Up until now, the only person I felt comfortable conversing entirely in French with was my cat.
I babble away endlessly and she never corrects me, never judges, always understands. However, like me, her primary language is English, so it’s really not much of a challenge and I’m probably not learning much.
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely, young French whippet. Her name is Iota (pronounced e-yoh-ta, almost like “Yoda” with a “t” instead of “d”). She’s the daughter of my friends Romain and Vlad who are Belgian and French. French is Iota’s mother tongue, so to speak, but being only seven months old, she’s still learning.
She impressed me immediately with her intelligence. When Romain told her to assis, she sat. And when he told her to debout, she stood up (and I learned a new word!).
Turns out, our French skills are very similar (okay, she’s a little better than I am). We both know some words, but neither of us can conjugate or string together a sentence to save our lives.
While I’m still not good enough to confidently conduct an intelligent conversation in French with French humans, I think I’m ready to graduate from English speaking cat to French speaking dog. The beauty of dogs is they totally live in the present, so I won’t have to deal with that pesky conjugation problem.
Today is our first session. I’m taking her for a walk.
“Bonjour Iota, Ca va? Oui, tres bien! Tres, tres bien! Tres, tres, TRES bien! Ou’est la…. Hmmm, quel est le mot pour “leash” en Francais?”
She’s too excited to answer, but she doesn’t roll her eyes or snigger at my accent. I consider that a minor victory. I find her leash, attach it to her collar and she pulls me out the door. This is going to be a piece of cake.
When we get to the sidewalk, I start to worry. Do I address Iota in the formal or familiar.? Do I tell her to viens, or venez? I don’t want to offend her right off the bat. She’s pedigreed, so perhaps she demands formality.
As a rule, I always assume a certain level of familiarity with anyone who has already licked my face, so I opt for viens. She seems okay with it. On the other hand, she doesn’t viens, either. In fact, she kind of ignores me in favor of the much more interesting cigarette butt she finds on the grass. I chalk her reaction up to being French.
I speak to her sternly.
She looks at me and puts down the cigarette. Ahhhhh, communication!
I pet her lavishly and shower her with compliments.
“C’est bien. C’est tres, tres, tres bien. Tu est une tres, tres bonne chien!”
She’s proud and very excited to be acknowledged. I’m thrilled at the effortless exchange and meeting of the minds.
We walk along the beach, Iota occasionally pulling me towards bushes, picnics, cigarette butts and where ever the possibility of treasure lies. When she does, I’m no longer afraid to speak my mind.
She slows down and walks with me. Success! I’m starting to feel like the dog whisperer…The FRENCH dog whisperer!
I’m not saying there isn’t the occasional language barrier. At one point, no amount of “NONs” and “pas tirers” can stop her from dragging me off towards a family picnic, forcing me to converse with actual French humans. But even this turns out to be a positive–it gives me the opportunity to try out a whole new French phrase: “Monsieur, je suis tres desole que ma chien a mange votre repas.”
After we say our au revoirs, I walk home alone along the ramparts. I’m feeling pretty good about my afternoon with Iota. It was a lovely walk and I think it was tres beneficial. Unlike my last French teacher, she doesn’t make me feel stupid. I’m not living in dread of the next time I see her. I’m looking forward to it.
I light a cigarette and look out over the bay at Nice and Cap Ferrat. A child shrieks and shouts “NON” in the distance. I reflexively drop my cigarette.
See? I already learned something!
Filed under: Animals, expat in france, Language, learning french Tagged: | chiens français, humor, language problems, learning french, Life in France, Living in france, speaking french to dogs, travel humor, walking a french dog