Tag Archives: French language

A Visit to the Doctor

It was just a small cultural exchange.

My gynecologist, Madame C.B., always prefaces her annual checkup by holding up her hands with a slight apologetic smile as she says “My hands are just as cold as always.” This time I told her, “Well, in English, we have a saying that goes “Cold hands, warm heart.” I asked her if there was an equivalent expression in French, and she said, “Oui, nous disons “Mains froides, coeur chaud”!  Then she asked me if I would repeat the saying in English so she could tell it to her young son, who is studying English at school, which I did.  It was a nice, friendly moment.

A visit from Monsieur G. or “SOS our heating system is smoking”

Last September, Monsieur G. made his annual visit to clean our furnace. The furnace is located “down below” in one of our seven basements (caves, in French). Before I explain why there are seven basements in our house, let’s get back to Monsieur G.

There was nothing remarkable about Monsieur G.’s visit. Although retired, he comes every year when my husband telephones him, as he has for 18 years. It’s important to know that he also installed the heating furnace, which is an old puffing red monster of a box. When you push the Start button, it growls into life, with a huge, dragon-ish rumble. I avoid going into the basement because I find it subtly threatening in some nebulous way.

Monsieur G. likes to come as long as it doesn’t conflict with his wild boar  – sanglier – hunting schedule.  After he finishes his work, he and my husband talk for a few minutes, then my husband asks “Monsieur G., how much do I owe you?” Monsieur G. names a negligible amount to show that he really doesn’t need the payment at all. Then my husband says, “Oh, well, it should probably be X euros”, which is always 20-25 percent more. Monsieur G. then says, “Well, okay if you want”, and both he and my husband are highly satisfied with the deal.  Afterwards, my husband tells me what Monsieur G. said his price was, and then what he paid him. Since the payment is always at least 50-75 percent less than what he would pay for the same work in Paris (if, of course, we had a furnace in Paris which we do not), he is very happy (trés content!).

However, last year, there was a potentially disastrous development in the furnace saga. Two days after Monsieur G.’s visit, I went down into our courtyard because I smelled smoke. As I walked down the stairs into our courtyard I heard a rumbling noise coming from the basement that houses our furnace-dragon. Convinced that it was on the verge of exploding (à la the engine room of the “Titanic”) I ran upstairs and told my husband.  As do all courageous knights, he immediately headed for the basement to confront the dragon. That is, he turned off the furnace with a flick of his finger on the button.

After an SOS phone call to Monsieur G. who quickly arrived (as this was not a scheduled hunting day), we awaited his verdict. He came out of the basement after about thirty minutes to announce sheepishly that he had forgotten to replace one of the nuts after his cleaning job. This had caused the furnace to vibrate, and unbalance the fuel mix, so it started smoking.

So the monster was subdued and our old stone house was warm for the winter.

A bientôt –

Sharoux

P.S. More on the seven basements in another post….

Are cats bilingual?

My cat is French. By “birth” country. Of course, all cats belong to the Great Cat-dom, the invisible repository of their nature and habits. However, he understands French. And English.

Now, my husband is French. Also by birth country and culture. As do all men, he belongs to the universal human-dom, which is also the invisible repository of all human nature and habits. However, his language and culture are French. Though he is perfectly bilingual (French/English), and writes all of his professional papers in English.

There is a reason for this little correlation between cat and man as it relates to the microcosm of our home life. That is, I speak to both my husband and my cat in French – most of the time.

But my husband and I have found that there are some words in English that do not exist in the French language and vice versa. And, when speaking, he or I will automatically replace a word with the choice that best “fits” the situation or the idea being expressed.

One example is the word “challenge”. It doesn’t exist in French. Yet it is essential when describing the many difficult and demanding opportunities that are part of daily life. The word used in French is either “problème” (problem) or défi (defiance).

We find that this substitution of words between two languages enriches the conversation and results in a deeper understanding of the subject being discussed.

So, are we saying that we are both bilingual and bicultural?
What do you think?

By the way, I have found that my cat remains, quintessentially, a citizen of the Great Cat-dom. Although he understands perfectly well all that is being said to him in either language, he chooses his own time and his own way of communicating with us.

See you soon – A bientôt!