Friday, May 16

Silly French

I've really enjoyed taking French so far. Although, I'm learning an awful lot all at once, and I'm just praying that I will remember it beyond this month. With that said, I would like to share some of the things that I have found to be slightly humorous about French.

I know some of you have already heard me explain this, but I had to include it. A lot of times people say that the French are very rude and there is the stereotypical view that French people hate Americans. I don't know how much of that is true. But I think I may have discovered a possible gap in cultural communication that has tainted the French-American relationship.

French people do NOT smile at strangers; instead they maintain a neutral expression in public places. In fact, smiling at strangers is generally considered to be a flirtatious advance, and a very improper, sleazy one at that. This whole don't-smile-at-strangers concept is completely foreign to Americans. In fact, I very distinctly remember playing a silly game with one of my best friends growing up. We called it Sweet and Sour. We would stand on the curbside, wait for cars to pass by (or pedestrians), and then we would wave and flash our friendliest smiles! Depending on their reaction, we would determine whether they were sweet or sour.

I would hate to know what the French would think of us. And I don't even want to think what my reputation would be if I were to visit France. Although, I suppose I'll get my chance this summer... I believe that we have a stopover in Paris on our way to Africa. Oh dear.

There are a few other things about French that amuse me. Although, these are not cultural.

I think I have discovered why there were so many French mathematicians. It's because their number system requires you to factor in order to count! Well, when you get into the higher numbers. Or you can just memorize them. Anyway, here's what I mean. It's fairly simple until you get to seventy. 10 = dix, 20 = vingt, 30 = trente, 40 = quarante, 50 = cinquante, 60 (my favorite) = soixante, 70 = soixante dix (which is sixty plus ten), 80 = quatre-vingts (which is four twenties), 90 = quatre-vingt-dix (which is four twenties and ten). If you thought that was a workout for your brain, wait till you hear the rest. Generally, to count, you just tack on the single digit number at the end. For example, 3 = trois, 20 = vingt; 23 = vingt-trois. Simple right? Well, when you get to 70 and 90, simplicity is thrown out the window. Instead of being soixante-dix-trois, 73 is soixante-treize (which is sixty plus thirteen!). The 90's get really confusing. The number, 95 is quatre-vingt-quinze (which is four twenties plus fifteen).

Now do you see why I say that I have discovered why there were so many French mathematicians? They had to learn to add multiple two-digit numbers at a time in their heads just to count to 100!

I apologize if this has bored you. In fact, I would be surprised if you were still reading. Perhaps you gave up back on the smile section. For those faithful readers who are waiting to see this out to the end... I'm winding down. Promise.

There are several ways to ask questions. You can add the general "est-ce que" in front of anything and it automatically becomes a question. BAM. Question made. But, if you want to make things more complicated, you can invert the subject and verb. Here's what I found amusing. If you say, "Va-t-on à la banque?" you've just asked if everyone's going to the bank. However, if you just say, "va-t-on," then you've just told everyone to go away.

Ok, so here's the final trivial amusement. Generally, when we answer the phone in America, we say some form of a greeting, like, "Hello" or "Hey, what's up?" Not so in France. I was amused to discover that when they answer their phones in France, they repeat their phone number! Not, hello, or this is Kristin. But their phone number. That's the first thing out of their mouths. How odd. Can you imagine calling someone, and the first thing you hear is, "711-953-8862?" (Especially because in French, that would be a mouthful. Answering my phone would take me at least 5 minutes to figure out what numbers I'm supposed to say!)

Anyway, I suppose that's all. And again, for those who read to the end, I apologize if you got bored reading. I hope that you were amused, and that you didn't wish that you had given up on reading the whole thing.


Kelsey said...

LOL Kristin: what a great insight into the culture! When my family went to Paris, I remember our hotel clerk making my grandma ask for her room key in French before he would give it to her. I hope he didn't take it personally that she laughed (and smiled) as she repeated her question in French.

With your newly learned phone etiquitte, I will be fascinated to see if your answering message changes on your cell phone. ;)

BTW, I'm still waiting for someone to teach me to sing "Dona Nobis" right. :D

Amy said...

Aah! Kristin, this really makes Spanish seem simple. When I learned to count in Spanish, it was quite a simple process. French sounds complicated (but fun--as languages are). ;)