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ljubljana and other tongue twisters

The first thing I learn in every language is the all-important “thank you.” It makes a big difference. Even if you slaughter their language, the natives invariably appreciate the effort.

In Slovenia, the word is “Hvala” (which sounds like kvWahla, with an almost silent “kv”) It means “thank you ” in Croatian too. That and a border seem to be all the two places have in common.

Here’s another tidbit I picked up while trying to buy an ice cream cone: While Croatia and Slovenia together are smaller than California, both of them use different currency. Neither uses the Euro, mind you. I’ve crossed three borders and currencies in the past 36 hours..

My little brain short circuits when I try to translate Euros to Kunas to the Slovenian money which I can’t even remember the name of, let alone its value.. I’m sure the process takes up at least 16% of the 15% of my brain I actually use. Which means I have to make some choices. I can live with the fact that I usually wind up smiling stupidly while holding out a handful of money to a hopefully kind cashier who picks the correct amount from the pile in my hand.

The point is, Hvala is a tough word and I’m still having problems because the H sounds like a K which is silent. So I vary it, trying to hit on the right one by trial and error. Kuala, Voila, ala, aloha, huvula, hvwa-lah. No matter how I say it, It usually elicits a smile, if not outright laughter.

But on the way to Ljubljana, I resolve to do better. I’m going to learn a new Slovenian word.

Today’s word: Ljubljana. The capital of Slovenia. Population 1,970,570 people. Its symbol is the dragon, for the four fabulous green bronze dragon statues guarding the gates.

We’re staying in the Grand Union Hotel, which sounds like a US supermarket chain. It has a little more charm than the grocery chain and it’s the nicest, best located hotel in town. But it ain’t what you’d call a boutique hotel. I don’t think they’ve discovered them in Slovenia yet. But maybe it doesn’t matter because Slovenia is kind of a boutique country.

Ljubljana has everything a popular European city needs (except boutique hotels). There are tree lined canals. Quaint Medieval buildings. A big old ornate church in the town center. Little footbridges. Overflowing window boxes. The obligatory castle on the hill, but in Ljubljana, the hill is more like a cliff and particularly dramatic looking. There’s an outdoor market and fashionable little shops, always a winning combination. It’s not unbearably crowded. But it has a good, young energy in a Prague 20 years ago kind of way. It’s also got a mountain range in view and is only a 45 minute drive to the Adriatic coast, Italy, Croatia, Hungary or Austria. The environs are a spectacular combination of the Alps and Mediterranean shore, green, clean and temperate. It’s got cloudlike mounds of multi-colored ice cream for 200 of whatever the local currency is a cone…which is really only 50 cents. Why don’t I live here?

I’ve been pronouncing it “Lubjana,” But when I think about it, my pronounciation doesn’t make sense. why would one “J” be silent and not the other?. My dad has been pronouncing it “Loobiana” and my mom and niece have been avoiding the word completely replacing it with “the next place” or “the city” and “where we are now.”

The correct pronounciation is Looblanah.

Okay, now that I’ve got that word down, I’m going to try something more difficult. Like “Hello.” spelled “Pozdraveljena.”

I practice with the waiter. Postravlajenna. He smiles, but I know I don’t have it.

I practice with the ice cream vendor. Postrivlijina. He looks bemused.

I practice in my sleep. Posterdravlasange…postradravalinia…portolavenya….

I practice with the parking valet. Postravahlenah (I think I’m getting closer)

I practice with the toll collector. Postrahdravlenah.

He gives me a “by jove, I think she’s got it” grin and Postrahdravlenah’s me back and says “Hvala” as he takes the toll. I say “hvala” back. My first full Slovenian conversation! It’s a small step, but I’m thrilled. I’m hesitant to say goodbye to my new best friend.

But I must. The Adriatic awaits. I step on the accelerator and we cross the border back into Croatia.

diner avec les voisins (fete de moi part deux)

Ooooo, I’m going to French peoples’ house for dinner. People I didn’t know four months ago. People who speak French. And it’s Fete de moi. But I’m pretty sure they don’t know that. I may have mentioned my birthday weeks ago to Carole in one our French/English sessions when we were doing dates and birthdays and times. I have friends who don’t remember my birthday even if I tell them the day before (which I choose to interpret as an act of kindness rather than that they don’t give a damn). No way will she remember. That’s cool. I come from the ignore it and it will go away school of thinking.

