Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ooh la la la laaaa

I'm here in Paris plugging away at learning this language. Still.

I'm still befuddled by most of what people say. I still listen to my French language podcasts, still meander my way through my online courses and still flip through my offline books. I still write out the conjugations of verbs and still I wonder if it helps. So many of these verbs that are perfectly understandable on the page are completely imperfect when uttered in the real world. Especially the imperfect tense.

Back in school when I was taking French with other English students, I was a star. When we were learning only what was put on the page in front of us, my French was not just pas mal, it was stellar. Even my professor said, "Janice, you speak beautifully." But then he followed with, "Now if only you could understand what you were saying."

Here, out in the real French world, they don't stick to the text book page. They could say ANYTHING and I have to RESPOND IN FRENCH in REAL TIME.

Getting my hair cut is a rehearsal in front of the mirror at home. Don't want to eff that up.

Buying a summer frock starts first with trying to remember how to ask if I can try it on.

And to ask for the price of something? Oh forget it. If it's anything over the number 69, I'm screwed.

Seventy is literally translated as sixty-ten: soixante-dix
Ninety is four-twenty-ten: quatre-vingt-dix
Ninety-nine is four-twenty-ten-nine: quatre-vingt-dix-neuf

And even though it sounds complicated, it's not complicated here in the comfort of my own learning space. Here, I'm a super star student. But as soon as something costs anything that sounds like a really long number, I flub up and just keep handing over 20s until they are satisfied.

Often they ask for exact change. The French love exact change. When I understand what they've asked for, and if I have it, I hand it over. Other times I stick my nose in my change purse, pretend to be scrounging through my coins, and say non, désolé (no, sorry) which is really me saying "No, sorry. I haven't got a clue what you just said. Just give me my strawberries and let me get out of here, mmm k?"

I pull out the non, désolé  a lot. If someone on the street is trying to hand me a paper about the latest elections, I say non, désolé. If they are trying to get me to sign a petition for AIDS, Amnesty International, Green Peace or whatever group is standing around with clipboards wearing the same colored shirts, they get a non, désolé. A lady asking for spare change? Yep. You guessed it. Non, désolé.

Dear French citizens: You're getting the non, désolé until I can understand what you're saying.

I'm learning to not judge people that appear rude. They are probably just trying to learn the language.

Today, a lady handed me a song sheet because her and her friends had set up a sing song outside my apartment by the fountain. I gave her my non, désolé before I even realized what she was handing me. She replied Il faut (roughly translated, It is necessary or You must!) and she looked disheartened by my hand gesture that accompanied my non, désolé.

It was a song sheet. So I could sing songs. With a group. By a fountain. IN PARIS!

So I've got to lighten up on my non, désolé-ing.

Sometimes people on the outside remark about how lovely and easy my life is here in Paris. Try getting alterations at your French tailor and you'll realize that living in another country before you get the hang of the language is hard. (She says as she writes in the dress she altered herself because fuckiti'lljustdoitmyself)

Most of the beautiful bookstores in Paris are tragique. Each book is an ocean filled with ideas and adventures I can't begin to understand. There are characters I could love inside those books. I just know it. But, alas. Will we ever meet?

I'm not even funny in French. I'm not even my usual flirty flitting about self in French. I'm simple in French.

When Christophe was learning English, he discovered the word Boobies. He laughed his head off and proceeded to use the word in fits of giggles for weeks after. He thought it was the funniest word ever. Boobies! Ha ha ha! Boobies!

I wonder if I sound like a 5 year old when I speak French. 

It's not all bad. For instance, I learned something fascinating in French today. You've likely heard the expression Ooh la la, which roughly translates to Wow, Oh My, Oh Dear. But it has another meaning. I've heard it a lot today when people were haggling over chandeliers and dyed feathers at the antique fair that erected itself around the corner. Buyers were saying Ooh la la la laaaa, which translates to Are You Fucking Kidding Me With This Price? Then the potential buyer offers up another number (which I didn't catch, naturally) and the seller pulls another Ooh la la la laaaa, which translates to You Can Go Fuck Yourself And The Horse You Rode In On If You Think I'm Selling That To You For That Price You Crook.

And later today, watching Christophe watch EURO 2012, he stood and said Ooh la la la laaaa!!!, which translates to WTF Kind Of Call Was THAT You Arse Ref!

And the best part of this language lesson? I already know how to say Ooh la la la laaaa and it works in many instances.

Ooh la la la laaaa (translated, I'm Onto Something And It's Goooood.)


  1. I am chuckling and wondering how the hell to translate this for my French boyfriend. Ooh la la...

  2. I'm totally going to use non désolé on people here in the states when they try to hand me stuff or ask me for money. It will bamboozle them. I love it. May also start dropping Ooh la la la laa more often too.

    And you tell Christophe that boobies are funny no matter what your native tongue. :)

  3. It is a challenge to learn language while in another country, while trying to do ordinary things like shop or get drycleaning done. You sound positive and even though you aren't yet funny in French, you are all that and more in English. The French fluency will come. Your post is lovely. So fresh, true and well said.

  4. "Il faut" is the best response to "No, desole" ever. Hohh hohh hohh!

    I spent a summer in France as a teenager, living with a French family. I felt like the impaired foster child.

  5. AnonymousJune 12, 2012

    LMAO, "don't want to eff that up"


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...