you mean about sung French though – its odd … I need to give it more thought!! Keep working at it and take breaks … being away this year actually improved me – perhaps my brain relaxed and allowed information in the holding bay to find it’s place – who knows.

      Liked by 1 person

      August 16, 2016
  9. I took French way back in high school, many, many years ago. I did not apply myself, therefore learned one or two words. Have a great trip back to the states – be safe my friend. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    August 16, 2016
    • Here’s the deal – get well and strong, come to France and I’ll teach you the very few phrases you will need to have a really good time 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      August 16, 2016
  10. lindywhitton #

    What a great piece- Mrs Noble would be proud of you! I had a stunningly handsome ,charasmatic and totally charming French teacher who would sing to the class. Luckily there’s a song called Lindy-Lou ( my full name) and one day I get serenaded from the corridor with his head stuck through the window into the classroom. What a delicious moment for a 13 year old girl. My German teacher on the other hand was old, took snuff in class and wore sock suspenders- glad he didn’t sing!

    Liked by 1 person

    August 16, 2016
    • That REALLY made me smile …. I bet the 13 year old you was convinced wedding bells were imminent to m’sieur Beau et Charmant! I had a teacher at secondary school called Miss Wildbore – you can imagine the rest 😉

      Like

      August 16, 2016
  11. Despite learning French at school for about 6 years and then having to use it at university, my spoken French when we moved here in ’97 was absolutely hopeless. At least I had the basic grammar, but I took 4 years of classes, read French novels, watched French TV and films and slowly it improved. Now, I’d describe myself as more or less fluent, but not perfect. And I’ve found you need to keep working at it, otherwise you backslide. Bon courage in Boston. When are you back in la belle France?

    Liked by 1 person

    August 16, 2016
    • I’m back in November and then in France til next summer. After that it all depends on things out of my control (I never considered myself a controlling person but even for an inherent free wheeler I find it un petit peu difficile) …. Language takes time and effort to perfect. Bizarrely the pause seemed to have no effect but I don’t want to leave it much longer to be speaking with natives again …..

      Like

      August 16, 2016
  12. That is a beautiful post revering your second language. I love the sound of French, also, but now am more in love with Spanish and all it’s many dialects. Have a wonderful trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 16, 2016
    • It is a matter of the place as well as the language I think …. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

      Like

      August 16, 2016
  13. French can sound wonderful…a great deal depends on the speaker! i do like your radio lady!

    I loathed French at school…but when the U.K. joined the Common Market I had to get up to scratch in order to ‘master’ French admin law upon which EU law and practice was modeled.
    So, moving to France I was fully capable of explaining the effect of fait du prince in employment law…which was not a great deal of use in explaining to a plumber that I was not going to buy his overpriced boiler in which, should he wish, he was at liberty to boil his head.

    However, I had good patient neighbours, I read the local rag in order to have a subject of discussion in the bakery queue and it all eventually came together…..though the patois, generally spoken by those around me, could produce befuddlement, even before the mustard glasses were produced and filled.

    I sometimes think of producing an exam paper for knowledge of patois:
    Your neighbour asks you for the loan of the ‘;bettoon’…
    What is your response?

    Liked by 1 person

    August 16, 2016
    • Over enunciating lady remains my guilt free pleasure. Hopefully over two years from writing that piece I am a teeny bit improved though my current wrestling with Americano is playing havoc with my small brain! I can imagine the frustration you suffered when tiring to communicate your true feelings to the ruddy plombier and I marvel at your ability to even begin to master the patois …. What on earth IS a bettoon???

      Liked by 1 person

      August 16, 2016
      • He had to point…it was a cement mixer!

        Liked by 1 person

        August 17, 2016
      • I wondered if it was rooted in béton …. A word that haunts me vis a vis our historic monument (or hysterical mess) – I’m not convinced Frenchmen should be allowed near cement mixers. By the way when my first husband was four and his mother introduced him to his new baby brother she thought, being an inclusive soul, that he might like to help choose a name for the sprog – he remains disappointed that she didn’t agree to cement mixer – I can see his point 😂😂

        Liked by 1 person

        August 17, 2016
      • I like the idea of the name….pity his mother was so conventional…

        Quite agree about cement mixers. In my first village the priest in the next commune raised money for a replica of the grotto of Lourdes…it was, of course, made in cement and was a monument to the concrete brutalist school of architecture. Placed as it was near a road junction, it was responsible for no end of traffic accidents as drivers received an eyeful of it…

        Liked by 1 person

        August 17, 2016
      • She’s generally quite colourful but I have found in life that many become mysteriously dull and staid when it comes to the naming of offspring. I was careful to err somewhere between alluring and odd with mine. They don’t seem to mind. As for concrete Lourdes – egads, I feel quite faint!

        Liked by 1 person

        August 17, 2016
      • I think that that is what happened to the motorists too…it was truly hideous and to see it looming up in the midst of verdant countryside was a real shock to the system.

        Liked by 1 person

        August 17, 2016
      • Sort of like a highly inappropriate grotesque Catholic version of the Milton Keynes cows!