I really like Carole. We have a great time during our French/English sessions. I don’t know Jerome as well, but he seems fun too. But that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of having dinner with them. What if it’s three courses of uncomfortable silence? What if I make a faux pas and start an international incident? Or worse, make a faux pas and get kicked out of Auvers?

It’s not the fact that the conversation flows easily, even with the language barrier that relaxes me. Or even that Carole remembers it’s my birthday –there’s champagne, and they sing happy birthday to me in French and English when they bring out a home made birthday tart with candles (another interesting fact: the French often sing “happy birthday” in English, but they’re not sure why). What clinches it for me is Jerome announcing that the best thing about America besides rock and roll is “The Simpsons” and that he feels a great bond with Homer. This is when I know for sure we’ll be great friends.

But I’m not here to get smooshy about the neighbors. I’m here as an ambassador and to gather intelligence.

Jerome and Carole are both divorced (from other people) and have been seeing each other for five years. (interesting statistic: the divorce rate in the Ile de France area is 75% which I find oddly comforting) They’re in their mid-forties. They both have two kids from the previous marriages. He lives in St Ouen, just outside of Paris and she lives here. He works in software and she works in sales.

For the most part, they’re together on the weekends and live their lives sort of separately during the week. It seems to suit both of them. Carole seems quite independent and likes having her alone time.

Carole is from Auvers originally. Her mother still lives here. Her daughter just moved out and is living in an apartment here in Auvers. Her 11 year old son is spending August in Normany with his father. Jerome is also from the Il de France area. People here seem to stay closer to their roots than we do in America. Of course, we have more room to spread out.

Jerome has been to Dallas, San Francisco, Baltimore and Atlanta on business. Carole hasn’t been to the US and doesn’t deal with Americans in her work, which is why she needs help improving her English. Jerome has obviously spent time with Americans. His English is quite good and even uses expressions like “you guys.” He’s especially keen to pick up our more colloquial phrases like: “that’s crap!” which he can’t wait to use on his Dallas associates.

Their favorite phrase is “shit-faced”. They think it’s hilariously ugly. At first, it’s a totally foreign concept to them. They say French people don’t get “shit-faced”. Which may sound elitist, but I really have noticed that you don’t see as many drunken people stumbling (and driving) about here as one does in the US. Carole and Jerome think it’s because Europeans have been drinking since they were children, so they don’t get falling down drunk (don’t we call that having a “hollow leg” or something?). At any rate, every time Carole refills her glass, she says “I wish to experience this shit-faced”. I feel proud to have contributed to their knowledge of American culture.

We theorize about why so many Japanese tourists come to Auvers. Whenever I see a Japanse person or group at a train station, I know they’re on their way to Auvers and I’m always right. It’s almost like a pilgrimage site. Maybe the Japanese have some mysterious affinity to Van Gogh. He did do those fabulous copies of Japanese prints, did that have something to do with it? There was the Japanese industrialist who bought a portrait of Dr. Gachet and wanted to be buried with it. Everyone protested, the guy died and the painting is missing. Maybe the Japanese have some strange Van Gogh cult…Or maybe the Japanese industrialist and the painting are buried here and it’s some sort of secret Japanese treasure hunt. If we find a Japanese tourist who speaks either French or English (not good odds on that), we resolve to ask.

After a few drinks, I blurt out that I think that the French are more like Americans than any other nationality. Then I hold my breathe and prepare to run. I hasten to add that I mean it in a good way, explaining they are like “le quarante neuf pour cent qui n’ont vote pas pour Palin” (which is essentially French for “the people in the blue states”). Considering that they didn’t poison my food, I assume no grave offense was taken.

But while there are similarities, the French seem to be more in touch with…life, humanity. history, a world beyond theirs. They seem less caught in the machinery. They don’t have a lot of fast food because they don’t eat fast. They stroll.

