So ‘Chemical Yeast’ in French translates to ‘Baking Powder’ in English. And when recipes call for half a packet (it’s understood it’s a packet of Alsa, which is a kitchen staple in France), it’s 5 grammes-ish.
The lightbulb just went off in my head. It’s a bit embarrassing considering I’ve lived here 9 years and brought home baker’s yeast countless times (direct translation, see?) and didn’t bother to investigate on Wikipedia until this morning, even when the resulting cakes and biscuits tasted a bit too much like bread.
(Image from here).
At the moment I know technically we’re supposed to be in spring. Except I’m pretending we’re in Autumn (because that’s what September is supposed to be in my world view, even after 8 years in Melbourne – stubborn I am). I think I’ve still got a good month and a half of denial ahead of me when I’ll be able to wear toasty stockings and shoes, and rug up in scarves and béret during our daily walks.
And then it’ll be on to summer and I’ll blind people with my paleness like every year, while my siblings go towards dark months and a winter Christmas. And like every year I won’t manage to get into the festive spirit of a hot Christmas day… I need freezing cold with a chance of snow, dark at 5PM, my brother scoffing marrons glacés and the telling of jokes from inside papillotes wrappers – and then it feels like Christmas. Stubborn and grinch-ey am I?
If you have had a conversation with me, you would have found me saying words directly translated from French (which I do often) – then realise what I said did not make sense, curse, and try to substitute the right word with the right meaning. Like, say: ‘Syrup. No, crap! Cordial! Cordial!’.
It’s a funny thing living in a country where I don’t speak my native language day in, day out. Most of the time, I feel that the way I speak is wrong, or off. That I’m a fake. That I wasn’t born to speak this language (and it’s true: my first language is French – stating the obvious here). I may know enough words to communicate on a decent level, but my sentences are built according to French grammar and expression: long, long, long. Convoluted. Long.
I always worry I will say the wrong thing, or use a word which has a meaning I am not aware of. And insult someone unwittingly or come across as a pompous tit. I still put my head in my hands when I think of the time I qualified the seasons as ‘backward’ in Australia, when I meant ‘reversed’. Dang.
But I do love it for a few reasons, despite feeling daily like an impostor. I get a unique perspective on both languages: a foray into the economical qualities of ‘anglais‘, and a comparison of how we articulate our thoughts with such flourish and use some damn funny expressions in French.
Like ‘You are pumping my air‘ when someone is annoying you. Or ‘It’s pee in a violin‘ to dismiss something that’s unimportant. I wouldn’t want to trade the chuckles I get when I translate some of these into English.
So I may feel like an impostor, I may have two souls according to Charlemagne (read this article, I don’t have delusions of grandeur), it may be tricky to navigate and reconcile French brain and English brain, but it’s also kind of cool. Which by the way, translates to ‘cool‘ in French. Now that was easy.
(Image from here)
Me: Oh, look at the little buggers playing football in the cold!*
Me: Smart ass.
Christian: says nothing – grins.
Before taking sides, I urge you to consider how much more logical it is to call the game ‘football’: to paraphrase Eddie Izzard (I love Eddie Izzard), the ball does connect with your foot. One could even say it is the point of the game. Think about it.
*It was after dark, they were wearing shorts and t-shirts, and we’re in winter here.
(Image from here).
If I got a dollar every time someone asked me to say ‘Non monsieur, I deed not no zat Petit Miam ‘as a lot more calceeum zan meelk’, well, I would be rich.
I feel misunderstood and isolated sometimes – and it’s not because I’ve used the wrong word. It’s actually more vexing than that: I say something grammatically correct and intelligible, and I’m laughed at (rude!). Without any of my countrymen to back me up and confirm what I’m saying, it can sting.
Case in point: we were at the vet a few years back with our cat Astin and I joked about the weather – ‘It’s raining’ I said ‘because I caught him washing behind his ears yesterday.’ Both the vet and Christian looked at me with clear doubt about my sanity.
Trying to rehabilitate myself and explain further, I tried again: ‘Haven’t you ever heard this before? If you see a cat licking his paw and then going behind his ear, it means it’ll rain the day after.’ Same blank stares. Then the vet said ‘No, never heard this before. Sounds crazy!’. So I kept going (you have to hand it to me for not letting it go): ‘It’s a well accepted thing in my country! It’s even used as a plot device in a beloved children’s book*!’. Vet: ‘So back to Astin?’.
All right you close-minded veterinarian, have it your way. Your loss to miss out on the suspense of watching a grooming cat get closer and closer to his ear, pleading in your head he doesn’t go all the way behind, and having the opportunity to scream ‘Noooooo’ if he does.
