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Speaking French?


Cornellrob
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Not very food related ... but I think it's just common sense : when you're in a country, try to speak the local language. Why is it special with the French ?

It isn't. As hard as it was for me to learn even survival-level Mandarin and Hungarian, I did my best. Without the rather small amount of both languages I learned, the quality of my trips would have been significantly attenuated. (For example: How would I have bought a train ticket in Wuxi without being able to make the transaction in Mandarin? Paid several times more for the local CITS people to buy one for me, I guess.) I always thought that people coming right up to service personnel in France, Italy, Hungary, etc. and immediately speaking fast English were being rude. "Good afternoon [or whatever]. Do you speak English?" is something anyone can learn in any language. I remember the smile I got from a young woman in a tourism office in downtown Budapest by saying that in Hungarian. It's respectful, and guests should behave respectfully.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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i am lucky enough to live in Montreal, so life is an ongoing French lesson. :laugh:

but the person who started with the "je voudrais..." suggestion is right that a little politeness goes a long way. in addition to what's been mentioned:

"bonne fin de semaine" = have a nice weekend (said on friday, of course... :smile: )

"a vous de meme" = the same to you

"je vous remerci infiniment" = thanks so very much

"de rien" = it was nothing

"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the ocean."

--Isak Dinesen

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Wow! Thank you all so much for your thoughtful replies.

I almost half expected to get laughed at with my concern over speaking the language. It sounds like almost everyone on this went through something similar at some point...

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I have just returned from 3 weeks in France where I greatly enjoyed practicing my Aussie accented Franglaise on the locals, which was learnt 20 years ago. But I was dismayed on many occasions to find that particularly in Paris the locals immediately broke into English without giving me a chance to further botch their language. In every case I am sure they appreciated my efforts, but I would have prefered more opportunity to labour on and learn.

One cab driver in Burgundy gave us a discount due to our efforts to speak the language, and the opportunity afforded to him to polish his English a little.

I did find that my 'transactional' French in markets, restaurants etc improved rapidly and one quickly learns the general structure of the process - 5 or 6 basic phrases is sufficient.

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Can't say I blame them. At the risk of raising the spectre of the whole argle-bargle about pure language vs. language as living breathing evolving entity, I still find it jarring to hear (or to say) "beuh, ouais, j'ai fait mon planning pour le weekend." :unsure:

(Hmmm - that wasn't clear. "beuh, ouais" sounds fine to me, I'm afraid, though the Academie would cringe - it's the "planning" and the "weekend" that make me jumpy.)

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"bonne fin de semaine" = have a nice weekend (said on friday, of course...  :smile: )

In France, they never use this term anymore-- they now say "Bon Week-end!" They also use the terms "Parking" and "Shopping" in France. I have heard, however, that in Canada they still use the non-anglosized words.

(The Académie Française is still worked up about this!) :wink:

Edited by menton1 (log)
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I speak French passably and it certainly helps when visiting France. My food vocab isn't that great though and I found this Gastronomical Dictionary very helpful on my last trip to Paris.

Most women don't seem to know how much flour to use so it gets so thick you have to chop it off the plate with a knife and it tastes like wallpaper paste....Just why cream sauce is bitched up so often is an all-time mytery to me, because it's so easy to make and can be used as the basis for such a variety of really delicious food.

- Victor Bergeron, Trader Vic's Book of Food & Drink, 1946

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Just thought I should share a fabulous link to the French-word-a-day website. The author is an American expat who lives in the South of France now. She sends out a "daily word" in French and gives a gret translation to the English translation. You then get a little "day in the life" as well as some other information. I've been subscribed now for about four months and I love it (and it's free!) Her site is www.French-word-a-day.com I hope you guys like it...

Laura Langlois-Zurro

http://movingtoargentina.typepad.com/

"People who know nothing about cheeses reel away from Camembert, Roquefort, and Stilton because the plebeian proboscis is not equipped to differentiate between the sordid and the sublime."

Harvey Day

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sapphos--thanks for the link. Here's another cool newsletter:

My Mercredi

Comes out (you guessed it) every other Wednesday--written by an expat who gives a roundup and opinion of things Parisian and French. The last one (back copies can be read at the link above as well) had a nice piece about chocolate in Paris.

:smile:

Jamie

See! Antony, that revels long o' nights,

Is notwithstanding up.

Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene ii

biowebsite

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I subscribe to both. I hope you'll buy Kristin's little book, "Words in a French Life"

very charming.. Only something like $14 including postage, I forget exactly.

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly....MFK Fisher

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I speak French passably and it certainly helps when visiting France.  My food vocab isn't that great though and I found this Gastronomical Dictionary very helpful on my last trip to Paris.

No French person would concede that I speak any kind of passable French. However, my menu French is close to 100%. :biggrin: I would suggest that anyone who anticipates visiting France start by studying Julia Child and become fluent in a couple of dozen polite phrases. This and a passport will serve you well. :laugh:

eGullet member #80.

