Sunday, September 13, 2009

To should

One of the reasons I like French so much is because there is a verb that, roughly translated means "to should" (devoir). Coincidentally, homework is called les devoirs ("the shoulds"), and so is the things that nuns do in the mornings and evenings, which we call "devotions." It lends a whole aura of indebtedness to the situation.

So I'm in France.

I'm in Nantes (pronounced NAHNT), specifically, which is in the Northwest of France, about two hours from Paris and an hour from the coast; Nantes is apparently most famous for having been destroyed in World War Two by Allied bombs attempting to knock out the German occupants, and not, unfortunately, for the GIANT ROBOTIC ELEPHANT that WALKS UP AND DOWN WITH PEOPLE ON ITS BACK every day after 2 pm. But that's cool; it only blinks and yawns and sprays people with water. Oh, and they have a giant animatronic spider, but that's in China. Or maybe Japan. Somewhere Asian.

Why did I never hear of this before? Or of the ride called "Star Wars" that Ray and I walked past while investigating a tiny outdoor street fair in the flat cobblestoned spot near the castle of Anne de Bretagne, which not only spins you around in cylindrical holders, but also then loosely rotates you while up in the air (the ride, not the castle)? I know why I'd never heard of that, namely because just thinking about it makes me feel like I'm going to vomit, and watching left both of us nauseated. The signs said "Nouveaute!" which means "New thing!" but I think they meant the ride and not the nausea.

We are staying with Ray's old work friend Laurent and his family, in their gorgeous house in Nantes, which has a lap pool INDOORS and a whole airy spare bedroom with the most comfortable bed in the world, which I could not, unfortunately, fit into my bag. I also could not fit the rounded old 50s refrigerator or the squat 40s red stove at Laurent's friend Laurent's house, nor can I fit the attractive push-drawer kitchen in brushed steel, into my bag. I suppose I could have fit the huge quantities of delicious beef and oysters that everyone (except me, at least oyster-wise) is eating into my bag, but they fit much better in my stomach.

I have discovered that, while I understand about 85% of what everyone says, even when they're speaking quickly and using slang, my own spoken French has taken a giant leap back in terms of vocabulary and grammatical consistency. I can express simple ideas, but more complex concepts, like "unfortunately" and "your mom" and "towel" are beyond me. While having a conversation with a dashing Parisien named Fred, I pointed out that his news sales job skills would be useful "nowhere", instead of "everywhere", as I'd intended. He corrected, fortunately, and was undeterred.

I also make bizarre and untranslatable errors, such as when I asked about an apple tree in someone's back yard. I meant to say "Do you eat the apples?" but instead said "Vouz mangeons les pommes?" which is the second person plural pronoun with the first person plural verb conjugation, and therefore actually means nothing. Oops.

But since all the French people keep telling me I have very good French, I just grit my teeth and hope they don't mind when I mangle their beautiful language.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Claire, it s been a surprise to read your blog and these posts about Laurent'wedding. Your vocabulary mistake saying "nowhere" instead of "everywhere" made me laugh...I can tell you know that you were quite "right" as i quit the job a few weeks ago thinking "no way! not for me!"
Actually i was surfing Laurent(from Nantes)'facebook profile when i came across your profile and blogspot adress. Anyway, i read that everything went ok for you both in Europe, it s been a pity not meeting while you were in Paris. Take care