It’s as if the words “I speak French” are an invitation to ridiculous phrases like: “Ooh lala” or “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” or, my personal favorite: “Parlez-vous français?” (or “françois”, it all depends, really).
French is that one language that everyone feels entitled to. It’s like those people that say “Yeah, I have a varied heritage- I’m 1/8 Irish, ¼ German, and 2/7 Native American” and yet you can’t even name the region said ancestors come from (this, by the way, grates my nerves: you’re not a mélange, you’re a modern human being feeling entitled. Congratulations).
Boo, you whore!
Everyone has been in close contact with French- it’s been butchered, romanticized as all-things French, and overexposed…in my most humble opinion.
It’s the language of diplomacy, yes, but to really master it, it takes more than a few phrases: it takes grammar, it takes history (and a rudimentary understanding of diachrony), it takes fillers…and it takes passion, dedication, and perseverance.
The single hardest thing a human being will ever do is to learn how to read. Once that has been conquered, the brain is nice and ready to process information- language in this broad case.
When learning a new language, it’s like learning to speak and read and write aaaaall over again.
We are torn down and re-learn everything bit by bit. One may start by the simple souds from the alphabet and remember it via games or other tactics (I, for example, memorized the sounds of the French alphabet thanks to a my first French professor who recited it as a drill sergeant singing a cadence- we were to follow). Others may jump in and start learning with phrases and putting the pieces together. If you want to get fancy, I know people with thorough knowledge of the International Phonetic Alphabet and that’s just how they figured out what everything sounded like once put together.
And, oh! You have to find your voice again!
Am I perfect? By no means. But another thing that comes with finding your voice in a foreign language is to adopt a personality. And Parisian Me is one condescending little bitch.
Les rageux vont rager!
Anyway, I feel like French, as I said earlier, has been romanticized to the point that it gives it this ethereal quality.
Even though I do enjoy speaking in French because it has been a challenge to master it and find my voice in it, French just became a vehicular language. It’s my language of business, school, of everyday stuff. It’s not what I whisper to a lover (and quite frankly, if anyone ever busted out some French in bed, I’d ask him to leave. Or at least be quiet).
French is what I curtly reply to the lady pushing me in the métro, French is what I use when I weigh my vegetables at the market, what I use to tell the plumber that my faucet is leaky…there’s no glamour in French anymore!
And in a very twisted and perverted way, I like this! I fucking love it. I wanted so badly to immerse myself in this language that “sounded kinda cool!” when I was sixteen and visiting Paris for the first time. I wanted to know exactly what people were saying, why their vowels sounded funny, why it was still so similar to my mother tongue (Spanish) and yet had so many words that I recognized from English and Lord knows how many other languages!
And now I do! And I see how gritty the language can be. How hurtful, how deep it can wound and offend, and also how uplifting, how quirky and lighthearted.
So if you’re on a mission to learn French, do not be disappointed when you realize real people speak it.
There’s a side to French that most people fail to acknowledge: Street French. There are no “vous” here, no pleasantries. Here you get words to describe women that range from the cute like “nana” to “gazelle” to “meuf” to “tcheub”.
It’s this language, this tchatche that makes French, not your textbook.
Paris is multifaceted and so is its language.
Language is our direct link to history. It’s breathing, latent, alive.
This is what makes learning French so challenging- you have a language that is hyper-kinetic. It vibrates, it evolves, it morphs!
Due to its vocalic system and the elimination of diphthongs, among other things, it is the farthest romance language from Latin.
Sorry to those who believe Portuguese is. Or Romanian- it still holds its very Latin roots even if it’s got massive amounts of Slavic influence.
All of these beautiful and fascinating things have come together through centuries to forge a language that is so colorful, so comprehensive and ever-changing and you just better run behind it trying to keep up!
So next time you feel tempted to say “Oui-oui” and any other silly phrase to a French speaker- hold your tongue! You might get a nasty response. After all, it comes with the territory.