Changer de vitesse

Breaking news here in France this week is the government’s decision to reduce the speed limit on secondary roads from 90 to 80 km/h. That’s all roads without a central divider mostly outside of towns across the country. Now will come the tedious business of changing thousands of road signs from 90 to 80.

Macron’s government has had the good sense to say they’ll pick up the tab for the sign change, sparing us the otherwise massive public outcry that would follow if the local taxpayers had to pay for it.

There’s still a lot of crying going on. If the French have one value, it is the right to go fast. When they can. Which is not often. But once they’re outside of urban areas, and unstuck from the frequent traffic jams, they treasure their right to gun it and make up for lost time.

This approach applies to much of life here. That characteristic gear changing, from foot-draggingly slow to all-systems-go fast, is one of the things I had the hardest time adapting to when we moved to France. It applies to so many areas of life that you simply have to get used to it. There are times when we do nothing but wait, and there are times when we move ahead at the speed of light. C’est ainsi.

Changer de vitesse – to change gears – is a skill I had to learn on many levels. From driving a car with a standard transmission to switching languages from my mother English tongue to the French way of formulating thoughts. To accepting that when we go, we go. When we stop, we stop.

I’ve gotten better at switching gears but it’s still not my forté (which, by the way, the French don’t say despite that little accent – the expression is rather: ‘ce n’est pas mon point fort’).

We are still gearing up from a very slow period following a fabulous family vacation in Curaçao. It was a wonderful way to spend Christmas, to ring out the old and ring in the new. But like probably every other island in the Caribbean, things move slowly. It took me no time at all to gear down to the slower pace of island life. Watching the waves roll in and out, the birds singing, the iguanas in the leaves, happily waiting for that piña colada.

But coming back is another story. We had a good rest and filled up on sunshine, so the body is more or less willing. My mind, however, is still five hours behind. It didn’t help that our return was a bit delayed.

Our flight circled for too long over Geneva, where the winds were very high and we were bumping around through the clouds for ages. When we finally began our descent, everyone on board was quietly relieved. Then, just as we saw the familiar approach across the lake and mountains, up we went again through the clouds. A few white-knuckled moments later, the pilot announced that he had aborted the landing due to wind shear. We were rerouted to Lyon, and finally made it home by bus some four hours later. Happy to be home safe.

When it comes to speed, I’m all for going a little slower. Yes, it’s annoying when things take longer than they should. And okay, they’ll probably enrich the state coffers with a few more speeding tickets. But hey, there’s no denying that it will save lives. And gas. And we’ll get there, sooner or later.

How has your new year begun? Are you in high speed or gearing up after the holidays?

Téléphone maison

For me Christmas is about being with family. Like ET, I want to phone home. But when half (in our case, the bigger half) of your family is on the other side of the Atlantic, you have to make choices. I’ve posted before about feeling pulled in different directions when it comes to the year-end celebrations.

“What if we just forgot about Christmas and instead went somewhere warm by the sea?”

The idea came up when visiting Toronto last year. For once, how about we just forget the turkey and the tinsel and pack a suitcase instead? We have to pack anyway, and spend several hours on a plane, so why not indeed?

This year we are heading to Curaçao, along with several members of my Canadian family. It is a bit of a one-off. Never before have I been so close to South America. Never before have I spent Christmas in a sunny destination. I am curious as to whether I’ll miss the snow (but I rather think not…) but I am sure of one thing: it will be memorable. And the older I get, the more I realize that life is all about making memories.

I am saddened that we could not get everyone in my family to come but heartened that my Dad, who recently celebrated his 85th, will be joining us. House and home in France along with our ménagerie of bulldogs and cats will be cared for by our reliable service of travelling seniors who come to stay while we’re away (a wonderful concept for anyone here who needs a pet-sitter by the way — if you’re interested, ask me for details).

Wishing you all a wonderful end to 2017, wherever you are, filled with love and joy, and a bright start to the new year. Looking forward to catching up again in 2018!

Holiday hugs and grosses bises à tous mes blogging buddies!

 

Faux amis

Anyone who has ever tried to speak another language will have had an encounter with les faux amis – those foreign words that appear to be all friendly and dressed in familiar clothes but turn out to be perfect strangers.

False friends are easy traps to fall into when you begin learning French. They offer a tempting short-cut to new vocabulary, although they rarely mean what you think they do. Ancien is not ancient, monnaie is only one type of money, and you must realize that réaliser means to achieve something. Achever may just finish you off.