We mostly converse in French (and pantomime, at which I’m becoming fluent). Carole corrects my grammar where necessary, kind of like my mother does in English and about as often. It’s surprising how many words I find hard to explain in English, let alone French.

Every now and then I astonish all of us by remembering a difficult word and using it correctly in a sentence. “ Enfante gate” (spoiled child), shocked the heck out Jerome. As did “grouiller” (swarming crowd). They cheer me, probably the same way they cheered their kids when they first said “maman” or “chat”. I obligingly puff up with childish pride.

On my way home (all four meters) I savor the moment. I made it! It was fun. I don’t think they hate me! I hit the French neighbor jackpot! I can’t believe how sweet it was for those rude, anti-American French people to do that for me. They sure aren’t doing much to further the French snob stereotype. I also note that this is the first time I’ve seen a drunk person staggering around Auvers. Sure, it’s me, but a statistic is a statistic.


More on my international relations:

bridging cultural chasms

international political summit

a short respite from tyranny

by Claude Monet


Today is Bastille day. But if you call it Bastille day (or jour de bastille) in France, they’ll blink at you blankly for a few moments until a flash of recognition comes over their faces and they say “ahhhhhh, La Fete Nationale! Or “ahhh, Juillet 14th!

The French do that a lot…blink blankly when you attempt to speak to them in their native tongue. Personally, I think it’s is a passive aggressive thing (come on, Frenchy, you couldn’t make the mental leap from Bastille day to Fete Nationale? Donnez moi un break. –Or is that une break?) but I’ll let that slide for the moment.

La Fete Nationale commemorates the anniversary of the French taking a stand against the monarchy (Louis, Louis and Louis) and storming the Bastille to free the political prisoners put there by the King. There were only seven prisoners in the Bastille when they stormed it (sounds more like a drizzle than a storm). But I guess it’s the thought that counts.

Afterwards, some guy named Bernard Raspail (I believe he was named after a good shopping street on the Rive Gauche) got together with some other guys, Thomas Jefferson among them, and wrote a lovely document about the rights of man which is very similar to our Declaration of Independence. This lead to the French revolution. Which lead to Napoleon who was worse than what they revolted against. Now that I think about it, what the hell are they celebrating?

Like our Fourth of July, Juillet 14 has parades, fireworks (feu d’artifice), flag waving and general nationalist fervor…everything I hate.

My deep and abiding terror of fireworks (with the possible exception of sparklers is the result of reading a book about a kid who went blind from a firecracker when I was five. I think it was supposed to be some uplifting tale about rising above difficulties, but all I got out of it was a 40 year plus fear of fireworks. I usually need to be sedated on firework related holidays. Especially after 9/11.

But even if I LIKED fireworks, it seems a little excessive for freeing seven prisoners.  I kind of get the fireworks for our Independence day– we had a war and there really were the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air.

Wouldn’t a more appropriate celebration be locking some people in a closet or small room and then freeing them? Maybe followed by a drunken fistfight? Think of the money they’d save on fireworks.

I’m hoping here in Auvers, at least the festivities will be on a smaller scale than what I’m used to in New York. I’m also hoping that every time I hear a firecracker pop I won’t react the same way I did in New York, which was to shield my eyes, cower in a corner and contemplate how best to flee the city.

by Eduoard Manet

Here, the fireworks actually begin on the 13th. I discover this on the 13th, when at twilight a series of explosions rouse me from my pot au creme induced stupor. I rouse myself long enough to figure out the sounds are Fete Nationale related and return to my stupor.

Then I smell smoke. Once I’ve determined I haven’t set the house on fire I figure that someone is burning leaves again. Until the sirens sound. Yes, the first sirens I’ve heard in Auvers in almost three months.

I take it as a sign of emotional health that the thought of terrorism doesn’t cross my mind. The possibility that the sirens are a dragnet is coming to take me back and try me for crimes I’ve forgotten or for saying something bad about the US government flickers, but doesn’t take hold. Nor does the “Diary of Anne Frank” movie flashback that makes me want to hide in the attic at the sound of European sirens.

Nonetheless, I rush to the window to see what’s going on. To my relief, firetrucks race past Rue du Pois and line up in front of the empty building used for the Thursday/Sunday market. The roof is burning. And I just know it’s some stray spark from one of those nationalist firecrackers that has caused the damage. When will these people learn?

