Sunday, March 11, 2018

Parlez vous anglais?

Some French words are easy to figure out

I am intrigued by languages, so the French here on Guadeloupe and Martinique has been most enjoyable for me. My primary “teacher” has been my phone app, Google Translate, which speaks the translated phrases aloud so that I can repeat them over and over again until they sound passably French-like.
Buying the daily baguette
My sister-in-law, a French teacher had told me that if the only thing I knew how to say in French was, “I would like a croissant” that I would probably get along well enough in a French-speaking country. She was pretty close to being right. With this one phrase, “Je voudrais avoir…” (I would like a…baguette, ice cream (glacee), accras, goat (cabrit), fish (poisson), pineapple juice (jus anana) I can ask for most options on the menu. 
AMAzing dessert! Toasted almonds and lots of fruit!
Le Marin, Martinique

Other random essential phrases have been learned as the need dictated.“We need some gas.” “May I take your photo?” And of course, “Parlez vous anglais?“ (Do you speak English?) I must have used the latter a hundred times in the past few weeks.
Sounds kinda like "Poozh prahnd footo footo"
.....When I say it

My other French “teachers” have been a very nice couple from Toronto that we met along the way. They helped us out immensely, translating for us at a pharmacy and negotiating a doctor visit for and with me. I don’t know what I would have done without them. 
Small town medical clinic, St. Pierre, Martinique

When we sat down to have a meal with them, as usual, I attempted to use my limited French to order my food.  The waitress seemed surprisingly delighted with me, although I had no idea why. Our French-speaking friends filled us in after she left the table. “She said, ‘Oh, I just love your charming accent. I could listen to you talk all day.’” She loved my accent! You understand what this means, right? I spoke French well enough to have an accent. Awesome!

Market in St. Anne, Martinique
The above boost in my self-confidence was ill-placed. Eager to use the little French I knew, I later picked something up in a market and asked, “Combien ca coute?” (How much is this?) and the woman told me. Now, a reasonable person might have thought this question through to its’ logical conclusion, but I had not.  Since I had not learned numbers in French yet, I had no clue what she answered me. Duh. So, she kindly held up the right number of fingers for me. As long as there are enough fingers available, I guess I can get along.
Anybody know what this is?

Still not having learned to think things through, I held up a large tuberous-looking vegetable and I asked “Quel est-ce?” (What is this?) I am a testament to the fact that magical thinking does not end in childhood. There was a part of me that thought the answer might just come back in English. 
But no, it was still a French vegetable; I didn’t understand a word she said. Duh.  At least Carl and I both get a lot of practice with “Bonjour, Merci, Pardon and Excusez-moi” and since no response is required for these, they are all “safe” things to say.
Wild goats in Bourg des Saintes, Guadeloupe.  Goat is delicious!

Sometimes speaking a bit of French is just asking for trouble. We had stopped at a little open air restaurant one day, the kind of place where the customer orders up at the counter.  But, first things first. I immediately asked, “Y at-il une toilette?” (Is there a toilet?) A woman pointed me in the right direction and I headed off to the restroom.  When I came back, Carl was up at the counter, and it was obvious that he’d been using his “Carl French” again.  Basically, Carl French involves pointing, gestures and speaking more loudly than he otherwise would. Sometimes Carl French actually does work.
Restaurant in Basse Terre, Guadeloupe

On that particular day however, I could see that it was not working for him. As I came alongside him, the food prep woman behind the counter was looking a little flummoxed, and Carl looked pleadingly at me. So I charged in to do my part to help the situation. I said to the woman, “Je voudrais avoir poisson.”  “I would like to have fish.”  
French deli counter.  

 She grinned, threw up her hands in obvious relief and then chattered away in French at me as if she and I were old chums. I was so sorry to disappoint her. It didn’t take long for her to realize that apparently fish was the only thing on the menu that I knew how to say.  In the end, neither of us actually had fish that day.  We used Carl French and got just what we wanted by pointing.
Beautiful pastries at a Patisserie

I practiced this one --“J’ai besoin d’aide” (I need help), diligently before going into a busy store when I knew I would need the clerk’s assistance. The phrase worried me because it was sounding a lot like “booze swan’s dead.” First of all, I found this to be very distracting while I was trying to concentrate, and secondly, I certainly did not want to say anything to anyone about a dead swan. Over and over I practiced the phrase.  

Storefronts, St. Pierre, Martinique

When I got into the store, however, I stumbled over my tongue, and then panicked for fear the dead swan was going to come out of my mouth again. . “Zhe behswan….” I said, focusing quite intently. The nice young gentleman looked me squarely in the eye,“Yes?” I took a breath and started again, slowly, determined to get it right. “Zhe bozwann dehd."  He responded, “You need help—yes?”  Without saying another word, I nodded and led him to the roll of rope that I needed cut.  It wasn’t until I had left the store that I realized that he had answered me in perfect English! Pffft. Moi<—Idiot.
I felt like a bit of an idiot.

A fabric store in Basse Terre, Guadeloupe was maybe the first place I tried to use some newly learned French words. I needed a relatively lightweight interfacing. I could find only a bolt of the heavyweight and tried to convey that I needed something thinner by squeezing my thumb and forefinger together.  Apparently that was not an effective way to illustrate lightweight interfacing. 
This store in Fort de France sells only ribbons and lace,
floor to ceiling

After some jockeying around the store and shaking my head several times at the things she was showing me, she finally pulled out the “right” bolt from behind the counter.  “Oui, Oui, Oui,” (Yes, Yes, Yes) I exclaimed, grinning.  In English though, I had just said, “Wee Wee Wee” which immediately set me off chuckling. 
Fort de France, Martinique

I was so pleased with my success at finding the right interfacing but beyond that, with my own little culturally sensitive pun. I patted myself on the back, ‘good one, Ardys.’ The other women shopping in the store seemed to be amused by our exchange as well.  Apparently the French have the same children’s story about “The little piggy (that) cried Wee Wee Wee all the way home.” Who knew?
Spectacular rainbows in the Caribbean

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