        Liked by 1 person

        August 17, 2016
  14. “didn’t make the cut”…should have won! Great piece and reminds me why I also always loved trying to speak French the way the French do. My mother was a French teacher so we had lots of practice at home. I have a funny story to tell you one day, which centres around ” il y a quelqu’un.” Warm wishes, and safe travels 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    August 16, 2016
    • I can’t wait to hear the story! You are, as ever far too kind to me but it has been interesting revisiting a few of the old posts and in this instance doing a bit of self examination (not having the wonderful benefit of a French teacher for ma mère) and wondering if I have improved since then at all. I can put to a quick test tomorrow as I’m dodging through Roissy en route to The New World. Warm wishes to you and the family 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      August 16, 2016
  15. Lovely piece O. I learned French at school and when I was married we spent 3 weeks every summer in Provence and the Cote d’Az. Then a break of about 20 years when not a word was spoken. It surprised me how much I retained when I moved here but the accent still throws me with a strong emphasis on the last ‘e’ in words which makes it sound more like Spanish. Not surprising since many of the oldies have Catalan origins to say nothing of Occitan which is another kettle of fish entirely. Still don’t quite get the difference between savoir and connaitre but then my neighbours seem to use the words interchangeable. Lovely language to listen to though and I love the accent when French people speak English.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 18, 2016
    • Occitan is fascinating and stretches much further North than I originally realised. In our area too. My understanding of savoir is that you use it if it if you are talking about a skill and connaître for someone you know. Therefore if i know how to teach The Bean tricks je sais but if I know her je connais. My nemesis is au dessous and au dessus! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

      Like

      August 18, 2016
      • Thanks for the tip. In return, remember ‘sous’ is under/beneath therefore au dessous…the pronunciation can still trip you up though.

        Liked by 1 person

        August 19, 2016
      • It’s the pronunciation that really gets me …. I always have to accompany with a mime!

        Like

        August 19, 2016
  16. For me, it’s the prevalence in French of quotidien daily vocabulary that has English cognates of a high register that makes French so fun. Primordial, essence, peripaticienne–I love saying them!

    https://zipfslaw.org/2016/01/29/why-english-speakers-like-to-speak-french/

    Liked by 1 person

    August 20, 2016
    • Loved it! You just earned a follow from me …. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of your work 🙂

      Like

      August 20, 2016
  17. I could listen to the French or an English person speak all day….My first husband was from Lucca Italy….so Italian it was….LOL I am no longer fluent, (my daughter can speak it all day) but I can say with a few days around some Italians, it all starts to come back…LOL I am sure I could get feed in Italy…LOL as the family I married into owned Italian Dinner Houses…I can cook the language of love…LOL I also can do okay in a Spanish world…my second husband was from El Salvador….so my high school Spanish came in handy…LOL When my daughter and I went to Paris, she was the one who did most of the talking…LOL she is the one with the multi-lingual tongue…LOL I learned a smile and a handshake got me further in France than trying to speak the language…..now I am with a German, part of my roots, and let me tell you, that is one crazy language!! I can understand some of it…but speaking it just doesn’t roll off the tongue like its suppose to, and it doesn’t help that I translate it to Spanish in my head….LOL loved the pictures and post…..bonne journée, mon amie xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    August 22, 2016
    • Thank you, Kat …. I love Italian – lived in Rome for a while in the 80s and learned it then. I think they call it immersion when you are just chucked in and HAVE to learn. I have no Spanish to speak of and German confounded me when I tried to learn some phrases last year for a visit. Fortunately they all seemed very forgiving. Xx

      Like

      August 22, 2016
  18. Ah I didn’t know that you spoke Italian – I am currently grappling with a beginners course on line.
    You may have noted my absence, and I have had a little set-back with my surgery that left me not really in the right frame of mind
    I am really on the back foot with French also, as only did it for one year aged 11-12, so never had any formal grammar lessons and just had to pick up what I could as I went along.
    CHEESE – love love love it – in fact, I am going to an afternoon of ‘Parisian Jazz with cheese and wine tomorrow at the Nordic church near Liverpool waterfront!
    My daughter called me and said do you want to come to a cheese and wine Parisian Jazz event tomorrow – I replied ‘You had me at CHEESE’
    I am still way behind with my reading, but glad I opened this one xx

    Liked by 1 person

    September 24, 2016
    • Italian is a beautiful language …. I moved to Rome for work shed 25 batting WAY above my height and without a word of the lingo. As my daughter commented in her birthday card to me this year … It’s only when you jump in over your head that you realise how tall you really are! Take it gently Sista lovely l’m right here when you are. And we WILL meet in Paris this year. I arrive back in France mid November and will be based in Grenoble til the end of May. That had to give us a window, n’est pas? X

      Like

      September 24, 2016
  19. Instead of saying, “I speak it comme une vache espagnole”, I say “je baragouine”. I learnt French by reading 10 French books using my dictionary and underlining every unknown word to me – it was hard. After ten book, I worn out my dictionary. After these books, I very seldom use dictionary. In my home, I have about 1500 French books, which I have l read thrice. It takes about 10 years to read them all. Every evening before sleeping, I read a French book.

    Spanish I learnt when in my youth, I worked 4½ months in Las Palmas (Canary Islands). Portuguese, I learnt on two winter courses (once a week). My teacher was young a Brazilian lady. English, I learnt in school.

    I know Swedish, from school, but I have no need for it. German I read in school also, but I cannot made my posts in it. Written German is better to understand, than spoken.

    Like

    January 13, 2017
    • I’m so sorry, I have only just found your comment … it was languishing in my spam folder which I’m afraid I seldom check. You are clearly serious about your languages and i am impressed at your fortitude in learning French in such a way. ‘Comme une Vache Espagnole’ is a common coloquialism which is easily understood and generally amuses the French. je bargouine, is of course much more ‘correct’. Thank you for taking the time to comment – you sound fascinating with all those languages. Again, I apologise for taking so long to reply

      Like

      March 23, 2017
      • Thank You. I check every Morning Spam folder and I have found thethere occasionally some real comments. Last time it was yesterday.

        Happy logging!

        Liked by 1 person

        March 23, 2017

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