The funny thing about living among Brits in France is all the opportunities I am afforded to mess it up right proper in three languages (English, French and ‘murcan, bien sûr). I’m at once that annoying study-abroad chick who, on the phone to her American family, talks about watching “films” and discussing my plans for “these holidays”. Well, in more 30-something fashion, fielding questions from adolescent Franco-anglais stepsons who want to know where I’ve stashed the new pack of toilet roll. This delights my family to no end in the U.S., as they think it’s all hilarious and weird, and they swear up and down that I sound just like Mary Poppins. It’s not only vocab; my vowels appear to have migrated.
To my English expatriate husband I sound just like Alabama Worley from True Romance. Shhh, don’t tell him he’s waaay off, and that my native Michigander nasal could never sound like a Southern drawl. We won’t be too hard on him; he’s been living in France for almost 20 years. His memory of the Queen’s speech is probably no less murky than his ear for Yankee. Nevermind that some kind of odd French syntax has crept into my speech, and like Paul and the boys, I end up spitting out such weird constructions as “I must be falling sick, today at yoga we told me I look fatiguée, quoi .” That kind of mess doesn’t even raise an eyebrow at the dinner table.
These kids say “do the math” and not (obviously!) maths. All three of them put toMAYtoes on their quesadillas (yes, with an American step-mother they are being brought up to revere the corn tortilla). They have cell phones, not mobiles. They watch American tv. They don’t wear trainers. They don’t go to the TOILET, thank god, but to the blessedly vague bathroom. They’ve pretty much given over to calling their “trousers” pants, without giggling. In effect, they seem resolutely American to all the U.K. diaspora in France. The lady at the British Tea Shop swears that Luke sounds and looks exactly like me.
At home we speak a pidgin that works for us, no matter how odd it sounds to the truly French, or the truly British, or the truly American. We are hybrids.
Once I leave the home-sweet-home, though… Eh. Sometimes it’s very obvious that I’ve left the city and am now spending all my time in the country, hors de la société, much less of the time engaged in Pure French conversation. I make mistakes; I forget obvious things.
Par exemple : the other day, I sallied in to the quincaillerie—i.e. the builder’s merchants—i.e. the hardware store (can you see how many translations I have to process these days, just to talk on the phone to my mom about my quotidien?), in search of some paint stripper.
Décapant = paint remover.
Décapotant = condom remover.
Which one do you suppose I clicked up to the counter to ask for, with my sunglasses perched on top of my head, flashing my best “give me customer service” smile, and wearing a sassy little summer dress and platform sandals?
I need to get out more.