A fire I can deal with. And looking out the window, it seems the people of Auvers take it as opportunity to socialize. I go outside and join the crowd watching the fire as if it were on wide screen tv. It’s almost as though the fire is part of the festivities. I look for a keg. I check out the firemem (Like every woman in the world, I have fireman fantasies). Maybe I should find myself a nice French Fireman. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate? I guess this probably isn’t a good time to flirt with them, though. But they are doing a mighty fine job. The fire is almost out. And that guy on the ladder sure seems to know what to do with his hose.

My neighbors Jerome and Carole interrupt my reveries. They introduce me to some other neighbors. We chat. Well, they chat and I pick out words I understand and nod accordingly.

I also make my first French joke: le jour independence en France est meilleux que notre le jour independence en par ce que Les Francais a les feu d’artifice ET les feu vraiment. It’s not very funny in English and only mildly funny in French, but they seem to appreciate the effort.

Now that it’s dark enough, The fireworks by the river start to go off, and I nervously look back towards the house. I notice the front window is open. Good lord, is history repeating itself? Has the prison been breached?  Have my kitties escaped?

When I get to the house, my worst fears are confirmed: Desdemona is in the center of the lawn chewing some grass. God knows where Denzel is. I pick up Desdemona and carry her back to the house. She serenades me with some of the most horrifying sounds I’ve ever heard from a cute little cat. They could definitely use her for Exorcist 4 (or whatever number they’re on).

Denzel is the real problem. If he’s out there, he might as well be invisible because it’s dark and he’s black. My only hope of finding him is the bell on his collar.

I search the house and he’s nowhere to be found. I go outside and I start to call him frantically. Silence.

I could sure use some of those wartime night vision goggles right now. The light from the fireworks (which I’m sure are lovely) aren’t quite enough to light the yard. I finally hear the tinkle of his bell and see him sitting calmly among the bushes. But as I walk towards him, he dashes off in the other direction. He stops when he gets a good distance and rolls on the grass as the rockets red glare and bombs burst in air overhead. But as soon as I get close, he takes off in another direction and once again, when he gets a good distance, he rolls luxuriantly, taunting me. Dogdamnsonofabitch!

This goes on for a half hour, me chasing him from the bushes, to the lawn to the bushes to the lawn to the bushes… until a neighbor kid yells something to his mom, which freaks Denzel out and he runs to the front door and paws desperately at it until I let him back in the house. I’m sure there are some who would say that his hasty retreat only proves that Denzel has some French in his blood.

The fireworks have stopped now. Denzel and Desdemona are locked safely in their room (being punished) and now I feel ready to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday. I crack open another pot au crème. The cats scratch at the door and make complaining noises. Denzel occasionally yowls in dissent.

Poor kitties, I think to myself as I savor the rich creamy dessert. Let them eat cake.

fete de la cocagne — the mystery continues

Today is the first day of the Auvers”Fete de la Cocagne,” a two day event full of something in recognition of something.

I ask Carole et Jerome what this whole cocagnes thing is all about.   They bicker good-naturedly in French for a moment before admitting they’re not sure..   It’s just  a big nuisance as far as they’re concerned.   Kind of like a parade to a New Yorker, I guess.

According to my good friend, Google, Cocagne either has something to do with an ideal life of indulgence  or being cockney.     A commenter on my previous post (thanks, Sirius),  did some research and found that it has something to do with a life of pleasure.    Or climbing  a greased pole.  I’m going to go with ideal life of indulgent pleasure.

The festivities start with some sort of presentation on the stage in front of the Hotel de Ville.      Women with parasols, long dresses and Miss America type sashes that read “Cocagne”. The men on stage are wearing bow ties and hats, I assume from the same time period. They seem to be giving each other awards.  Perhaps for winning the greased pole climbing contest?

A series of rock bands perform–really bad ones that are only slightly better than Courtney Love.    Sausages, pommes frites and beer are sold in the parking lot and the construction site has become a lovely street bistro serving grilled meat, veggies, beer wine and ice cream. The carousel is moving and the children on it screech with excitement.