No one better call me crazy in the comments.
*The book is ‘Les Contes du Chat Perché‘ by Marcel Aymé.
(Image is from here, the cat is called Spencer).
PS: nothing to do with feline forecasting, but an amusing fact nonetheless: when cats wash their business and stick their paw straight up in the air, in French it’s called ‘Playing the cello’ (‘Jouer du violoncelle‘). Cracks me up every time I think about it.
It started with a simple phone call, for someone to come and change the filter of our spiffing vacuuming system (plugs around the house – filter in the garage: impressed me every time I used it).
I have to spell my name (normal), but then out of the blue I’m told I will get an ETA tomorrow.
What now? I am starting to think someone in a balaclava is coming to fix my vacuum.
Well, not quite. It turns out here people shorten everything in conversation (as much as they can) – so instead of the Basque separatist group I heard about growing up, ETA is an Estimated Time of Arrival. What a relief…
Some other learnt favourites:
ASAP (‘Ace what?’ I said)
SNAFU (which sounds like a sneezing sound effect)
I can’t think of any French acronyms right this minute – I guess we’re just not a people that does brevity. Personally that’s why I don’t Twitter.
(Image is from here by the way)
If you go in and notice that clock missing one of these days, it’ll mean I swiped it*. But for the time being, it’s still in its place.
*Can you blame me? It even says ‘Pour manger bon’ on the face! Objects that speak French to me are as good as mine, I say (if they are beautiful and simple that is, like Clock here).
When we moved to Melbourne, imaginably there were a few sticking points I found hard to get over. A lot of them to do with the healthcare system: I was infuriated I had to be out of pocket to go see a doctor. ‘Why?’ I said to Christian – ‘Because the rest of the world is not France, and you have been spoilt from birth and take universal healthcare for granted.’ Fair point. Still, WHY!!
The French healthcare system has been on my mind lately (okay, I also admit it is on my mind every time I go to the doctor and mumble about not getting every cent back) – mostly because I have followed very loosely the debating surrounding the proposed healthcare reform in America.
What really astounds me is the way the words ‘socialist‘ and ‘socialism‘ are thrown around – like a straight linguistic elevator to doom if you will.
Here is what I don’t understand: in France the left is called the ‘socialist party’. Heck, there is even a French communist party (yes, it’s true! And a communist newspaper). We have free education from primary school all the way to university (you do have to pay cheap token admin fees, but that’s all).
So I guess that makes us a fairly ‘socialist’ country all things considered, no? And all these things are good – if not perfect in their execution, fundamentally good, noble and decent in intention and principle.
Don’t believe me? When Christian caught a very nasty virus in Paris and had really high fever that wouldn’t fall, he had a chest x-ray taken in our kitchen, blood taken in our kitchen, and that cost us nothing. Doctors and lab technicians had his back and were trying to help him – he was seriously sick and what we could or couldn’t afford did not play a part in the tests performed and treatment he received.
I’m not saying there aren’t problems with the French healthcare system (and a large looming and worrying deficit), but I am happy that it exists (the healthcare system, not the deficit) – and if that makes me a socialist in anyone’s eyes, so be it. I’m happy about that too.
PS: You can be out of pocket when you go see a doctor in France too, if they have hefty qualifications and study to their name. But my drift is, most of the time you’re not. That’s the default.
PPS: Just to be clear, I’m not saying France is perfect. It’s not! But some good social ideas do exist in France.
PPPS: Those pesky $30 I never get back from a doctor’s visit, they’ll never stop haunting me. Never!
(Image is from here)
I have horrified a few people here by confessing I don’t wear sunscreen everyday (or at all). In my mind, why would I since I’m not going to the beach? Ah, but because the Australian sun is harsher than the European one I am used to – one of my friends explained by comparing her skin with mine (mine supposedly ‘gorgeous European’ – what?! I think she meant pasty – hers tanned and freckled and ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie’. Tanned and freckled I tell you! Swap?).
I have had the spectre of old and sun-damaged skin dangled in front of me more times than I can recall by concerned friends in an attempt to scare me straight.
I have conceded by using foundation with an SPF8. Which is still such a bizarre concept to me (not going to the beach, remember!).
And since I don’t go to the beach, I don’t go in the sun (if you saw how vampire-pale I am it would be abundantly clear) I think it’s a safe bet I won’t turn into a sharpei by the time we move back to Europe. I guess if I do, the joke’s on me…
(Image from here, and pretty funny Obama dog options run-down to go with it).