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Ok. Tell me honestly.  In all of your French travels, have you ever heard a French person utter the words ‘Zut alors?”

 

Damn! Darn! Shoot!  However it really translates, I have seen it in French cartoons, and even on T-shirts, but never once have I heard any French person utter that phrase in a fit of excited exclamation.

 

 

From the Tintin cartoon series!

 

 

 

However, it did figure prominently in my earliest French education, when to show off our “bilingual” skills, my classmates would periodically exclaim for no reason at all “Zut alors!”

 

Which pretty much tells you how I learned French.

 

Où est la plume de ma tante? (Another useful phrase I learned at school!)

 

 

They did not have French immersion when I was growing up, and my teachers in high school were English speakers speaking French (and passing on to us their English accent.)

 

When I did my BA  with a specialization in French, I studied in the language lab like a maniac, only to arrive at a French-speaking university to do a year fellowship in Quebec where I didn’t understand a word anyone was saying.

 

The accent was so very different, and there was a whole slew of new words and phrases that were never found in any of my French textbooks.

 

Things like —

C’est plate” meaning “boring” but can also mean “sad” or “unfortunate” depending on the context.

“Il fait frette.” – “It’s friggin’ cold.”  Very handy once you know what it is like to experience a Quebec winter.

 

 

 

 

 

Then I went to France, where I had to adapt back to the accent that I had learned at school, but where everybody was speaking faster than I had ever heard before.

 

To add to that, I was now speaking French with a Quebec accent.

 

It confused people.

 

Still, all of this has been the greatest fun.  There is nothing that makes me happier than to be parachuted into a group of French speakers (in France or in Quebec) and to feel part of the conversation.

 

It has taken me many years but I am now pretty comfortable in my second language.

 

Always something new to learn of course, and as such, I have reached a new plateau of critical analysis.

 

I studied Chinese for 4 years and made serious mistakes that involved calling someone’s mother a horse.  The mother took it well, thankfully, because when speaking that language, native speakers were impressed that I made the effort.

 

However, I have noticed that the more one improves in French the more one feels the weight of l’Académie Française, the authority on all matters relating to the French language.

 

On my last trip to France, a shopkeeper wagged her finger at me in mid-conversation when I said something about scarves being very popular in France.

 

The woman scolded “Non, Madame, ce n’est pas le bon mot!” | “that is not the right word!” and then walked away without educating me what word was wrong or what the right word was.

 

 

 

 

However, I was more flattered than offended. The woman obviously felt that my French was good enough to criticize.

 

Too bad that I didn’t remember that one well-learned phrase. It would have been so much fun to have replied  — Zut alors!

 

Let Me Hear from you!  Please Comment Below.

 

So what has been your experience learning French, or trying out a

few French phrases when in a French-speaking environment?

If you are a francophone, what has been your experience

with us anglophones mangling your beautiful language?

 

We all like to read your comments, so please comment below.

(Instead of replying to this email directly where only I get to see it!)

 

Once again Congrats to Julie Buckley!

 

 

 

Julie won the 2nd Giveaway for Annual  Members and very kindly sent in a picture

with her gift that she received this week.

Two beautiful hard-cover cookbooks by Hilary Davis called

The French Oven and Cuisine Nicoise.

Always delighted to get a picture of the winner

and actually seeing one of my readers.

Julie, can we expect pictures of a recipe

that you cook from the books?

We sure hope so!

 

Brought to you by www.womanofacertainageinparis.com

 

 

23 Comments

  1. Gretchen Greene O'Brien on June 20, 2021 at 9:15 am

    The French language – only had a couple of years of it in high school, which was not nearly enough to be bilingual! Well remember trying to read the Quebec newspaper headlines to my boss, who was out of Canada at the time, to relay what was being said about an important corporate takeover. I absolutely mangled the words – but he got the gist of what I was trying to say! And I kept my job!!!

  2. Shardie Stevenson on June 20, 2021 at 9:25 am

    Did you write this week’s blog just for me!!
    I love to say Zut Alors ! as you know , having learned it at the same high school French class albeit a year later than you!
    🤣🤣🤣🤣

  3. Andree Gillin on June 20, 2021 at 9:47 am

    My new phrase for the day and boy is it fitting! Mais Zut Alors!!

    • Diana Bishop on June 21, 2021 at 4:38 pm

      Haha… I like that Andree.. and you are French! Did you ever hear anyone say Zut Alors?

  4. Rebecca Brown on June 20, 2021 at 9:52 am

    I remember french class in high school, when we all went to the lab and put on earphones to hear the french conversations which were part of the textbooks. I do remember saying “zut, alors” quite a bit! Also, instead of saying “knock, knock” on a door, the french recording said, “doc, doc”. Funny, the little differences!