Knowing that the real fete doesn’t start until tomorrow, I go inside. But soon, I’m drawn back out by a band that’s actually quite good for a French band (no offense to the French, but they suck at Rock and Roll, and Jerome will back me up on this).  Oncle Oedipe, is the name, and I can only assume the reason I’ve never heard of them before is either because they’re French or because none of the members are particularly “hot” looking.

Young girls are dancing and screaming like groupies with clothes on,    I’m mesmerized by a little blond boy about four or five who is totally rocking out as his mother feeds him cotton candy like a Roman slave feeding a fidgety Roman Emperor grapes.    Seriously, this kid has moves.   Even the way he grabs at the cotton candy as his mother lowers it towards his mouth is completely in time with the music done done with a rhythmic flourish.   No doubt about it, the kid is  a rock star.

After Oncle Oedipe finishes their set, I take a stroll and discover that Van Gogh Park has been transformed into a petting zoo with rabbits, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, donkeys and two huge unpenned bulls standing by the far wall. Children make animal sounds (I assume they’re animal sounds, they bear no resemblance to the sound American livestock makes), trying to draw the smaller creatures out from their tiny pens.

The goats are petrified, the donkey is accommodating and the pig obliviously snuffles in the dirt for imaginary truffles.   The bulls recline like Odalisque in a shady corner.

Judging by the pamphlets, fliers and posters, the real action doesn’t start until tomorrow. Perhaps then I’ll figure out what this cocagnes thing is all about. I fall asleep with visions of glaces et boissons dancing in my head.


muddying the lingual waters

Maybe it was stupid going to a Dutch/German speaking country just as I was getting the hang of French. To my ear, Dutch is a combination of German and something Scandanavian. I can’t even attempt it for fear of bludgeoning their language to the point of being insulting. I’m still not sure if thank you is Dank ooo or Dank oh (spelled phonetically). And forget any sort of greeting. The words refuse to stick in my brain, let alone roll (or even drip slowly and painfully) off my tongue.

I manage the train up from Gare du Nord with a fair amount of confidence. Found my train, bought my ticket, no problem except the price which seemed more like a plane fare it was so high (about $300).

The train is surprisingly comfy. I sleep between France and Brussels (a mere 90 minutes), waking up every now and then to notice the beautiful green countryside and smile at the young man sitting next to me, reading a book in English. Brussels looks boring. Antwerp doesn’t. The minute we cross the border from Belgium to Holland the first I thing I notice is an onslaught of bike riders. It’s like a constant bike marathon on every street.

The background noise in the train is pretty much a low murmur of a couple of languages, all sounding kind of Germanic. But there was one voice that scared the hell out of me. It was female, loud and really heavy on the “chks”. She didn’t sound exactly German, in that her voice didn’t make me want to flee, but it did give my frown lines a good work out trying to figure out her accent. The young man next to me identified it as a Hague soccer mom accent, and sure enough, that’s where she got off, chomping her gum maniacally.

He spends the rest of the train ride trying to teach me how to pronounce Schipnol correctly, which is his stop. He is Dutch, has lived in Holland all his life, goes to college and works and wants to leave Holland more than anything because it’s so “flat” (said with despair in his voice). He wants to go somewhere with mountains. Of course, as he told me all this, I was thinking how cool it would be to live in Holland.

I look for a slum, but can’t find anything resembling one. I guess that must be Haarlem which isn’t on this line. I’ve since discovered that Haarlem is really nice. Who knew? There’s got to be a ghetto somewhere in this country!

Fours hours from Gare du Nord, I’m at Amsterdam Central train station (their Penn station).   It seems a manageable size. And not full of scary people as I feared. I find the machines for tram tickets.

I have directions to where I’m staying, but it makes no sense to me and doesn’t seem to correspond with the names on the ticket machines.

I know I can handle this…even though these people are all speaking Dutch (when I was last here 24 years ago, didn’t they all speak English? Is this the Bush administration’s fault?)

I go outside and ask a cab driver how much to Vosseustraadt. Well, I didn’t exactly ask anything, I just gestured wildly at the piece of paper with the street’s name on it.