At first I felt cheated: it was simply not fair that all the French words I thought I knew by osmosis were virtually useless. Not only was it a waste, I had to learn them all over again. And how unsporting of the French to change the meanings of their own words! It was as if they did it on purpose to confuse us foreigners.

Once I got past this rather childish fit of pique (itself another example, the French word pique meaning not temper but a cutting remark), I was able to get on with the business of learning to speak French — the real language and not some ideal in my head.

My first clue that the faux amis could also be my friends came one day when, in a moment of weakness, I began to cry. They were tears of pure self pity. From not understanding. From being misunderstood. From feeling like a fish out of water.

“Poor sweetie, you are very sensible,” my Frenchman said.

“Sensible?” I sniffed. “What’s sensible about crying?”

“You shouldn’t get upset so easily.”

So I learned that sensible means sensitive. It didn’t seem very sensible to be so sensitive but there it was. It was reassuring somehow to know that the false friends could strike in both languages. And it gave me a strategy for figuring out new vocabulary.

There was also that memorable occasion on which I informed my French mother-in-law that in my country, they put préservatifs dans le pain. Yes, that really happened. But no, if you need a condom don’t go looking for one in a loaf of bread.

This post is in response the WordPress Daily Prompt ‘jolly’. Jolly is a false friend of the French word, joli or jolie in the feminine, which means pretty. Sometimes the two meanings intersect but it is far from a rule. Take Angelina Jolie. She is surely pretty – beautiful even – but rarely appears to be very jolly.

With the holidays upon us, there is often a good amount of both in the air. There is nothing prettier than a fresh layer of snow and our spirits are high as we prepare to ring out the old. And a rose, that jolliest of blooms, is a rose and is still a rose in French. All dressed in her winter coat.

 

Muet

‘Tis better to be a vowel than a consonant if you want to be heard en français.

In French, while the likes of r’s, s’s and t’s are often silent, every vowel is given a voice. Thus the word for mute – muet – is pronounced ‘mew-ay’.

Two voices that defined French culture have gone silent this week. The news arrived as death often does: seemingly out of nowhere, then one after another.

First was Jean d’Ormesson. The 92-year-old ‘immortel’, as members of the Académie Française are known, was a larger-than-life character and a bon vivant among the aged and wise members of that illustrious body responsible for governing the French language. This France 3 clip (in French for those who understand enough to enjoy it) is a portrait of the man in all his wit and personality.

Yesterday morning broke the news that we would no longer hear the voice of Johnny Hallyday, notre Johnny national, icon of French rock music and a personality as deeply engrained in the culture as les frites (not a bad analogy as Jean-Philippe Smet was born to a Belgian father). He was ‘only’ 74, far too young these days even for one who has led as wild a life as Johnny.

When I first came to France I scoffed at this so-called rock star, seemingly a throw-back to an outdated notion of rock and roll, more Chuck Berry than French Elvis as he is often dubbed abroad. Yet I came to appreciate Johnny’s fine voice, honed to a richness that somehow transcended time, and his unstoppable stage presence. Here is a clip of how he set the Eiffel Tower on fire (Le feu) back in 2000.

By the way, while no one will ever replace our Johnny, my application for a place on the Académie Française still stands.

La flemme

la flemme

This is me. Actually it is not me but our cat, Léo, lolling around after a night on the town. But it is how I feel. J’ai la flemme.

‘La flemme’ is when you feel lazy. When your bed beckons well after the time you should have left it. Or the TV remote tantalizes you from across the room. It’s when you just can’t be bothered to do something, no matter how much you know you should.

To have la flemme is very French. Not that the French are lazy, pas du tout. It’s just that they alternate periods of extreme activity with moments of pure paresse. Relaxation, holidays or just lounging around. It’s what saves their sanity.

I am this way by nature, and living in France for so long has certainly made it worse. Most days I get up and kick myself in the butt, have a military approach to sticking to schedules and deadlines all in order to avoid the encroaching flemme that wants to take over and subvert me into a life of sloth.

Perhaps it is fitting that I write of low energy and a lack of motivation today. It is the last day of November, a month that always makes me feel like death. December 1st will bring the promise of pristine slopes, the year-end holidays and a new start in 2018.

So just for today, like the cat, I’ll stretch out and enjoy a few moments of blissful laziness.

Do you ever give in to la flemme?