  5. Catherine Willis-O'Connor on June 20, 2021 at 9:57 am

    I learnt how to swear in French at the skating rink in Dorval. With a reading disability not recognized growing up I found French a big one to swallow. But that never stopped me. So I have a mixed accent. Parisian, Montreal back lanes and Ottawa local slang. I took French all the time working and never got the confidence to speak because every time I did, the French person snickered.
    Still love the country, love the people and love the language.
    Thank you for bringing this wonderful experience to life, once again.
    Xxoo twink

    • Diana Bishop on June 21, 2021 at 4:37 pm

      Yes indeed, le joual of Quebec that we picked up on the streets in Montreal is a whole other story. I have to say I do love it, but can’t take to France! Nobody understands me. Diana

  6. Joan Lawrence on June 20, 2021 at 12:38 pm

    Diana, I would like to share this funny story while visiting Paris a few years ago.
    My girlfriend Anne and I were visiting her brother, who at that time was employed by the U.S. State Department, and was gracious enough to allow us to be his houseguests.
    Anne and I planned on visiting two museums each day. Well, one afternoon we were so exhausted from all the walking and museum visits, and needed to pick up some dessert for that evening’s dinner. While looking for a patisserie, we decided to stop in the Monoprix for a recommendation. We found a lovely sales woman and asked her in French where could we find, “a petit souris?”. That’s how it came out….talk about destroying the beautiful French language! And that’s how she heard us. She laughed and answered in English. “Did you know you were asking me where could you find the little mouse?” I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life. I think she knew that we were so exhausted. We apologized and all laughed. She gave us the address of a wonderful patisserie very closed to where we were staying
    We both thought that this adventure would make a wonderful children’s story. With ideas and Anne’s good writing, wrote the story about, “The Adventures of Jean Claude, the Little Mouse” When I got back home,
    I found in one of the women’s magazines that Simon and Schuster along with General Mills Cereals, was having a children’s story contest. This story would be placed in a cloth book inside the Cheerio’s box and sold in the mid west states as a promotion.
    Unfortunately, we didn’t win. Instead we both have silver bracelets with two charms. One of the Eiffel Tower and the other of a little mouse to always remember our adventure.

    • Diana Bishop on June 21, 2021 at 4:36 pm

      This is priceless Joan! I love that you took the experience one step further to create a children’s book. How creative. Love the idea also of the bracelet with the Eiffel Tower and the mouse. Adorable.
      I remember early on in my French education of ordering “foies de poulet” thinking it would be chicken. Of course, when the plate arrived with grey lumps in a delicious sauce, I was awakened abruptly to my mistake.
      I had of course ordered chicken livers. It was too much for my young palate so I didn’t eat them, but I never made that mistake again. I still don’t like chicken livers!!! Best to you and thank you so so much for commenting. Diana

  7. Laurie Metter on June 20, 2021 at 12:50 pm

    I was lucky to have 4 years of immersion French in the mid-1960s. The teacher had lived in France long enough to acquire a very authentic accent.

    I finally made it to Paris just before the pandemic – 50+ years after my studies! But I love French tv and films so I immersed myself for months before we went.
    On the plane, I tried my first full sentence on a stewardess, followed by “was that correct?” I’d told her I was traveling with my BFF of 45+ years, and that it was always our dream to go to Paris.
    We were rewarded a bit later with the nicely-bagged freebies that only First Class got! I was so touched by this.
    It was amazing to step out of the Metro and hear a foreign language I was familiar with! At first I only caught snippets of conversations in passing, but I decided to try my best and interact. Every French person we encountered was delightfully friendly and warm.
    One young man in a shop asked if we were American, and would we let him practice his English. So we visited until he got more customers.
    In one restaurant our waiter attempted to be stand-offish. We resolved to make him laugh before we left, and another of the waiters got a kick out of that.
    I could have stayed months in Paris. It was everything I thought it would be, but with better food and friendlier people. We saw as many museums as possible, but fled the sheep herding in the Louvre. Not worth the forced marches!
    – Laurie Metter

    • Diana Bishop on June 21, 2021 at 4:32 pm

      Laurie… well like you, I think it is all in the attitude. Your approach would undoubtedly be well-received. Love your adventures and thank you so much for sending along your comment! Diana

  8. Penny Hardy on June 20, 2021 at 1:01 pm

    I loved reading this, because I could have written the first part up to where she went to Quebec and acquired a Quebec accent. This was my experience exactly in learning to speak Francais. I did get to spend the summer in Paris between my junior and senior years in college, however, and was even dreaming in French for a while. But when I graduated from college my career took me in an entirely different direction from using the French language the way I expected to use it.
    C’est dommage! I still love the language and every thing having to do with France!