The cab ride is like 20 euro and I know it’s not far enough to be worth 20 euro.,No way.

So I force myself back to the ticket machines and figure it out. The cost of a tram ticket is 1.60 Euro, way cheaper than the cab. I’m starting to feel a sense of purpose. There’s something so much more challenging about trying to accomplish something in a foreign language. And the rush when you actually communicate through the language barrier, is well worth the fear.

But I’m also feeling a sense of danger. These bikes are whizzing by everywhere. Now my purpose is to get on the 2 or 5 without getting maimed by a bicyclist. I see the number 5 across the way and get on. Oooooo, this is so exciting. I show the woman sitting next to me the address I’m going to and she nods. I have no idea where I am or where I’m going exactly and just hope somebody tells me when I get there. Meanwhile, I look at all the cool. shuttered buildings, little shops (nirvana), canals and people heading home from work. I try to remember the names of the streets we pass: somethingstraat, liederhosendenplein, wafflegrasse. Where am I going again? Vossiusstraat near hobbitgrasse or something

Just as we’re passing a very green park, the woman next to me nudges me and indicates this is my stop. I say “merci beaucoup” hoping I can fool her into thinking I’m french and get off.

I listen to the people talking in the park…a lot of harsh German sounds intermixed with northern oooos, but other languages blended in as well. At one point I’m thrilled because I understand everything this Dutch boy is saying (I must have been Dutch in a previous life). Turns out he was speaking English. Damnenstraat!.

I reach the number 29 and ring the doorbell. I’m not sure what to expect. I’m visiting my friend Al who I haven’t seen in years. What are his wife, kids and nanny like? God, I hope nobody here speaks Dutch.

you say la tomate, I say le tomate

If I’m to believe Carole and the guy I buy fruit and vegetables from at the market, my French is improving. I definitely understand more. And I’ve been able to have deep discussions with the owner of the grocery store about which cookies ont meilleux et pourquoi.

I’m learning that if you put something French sounding at the end of every English word you don’t know the French word for, 75% of the time, you’ll be right. Examples: publicity=publicite (publeeceetay); geriatric=geriatrique (geriatreek); totally=totalement (totalmon). Every now and then there’s an exception to that rule, and instead you put something French sounding in front of it. Examples: weekend=le weekend; internet=le internet.

I’ve also become better at looking like I understand. People can go on for paragraphs before realizing I don’t understand what they’re saying. And by then, I can usually pick out a few words and piece it together. Of course, when I can’t piece it together and am forced,  after someone has rambled on for two paragraphs to say “je ne comprends pas”, they look at me like I’m crazy for not stopping them sooner. Some of them walk away grumbling under their breath, but fortunately, I usually can’t understand them.

I’ve also learned the French stall word. In the US, we have “like” or “uh”. Here, it’s “errrr”, which sounds much smarter than the US versions. Especially if you do it with that subtle roll at the back of your throat and let the rrrrrs roll into your next real word.

The conjugation thing is still a problem. I can only manage the simplest tenses (okay, my repertoire is still pretty much present tense, but that’s  true for me in English too). I’m sure I sound like some stupider version of I Dream of Jeannie to the French. Is it possible to sound stupider than I Dream of Jeannie?

But here’s the thing that really trips me up: every time I think I’ve got all the nouns and adjectives right and the verbs conjugated correctly, I un when I should une or le when I should la. What is with this focus on whether a noun is masculine or feminine? Yes, I’m suffering from acute gender confusion.

Back in the good old U S of A, nouns are just nouns. We don’t care if a pastry, domesticated animal, potato, or an illegal war based on lies is a boy or a girl, to us, it’s just pastry, domesticated animal, potato, or an illegal war based on lies. I firmly believe nouns should not be discriminated against. Well, that’s what I tell Carole when I screw up (“le…la…c’est sexiste!”)

But there’s something really dodgy about labeling all nouns either masculine or feminine.

When I ask how they know whether every word is masculine of feminine, they answer cryptically that they know it en couer (by heart). The implication is that it’s some sort of innate thing. Maybe masculinizing and feminizing things is in the human DNA, a part of the common consciousness.. Maybe the French are just more in touch with it. If I just tap into the part of me that’s plugged into the pulse of mankind maybe the right words will instinctively blurt from my mouth. The problem is I’m not sure if I can still speak when I’m that drunk.

