Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Never say never or fountain

Jamais-- at first glance and because I'm still scraping myself off the Autobahn of Tohu-Bohu-- seems to me short for for j'aimais or j'aimerais. However, far from loving, jamais means never.

How quickly never turns into love, anyway!
In the morning I am telling my friend, "je n'achèterai jamais deux paires de la même chaussure" (pre-French days, so actually I was saying "I would never buy two pairs of the same shoe"). Blasphemy for those words to be said by a woman- and une philippinienne no less.

Shortly after, I go into town to replace my worn-out favorite shoes. I didn't know it then but I'd come to the proverbial French fountain from which I declared I wanted no water.

I take off my shoes, point to the
replacements and tell the salesclerk, "J'aimerais deux paires!"

"Yes," I assure
her, "the same shoe, the same color."

In the afternoon I am back at my friend's. I am eating my words and washing them down with
French fountain water while happily showing her my new shoes. J'aime mes deux paires de chaussures!

Moral of story:
I'm no good at refusing drinks from a French fountain.

ne . . . jamais = never

j'aimais = I was loving ... (l'imparfait, French imperfect)

j'aimerais = I would love ... (conditionnel, conditional)

Il ne faut jamais dire jamais =
Never say never
Il ne faut pas dire fontaine = Never say fountain
shortened from:
Il ne faut pas dire, "Fontaine, je ne boirais pas de ton eau"
= Never say, "Fountain, I will not drink your water"

J'aime mes deux paires de chaussures! = I'm loving my two pairs of shoes!

la photo: mes chaussures préférés à Monterosso, Les Cinque Terre en Italie

en juillet 2003

Friday, April 21, 2006

Jeu de memoire

Memory Game

There's no neutral territory for nouns in French- it's either his or hers:

un homme a man
un chat a cat
un sandwich a sandwich

une femme a woman
une chatte a cat
une salade a salad

And, no surprise, there are rules for determining the gender:

his endings: -ment, -phone, -scope, -teur, -age
her endings: -tion / -sion, -té, -ure, -ette, -ence /-ance

and so on . . .

Establish friendly relations with your grammar book and you will be richly rewarded but will learn quickly enough it's a lot of la exception and la frustration.

Feminine, masculine- whatever! Sure you'll get unintended laughs if you say une homme but it's clear that you're talking about a man. Le serveur knows whether you've ordered a sandwich or a salade whether or not you use une or un correctly. Easy enough. You smile with relief- no memorizing for you. Merci!

La merci? Le Merci? You look it up and guess what?! The memory game has just begun. Le Merci means "thank you", la merci means "mercy" One noun, two genders, two meanings. And that list goes on... sans merci.

le serveur = waiter
la serveuse = waitress

sans merci = without mercy or without thanks? :-)

La photo: Charles V Palace, detail of the west portal
L'Alhambra de Grenade, en Espagne, en janvier 2006

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Est-ce un poisson d'avril? Non, ce n'en est pas un.
Est-ce une soupe de poissons? Non, pas tout à fait.

Est-ce qu'on nourrit les poissons? Oui, mais ils n'ont pas l'estomac rempli.

All this talk of fish- makes a vegetarian hungry, doesn't it? And once they've had their fill of fish (or the fish of breadcrumbs)... what would they say?

Of the many translations of full it would be easy to go with
"full". However, as far as I know you can't say "Je suis full" to indicate that you are well-fed, stuffed, gorged, glutted and so on. It does, however, announce that you have a "full house" in poker.

What you can say:

J'ai l'estomac rempli I have a full stomach
but NOT Je suis rempli because
that would suggest that you are pregnant. (I asked my French teacher what would it mean if you're a guy saying this. She chuckled and replied, "he's in trouble!").

J'en peux plus I can't take any more

Je suis rassasié I am satisfied

Is this an april fool/fish? No, it is not.

Is this fish soup? No, not exactly.

Is this a fish feeding? Yes, but they aren't full!

Photo: Fish feeding on breadcrumbs at the Kewarra Beach Resort à Cairns
en Australie, en novembre 2004

I've submitted this photo for Photo Friday's "full" challenge. Yes, you can vote for it.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Word up!

Before I attempt to string words together into complete sentences that lead to meaningful conversation with French speakers I've been practicing using the words and phrases I've learned in the right context. Sometimes, even during conversations in English.

