Raconter des salades

salades_marche

Lies, lies, lies. Half truths, tall tales and outright fibs. Every time you turn around these days it seems a new one is revealed, from Russian hijinks to politicians (not) paying their taxes.

The French language is filled with colourful expressions and ‘raconter des salades’ is a delightful example. Why one would tell salad tales to spin a yarn is not immediately obvious. Yet by gathering different ingredients and marinating them in a sauce, seasoning them with half-truths and jokes and then serving them up as fresh and healthy…it begins to make sense.

When you think about the meaning of the word ‘salade’ it becomes even clearer. Whereas in English a salad is a dish, in French it is also a lettuce or any of the various leaves that compose such dishes. What duplicity!

‘Salade’ the leaves are many indeed. Growing up in Canada in the ice age of the 1960s, iceberg was the only lettuce we knew. Along came the 70s and we discovered romaine (Hail, Caesar!) and in the 80s the advent of the spinach salad. (Raw spinach? In a salad!?!)

Arriving in France I was amazed by the number and varieties of lettuce and other leaves that people ate raw or dressed with different types of vinaigrette. From mesclun to watercress, frisée to lola rossa…the sheer variety was extraordinary. This image gives you an idea. (How did I never realize that dandelions are literally dents-de-lion, lion’s teeth?)raconter-une-salade

Perhaps most amazingly, there were salads served in restaurants that contained few or no leaves at all: salade de crudités with a variety of raw veg; salade Niçoise, with green beans, potatoes and tuna; salade Grecque with its chunks of feta, tomato and olives. When we moved to Lyon I discovered the salade Lyonnaise with its lovely runny egg and smoky lardons. The frisée lettuce served with this one can make it challenging to consume politely, without splattering vinaigrette or wending one’s knife.

I love salads, and not just because they are good for you. There are lemony carottes rapées (that’s grated, not raped because, let’s face it, if anyone is going to do the raping it is the carrot) and betterave (Better ‘ave ‘em? Beets me!) with lovely mâche and walnuts. As I shared in a previous post, the secret is in la sauce vinaigrette.

Pardon my use of so many silly puns, but is that not in keeping with the telling of salads?

What’s your favourite kind of salad?

Un froid de canard

froid-de-canard

Suddenly, it’s winter here in France. Which means it’s cold enough for ducks.

One of the eternal mysteries of life is why winter always feels colder here than in Canada. Is it the damp, perhaps, or the fact that we are less prepared for the subzero chill? Could it be because the houses are not as well insulated or our coats not as warm?

All I know is that il fait un froid de canard and – pardon my French – we are freezing our tits off. My own personal theory is that we need some snow. All that bright white will soon have us feeling warmer. Take it from a Canuck.

The arrival of snow in France is an annual event that is almost as talked-about as the great migration to parts south and coastal in the summer. Not of ducks but of French holiday-makers.

I’ve posted before about how snowstorms will trump (pardon my French again!) just about all other breaking news. So far we’ve avoided that disaster but the mere suggestion that a few flakes might be falling this week has required live updates and lengthy analyses by meteorologists. When something happens in France, no matter what the cause, an explanation must be found, and if possible a guilty party. The weatherman shook his head and pointed with consternation to the cold front coming in over the Balkans from Russia. Aha!

To the other burning question: why do the French associate the sudden onset of cold weather with ducks? I am happy to be able to clear up that mystery: it seems that our quacking friends come out of hiding when the temperature drops, leaving the open waters for the hinterland and giving hunters a clear shot.

Poor ducks. Well, at least if they’re out flying they haven’t been confined and force fed to fatten up their livers for foie gras.

You have to look on the bright side.

la neigeAs I write this, snow has finally fallen and, conversely, my mood has lightened. Nothing like a bit of white stuff to keep the cold at bay. And the ducks.

What’s the temperature chez vous?

How do you feel about la neige?

Ça va?

Ca va?

This post is dedicated to the two little French words that just keep on going.

With these two words of vocabulary, you can say a great many things. You can ask if someone’s all right, in general or when they’ve hurt themselves (like Louis de Funès in the above pic), or expand upon them to create an entire conversation.

Ça va?

Ça va, merci. Et toi?

Ça va ça va. Et ta femme?

Ça va bien aussi.

Alors ça va. Bonne journée!

It’s extraordinary how much nuance can be expressed in those two words.

‘Ça va’, when said in a bright tone of voice, means happy. Ça va bien, super, or even super bien adds degrees of delight. If enunciated with an interrogation or a slight downward lilt, it can mean something less joyful. ‘Ça va pas trop mal’, means not bad, but could also mean not great either. When you get to ‘ça va pas trop’ or the ill boding ‘ça peut aller’, you know things are heading south. Until they stop all together.

Now despite our ups and downs, our strikes and our politics, things in France generally always go. Until they don’t go. Which is to say that most of the time ça va, until suddenly ça va pas. And then – Attention!

Ça va pas du tout aller là. Ça va vraiment pas du tout. Du tout du tout du tout!