    • Diana Bishop on June 21, 2021 at 4:29 pm

      I think you might find Penny that a trip back to France might get back into the swing of speaking French in no time. How kind you are to comment on my blog and thank you so much for reading it! Diana

  9. Trudy Van Buskirk on June 20, 2021 at 1:42 pm

    My paternal grandmother was French Canadian so I have always loved anything French. My undergraduate degree (1971) was with a major in French, where one of my professors for one of my Frech courses was from France and she said I should never try to teach French. ….. I then went to Althouse Education College ….. it was 1972 when I started to teach and the Ontario government had just added elementary school French to the curriculum for 20 minutes per day from Grades 4 to 8. Guess what I a job teaching? French!

    I had big charts and taught “Pitou le chien et ses amis” for 4 years then switched to special education for 4 more.

    BTW I applied after teachers’ college to teach French for the Federal Government anywhere in Ontario and was turned down. They had an unwritten rule that you had to be a French Canadian with French as your first language.

    Oh well – it didn’t affect my love of French. As you know, I won one of your contests in 2019 of one online French lesson with Christine Camm and we have been speaking via zoom, in French every Friday since January 2020!!!!!

    • Diana Bishop on June 21, 2021 at 4:42 pm

      Yes, the early seventies were tricky for anglophones who spoke French, weren’t they? We were encouraged to learn French (thank you Pierre Trudeau) but not enough to get jobs in government positions.

      I think it is great that you use it living in Toronto and that you and Christine talk every week. Bravo!

      There are lots of comments this week on this subject. Check them out. I have read and approved them now and they should show up at the end of the blog on the website. http://www.womanofacertainageinparis.com

      Best to you, Diana

  10. Tood Moxley on June 20, 2021 at 1:52 pm

    You are right about “zut alors”! My college French teacher (in 1965-6 in Ohio) used it frequently; but, I’ve never heard it in France. We also were taught to only use “vous” since, it was thought we would never have the opportunity to use “tu”. (I have now lived in France for 9 years.)

    • Diana Bishop on June 21, 2021 at 4:28 pm

      Tood, thank you so much for this comment. Oh I know what you mean about “vous” and “tu”. I still have a hard time with it — talking to a dear French friend with “tu” but then wondering if I should use “vous” with her husband who I don’t know well. Nine years in France.. would love to know more about that??? Diana

  11. Sharon Yates on June 21, 2021 at 8:59 am

    I so enjoyed reading of your experience learning French! It brought back memories of my experience in the late 6o’s when I went to live in Geneva, Switzerland for 2 years right after graduation from U of T. There I was with my Ontario High School French trying to communicate in a French accent not recognized at all. However, the Swiss French accent is very beautiful, very musical in fact and I wanted to speak their beautiful French! After 2 years, I had got to the point where I could spend an evening with friends, go shopping, take cooking lessons and generally manage in French. I do recall that I did ask the butcher if I could have a pound of his rear end and he was kind enough to persist until he understood what I really wanted! Returning to Canada, we lived in Ottawa for 3 years and I tried to use my French at the markets. The accent was so harsh to what I had become accustomed to, that I regrettably let the French I had learned slip away. Living in Mississauga, I had nowhere to use it. I now am sorry that happened but I find I am enjoying your blog so much, bringing back wonderful memories of living in a French country. Thanks so much!

    • Diana Bishop on June 21, 2021 at 4:23 pm

      Sharon…how wonderful to hear from you and I do hope you are doing well. I love the stories that people are sending in. As you say, learning French is so wonderful but the frustrations of being understood are always challenging. Still worth it, however … yes yes yes, thank you so much for your comment. Diana

  12. Maggie Sutrov on June 27, 2021 at 2:38 pm

    Diana
    What is it about the desire to speak French? Is there also a keen desire to speak other languages? Or is it the fact that most of us Canadians got a taste of French as kids but were too shy to make an effort to speak it avoiding embarrassment. But now in this “certain age” perhaps we are over it and could care less how it comes out and just want to experience the adventure.

  13. […] Previously, you’ve read about my experiences learning the French language, well, this is where it all started. (The previous blog was entitled Zut Alors!) […]

  14. Julie Scolnik on October 9, 2021 at 8:15 am

    Great blog Diana, and so much fun to hear all these stories. I had similar tales when I first got to Paris in 1976, and then my French improved immensely after falling for a Frenchman who was a connoisseur of the French language. One of my biggest gaffes was asking for a chicken breast (sein) instead of white of chicken “blanc de poulet” which was very embarrassing.

    • Diana Bishop on October 11, 2021 at 6:41 pm

      Your story is so similar to mine … minus the lovely Frenchman. I was in France the same year that you were. I was teaching English in Grenoble but so much of the era you speak about really resonates with me from that time. Thanks for commenting. I am just loving your book, Diana

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