A selection of my frequently used words and phrases thus far:

coucou hi

bonjour tout le monde
hi everybody
bien sûr
of course
pas de probléme
no problem
comment tu dis... ?
how do you say... ?
Je te parle bientôt
talk to you soon
quel dommage
what a shame
Je ne comprends pas
I don't understand
Je vois
I see (as in understand)
sans blague
duh! (as in it's so obvious why didn't I see/understand it before)

and how apt is it that zone tampon means no-man's-land?!

listen, learn, repeat and parlez!

Photo: At the border of no-man's-land en le Sultanat d'Oman

en juin 2005

Friday, April 07, 2006

Le Carnet Légendaire

In June, 2000 I was running around the Typo Media conference in Germany
carrying a palm-sized Boorum memo book. Notable only because I finally found a notebook I could carry everywhere. I was tired of the novelty of getting different notebooks everytime I needed one and never really being satisfied: Too big. Too small. Cheap paper. Over-designed.

Admittedly, the Boorum memo book was very small but I felt unfettered carrying
it around. I was confident it would be big enough to hold my scribblings. And it was.

So, there I was in Mainz trying my best to understand Italian.
The Italian speaker was trying his best to speak English. After glancing at my notebook he was trying to tell me something about one of his design projects. He was gesturing wildly, even for an Italian, and I was scrunching up my face in various expressions of "Quoi?".

Finally, I placed my little notebook and a pen in front of him. He drew an
animal: a mole next to a molehill. And then he named the mole Chatwin.

His sketch and pantomime revealed information of little interest to me then:
Bruce Chatwin was a writer; Chatwin used notebooks of which the cover was made of the skin of moles; Modo & Modo somewhere in Italy were now producing these notebooks and my charades partner was involved in designing them.

10 months later in Frankfurt, in a book shop I realized how great Moleskines were and
how interesting Bruce Chatwin THE travel-writer is. I've been a fan of both since.

Today, I got another Moleskine. I freed it from it's cellophane packaging and running my hand over the sleek black cover thought fondly of my introduction to the cult of Moleskine. I cracked open the notebook and gingerly took out the little pamphlet from the inner pocket and read the history in English, yet again.

Today, I read it en français, too and that is when I realized for the first time that these notebooks were "Produit à l'origine par de petites manufactures françaises . . .", hmm. I looked up moleskine in my French dictionary. It means imitation leather. Duh! Non, sans blague!

Vive les taupes!

le carnet légendaire = the legendary notebook

"Produit à l'origine par de petites manufactures françaises . . ." = "originally produced by small French bookbinders . . ."

sans blague! = no joke! / duh!

la taupe = mole

vive les taupes = long live the moles

Photo: My stack of beloved Moleskines and the original "chatwin-mole" drawing

aujourd'hui en Allemagne

Moleskine™ is a Trademark of Modo & Modo © All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Say what?


"Zhe parhrlay fransay", I would say to myself trying to build up some confidence.
Je parle français, tu parles, il, elle, on parle, nous parlons, vous parlez, ils elles parlent, I would write (practice makes perfect).

I would go on French vacations and recite faithfully from my Berlitz phrase book: "parhrlay voo ahnggleh?" Of course no one French ever heard me say "zhe parhrlay fransay" because it wasn't a claim I could make. A simple "non" was uttered in place of "je ne parle pas français" on the very few occasions I was asked and understood the question. It was a painless answer for me and my French listener.

So for years (my phrase book is from 1996!) I was not aware of my elemental French faux pas. I knew that French wasn't pronounced as written- but I didn't know to what degree. Now I'm starting to learn and getting very muet though it feels more like mute!

On the plus side, look how easy it is to pronounce the conjugations of regular ER verbs in the present (silent!): four for one (it looks like a bargain, doesn't it?)

je parle
tu parles

il, elle, on parle
ils, elles parlent

On the other side- if you can't look, listen to how much harder it becomes to recognize the word that's being said (ils and elles sound like il and elle as well!)
c'est ce qu'on dit:

Merci beaucoup Sebastien.

C'est ce qu'on dit = That's what they say
muet (nm) = tongue-tied
parler = to speak, to talk
Je parle français = I speak French
Je ne parles pas français = I don't speak French
Parlez-vous anglais? = Do you speak English?

Photo: un Singe (macaca sylvanus) à Gibraltar, janvier 2006