There’s no rhyme or reason to what’s designated masculine or feminine. Baguette and saucisson are both feminine, but I think the French must be mistaken. Look at them—they’re totally masculine. And tampon is masculine. Go figure. I guess I could make a case for that one if I really thought about it, but I’d rather not.

I’m starting suspect that in real life, the French don’t really gender discriminate their words. They only do it when we’re around. It’s just a passive aggressive trick they established to retain a small sense of superiority after we saved their derrieres in WW2. When we say “le baguette”, they correct us and tell us it’s “la”. When we say la baguette, they tell us it’s le. We wind up confused, frustrated and totally helpless. Just the way they want us.

When Carole informs me that chat is masculine, unless le chat est une chatte comme Desdemona, I float my theory past her (in French, of course). She seems impressed that I am able to communicate a fairly complex thought in French. She thinks about it for a moment, smiles and corrects me.

It’s LA deuxieme guerre de LE monde.

Zut! Je ce rende!


Check out my latest on the Huffington Post.


international political summit

My ability to discuss politics in French intelligently is seriously hampered by my inability to discuss anything in French intelligently. Up until now, I’ve pretty much limited my political ravings to blaming the Bush administration for the weather.   Obama still gets the benefit of the doubt.   I’ve been hoping that hope thing pans out.

I decide to use my next French/English session with Carole, my neighbor to discuss what’s happening on the geopolitical front.

We settle down with our drinks, pens, paper and dictionaries for a deep discussion of the world political situation… in the others’ native tongue

Carole Poletti-Blot, France

Lesley Stern, USA

Moi: Aime-tu Sarkozy?

Carole (making a face):   You no longer have Bush.   Now we have Sarkozy.   We have exchanged shames.

Moi: Ah, mais Bush est un grand, grand…shame (flipping through dictionary) HONTE.

Carole (correcting):  Bush ETAIT un grand, honte.

Moi: Etait.   Bush etait un grand, grand honte.   Huit annees de honte.   Mon Dieu!   Et Sarkozy?

Carole: He pretends…pretend? he possess the world.

Moi: He thinks he owns the world.

Carole: (repeating) He thinks he owns the world.

Moi: or   he’s an entitled asshole.

Carole:  Say this again?

Moi (simplifying): An asshole.   (trying to explain it in shitty French)…Iil est un grand ane.   Ou …le hole…qu’est ce que c’est hole… (flipping desperately through dictionary) de derriere.

Carole: Connard!   I’ll est un connard!   Un trou de cul.    Oui.

Both Carole and I scribble our newly learned words down furiously.

Moi: (repeating to self) trou de cul, trou de cul.  Connard. Connard.

Carole: (repeating to self) asshole, asshole, asshole.

Me: Oui tout les politicians …comme que dit suck?…Mauvais, mais plus mal…(thinking) .Les politicians est putains.

Carole laughs at my use of the curse word.

Carole (correcting): Sont putains.

Me: Les politicians sont putains.

Carole: The word again, please?

Moi: Suck.  All politicians suck.

Carole starts scribbling down the phrase

Carole: Please spell “suck”.

Moi: S…U….C….K.

Carole (reading what she just wrote): All politicians suck.

Moi (applauding her): Oui! Tout les politicians sont putains!

Carole (reading from her notes): Sarkozy is an asshole!

Moi: Oui! Tous les politicians sont connards!

Now that a consensus has been reached, we relax a bit, proud of all that we’ve accomplished. I certainly feel better having gotten all this off my chest and that my French partner and I have found some common ground. We move on to other pressing matters of the day.

Moi: Ou est se trouve en bon homme ici?

Carole: There is not a good man in the world.

We laugh together conspiratorially.

I think we may be on to something. This trying to speak in the others’ language without translators could be a good thing for international relations. Sure, our political conversation was a little limited. But when you get right down to it, I’m sure we resolved much more and found more common ground in an hour than the UN has in years.   Heck, maybe the US senate should try it.

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