It seems we’ve been here long enough to have adopted a few French words into our everyday chit chat at home – our own peculiar Franglais. We hear these little phrases and words everyday from friends, on the tele and just out and about. They are so endearingly French, and being able to use them makes us feel just a teeny bit French ourselves.
Take the verb arriver for example. When I was at high school (a looooooong time ago – last century in fact) my beginner text book told me it simply meant to arrive. Now I understand all the nuances of this ordinary little verb, it’s way more interesting than I’d imagined. Usually announced with a bit of a flourish it turns the truth – “I’m still on my way” – into a positive statement; a personal triumph even.
We have a friend that we meet up with every couple of weeks. She’s always just a tad on the late side. A couple of minutes after the agreed meeting time a text from her will ping into my inbox announcing j’arrive! She’s not actually arriving just yet, what she means is that she’s just got out of the nearest Metro station and is walking to the café we’re at and will be there in just a few minutes.
Waiting at the appliance store for someone to help me, an endless stream of terribly busy sales folk bustle past holding important documents until eventually one makes eye contact and announces j’arrive madam as he whisks past. He means yes, I’ve seen you there with that slightly impatient look on your face and I will come and attend to you soon; I’m on to it!
Then there are the phrases that didn’t make it into my text book; like oh la la. I’m sure that I’ve mentioned this before because it never ceases to amuse me; especially in the rugby season. It’s an essential tool in every commentator’s repertoire. That one little expression can be used to convey every emotion from great excitement to wincing pain and utter despair. A rapid oh la la la la la la laaaaaa accompanies the nerve wracking moments when the All Blacks (of course) are right on the try line, the weight of the pack pressing hard on the French defenders, man after man attacks the line, will the defence hold? In contrast a deep, guttural oh la la transmits the horror of one of those bone-crunching tackles that stops a player in his tracks, leaving him prone and gasping for breath.
Then there is pffff! It’s not a word or a phrase, just a sound. But you have to be able to render a truly expressive pffff to be French. It’s hard to define exactly what it means, I’ve interpreted it as “yeah whatever,” “who knows”, or “who cares”.
So, we learn our grammar, listen to the tele, practise our oh la las and try to spit out j’arrive with the panache of Parisians. Are we really getting to be a little bit French? Pffff! We’re having fun.