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My French Life: Speaking the language – “Do you have a leesonse for zat minkey?”

Speaking French

Millions of people watched a toe curling YouTube video of British footballer Joey Barton speaking English with a strange French accent – a sort of Franglais at a press conference in Marseille in 2012.

It’s funny for sure, and by now it must have humiliated the poor chap beyond belief – or maybe not as I don’t think he is known for much more than being able to kick a ball about. The strange thing is he seems utterly oblivious to what he’s doing; speaking Pidgin English with a French accent and sounding like he’s doing some slightly demented, not very good, Inspector Clouseau impression.

He is not alone.

Take my Dad. He was at a certain age when I bought this house in France, that age where behaving badly and embarrassing your children is something to be relished and practiced at every opportunity. He’s not with us anymore but I used to bring him out to France around twice a month – and he loved it here. But – he never really got the language and his preferred way of communication for the most part was to shout – in English.

So, in a supermarket – and believe me, I tried hard to get him to let me do the talking but he was very stubborn – he would stand at the charcuterie counter – point to the ham, stick up two fingers and shout at the top of his voice “TWO SLICES OF HAM PLEASE”.  I tried to teach him the French word for ham – jambon, but he pronounced  it “jumbo” which actually made matters worse.

We were in a bar once and a lovely young girl came over and asked what we’d like. Verre de vin rouge for me, bierre – Stella for my husband. Dad: “HAVE YOU GOT OLD THEAKSTONS PECULIAR”. As usual he had Stella in the end but he loved to ask for “SPITFIRE, SPECKLED HEN” or other very British beers everywhere we went.

The shouting was bad enough but Dad also used to make strange noises. He’d always been a bit like that – if we drove past a field of cows he’d make mooing noises, sheep, goats, horses – you name it. Highly entertaining most of the time especially when I was a kid. His French language skills used to be represented by a strange series of noises and words such as “alibongo ooo wawawa felomedobby” repeated over and over again. He told me once that he couldn’t remember what it meant but he was sure it meant something nice as he’d learned it from a “friendly French lady” he’d met in Jersey as a teenager. This he reserved for special occasions like when he met our French neighbours. I have never dared ask what they thought of him.

A bientôt


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