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It's always nice to speak a bit of the language in a country you're visiting - but a little won't help you with a complicated menu. A friend of mine wrote a series of books quite a few years back - Ellison's Menu Readers (from various countries - including France). They're reasonably comprehensive - and very compact (will fit into a pocket or a purse). They're also out of print - but you can pick up a copy on Alibris. Robyn

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"Ca, c'est cuit comment?" ("How is that cooked?") helped me some with dishes that I didn't recognize and weren't in my little dictionary.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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"Ca, c'est cuit comment?" ("How is that cooked?") helped me some with dishes that I didn't recognize and weren't in my little dictionary.

An excellent line!

re: "little dictionaries", Wells' Gastronomical Dictionary, cited above, is one of the smallest and most comprehensive lists around. When she first published it, my husband copied it, page by page, reduced the size of the pages two or three times (using the reduction mode on our copier), stapled them together and presented me with a 4" x 6" booklet that easily fit in a small handbag, was unobtrusive at table and allowed us to tackle any menu. I no longer carry it with me, but do refer to it when we come across unfamiliar produce or fish in the markets.

eGullet member #80.

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"Ca, c'est cuit comment?" ("How is that cooked?") helped me some with dishes that I didn't recognize and weren't in my little dictionary.

If you speak French, that works fine, but I think you're going to get somebody in trouble with that line. 30 years ago, when I spoke no French at all, I asked something just like that of a French waiter, and he replied, very nicedly, "Ce sont des cuisses de pigeon farcis de leur fois, rôtis à four doux jusqu'à rosace avec des navets confites et blancs de poireau au miel." and I was no better off than before I started.

Having spent a lot of time eating in France, sometimes with people whose first time it is eating that food as well, I think that a better approach might be to learn the phrase and the concept "qu'est-ce que vous conseillez ?" (What do you reccommend?) The sentence that follows from the waiter usually starts with "Well, our specialty is..." and the dish that comes is usually wonderful. I know that some will balk that the diner might get a food he wouldn't normally order, but I have to tell the story of being in France with a very picky eater, someone who only ate hamburgers and chicken breasts, being stranded somewhere where what the chef served us was going to be the only food were going to have that day. And it just arrived. The only part of the description that my friend heard was "pâté de campagne" which he knew to be something like a meat-loaf. And as wonderful as that pâté was, it was plated alongside an unctuous, creamy pâté, and something else piled on toast, which he declared were vying as the two greatest things he had ever eaten in his life - and he insisted that I call them over to find out what they were. Of course, I had heard the description go by in rapid French and knew that one was "Mousse de foies de volailles", mousse of duck and pigeon livers, and the other was "toast aux abats" which turned out to be finely chopped sauteed duck livers and duck hearts.

Prior to that moment, not only had my dumbfounded friend never eaten a bite of either duck or pigeon in his life, he wouldn't even consider eating dark meat chicken! This was not lost on him, however. From that meal on he was a changed man. Now he asks "qu'est-ce que c'est vous conseillez?" and whatever they answer, whether he understands it or not, he orders it.

And I really do think that this is a great attitude with which to travel to France.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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The French-American food dictionary I mentioned long ago is A-Z of French Food, by Genevieve de Temmerman and Didier Chedorge, it’s 22E at Brentano’s (versus about $50 on Amazon.com) – it was revised in 2001 and is published by Editions Scribo Paris. My copy here cost 135 FF eons ago and I recall you could also order it from someplace in Connecticut. Right near it on the shelf at Brentano’s was a similar sized book called Marlings (?) Menu Master for France for 13E which looked interesting too. Regarding Fish translations, which is somewhere on this thread, there's another Zagat-sized book called McClane’s Fish Buyer’s Guide, AJ McClane, Owl Book, Henry Holt, NY, 1990 is my edition, which has most fish listed by their French (and English and Spanish) names in the index.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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"Ca, c'est cuit comment?" ("How is that cooked?") helped me some with dishes that I didn't recognize and weren't in my little dictionary.

If you speak French, that works fine, but I think you're going to get somebody in trouble with that line. 30 years ago, when I spoke no French at all, I asked something just like that of a French waiter, and he replied, very nicedly, "Ce sont des cuisses de pigeon farcis de leur fois, rôtis à four doux jusqu'à rosace avec des navets confites et blancs de poireau au miel." and I was no better off than before I started.

Your point is well taken. You do have to be able to understand the answer for the question to be worthwhile.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Prior to that moment, not only had my dumbfounded friend never eaten a bite of either duck or pigeon in his life, he wouldn't even consider eating dark meat chicken! This was not lost on him, however. From that meal on he was a changed man. Now he asks "qu'est-ce que c'est vous conseillez?" and whatever they answer, whether he understands it or not, he orders it.

:sniffle: Oh. I do so love happy endings!

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