When things stop going in France, watch out. There will be drama and sparks will fly. Couples divorce. Heads have been known to roll.

Usually after a dramatic episode of ‘ça va pas’ there will be a healing period of ‘ça va mieux’. Things are not fine but they are a bit better. They are going, which is infinitely preferable to not going at all.

‘Rien ne va plus’ (nothing more goes) was the title of a 1997 French film directed by Claude Chabrol about a couple of con artists. The title was inspired by the expression which is used in the world of casinos, about which I know nothing. Truly. But Google tells me this is what the croupier says when no more bets can be placed on the table.

Of course, you know that the ‘ne’ is usually dropped in spoken language. Just like you know that the word ‘ça’ is actually a contraction of the more formal ‘cela’. Some people prefer to say ‘cela’ to give themselves an educated air. Verging on the ridiculous, like the character infamously played by Thierry Lhermite in the French film classic ‘Le Père Noël est une ordure’.

C'est cela oui

As for the photo of Louis de Funès, it is from a 1966 film called ‘La Grande Vadrouille’. I’ve just learned it has been remastered and re-released. Not sure if it can be found anywhere to rent online but it’s out on DVD. I intend to watch it, both for the slapstick silliness that the French do so well and the wonderful scenes of 1960s Paris.

Alors toi, ça va?

Le leader sheep

Leader sheepThe other day I heard someone on the radio talk about le leader sheep. While I have lived here long enough to be able to recognize when the French speak franglais, it nonetheless took me by surprise. And the rather strange image of the leader sheep popped into my mind.

It’s funny because we tend to think of sheep as followers. If we hear about people behaving ‘like a bunch of sheep’ we will imagine them blindly following. Come to think of it, perhaps that’s what leadership is all about?

There is something endearing about the French use of English words. It’s as if certain concepts must be expressed in the original version as they simply do not exist in French. Business French is strewn with such jargon, sometimes to the point where it is difficult to know which language is being spoken. Some very funny examples were immortalized by the French minister Annick Girardin in an open letter to the business world, shared here.

I remember once asking a colleague: Surely there must be a French word for leader? “Oui,” she said. “Un meneur d’hommes.”

“Hommes?” I asked. But what about women? My colleague explained that ‘hommes’ in this context is meant in the broad sense (sorry, bad pun) to also include les femmes. Ah oui, bien sûr.

One of the reasons I like living in France is that the cult of the politically correct is slower to catch on here. They may not have a word for leadership but they are also less like sheep. Come to think of it, getting the French to follow anybody is a challenge.

Care to share your experience of leadership or leader sheep?

S’endormir sur ses lauriers

Z Frenchman clowns aroundI am not the only one in our family to make bloopers and blunders in an adopted language. My husband, aka Z-Frenchman, is the first one to laugh at his own English. In fact, he’s the first one to laugh at most things. A fine sense of humour is one of his best qualities and at least part of the reason why our marriage has endured these thirty years.

From the time we first met in Toronto, we have always communicated in my native tongue, or a version of it. My French skills were non-existent back then so English was the only option. It is very difficult to change the language of a relationship. Even after living in France for nearly twenty-five years, speaking French together still feels unnatural.

We English speakers find the French ‘r’ challenging and I remember at first getting it stuck in the back of my throat and sounding like I was choking when trying to say ‘rouge’. ZF, on the other hand, found it near impossible to say ‘squirrel’. There are a lot of squirrels in Toronto and it came up a lot. His rendition of it came out sort of all squished together like ‘skweerl’.

English is all about emphasis. Hitting the right syllable remains challenging for ZF even now – he will still put the emPHASis on the wrong syllABle. I described his attempt to tell me about visiting one of our wonders of the world in this post about pronunciation.

While shopping at St. Lawrence Market in downtown Toronto, he was once heard to say: “I take a leek!” That got a few smiles – and at least one anxious look.

The French say ‘take’ a lot as it is a translation of ‘prendre’, the verb used in French to describe anything you buy or order. Breaking him of the ‘take’ habit has been one of my life-long missions.

Another time he advised me: “Do not fall asleep on your bay leaves.” It only took me a minute to figure that one out, along with the French translation: “Don’t rest upon your laurels.” (Ne pas s’endormir sur ses lauriers).

Raising kids in a bilingual family like ours meant that somebody always got something wrong. Howls of hilarity regularly ensued when Daddy made a boo-boo in English, or Maman got something bass-akwards en français.

For the record, Saudi Arabia in French is Arabie Saoudite, not Saudi Arabite.

Most French people have trouble pronouncing English sounds like ‘th’, turning it into ‘z’. The aspirated ‘h’ is also a problem. For some unknown reason, however, ZF often removes them from where they should be and adds them where they don’t belong. Leading to greetings like: “’Ow h-are you?”

Difficulty enunciating certain vowel sounds can still get him into trouble. Piece and piss, sheet and shit are very different concepts.

Plurals are another challenge.

As the ‘s’ is so often silent at the end of words in French, he rarely finds it necessary to add it to the English. He will ask: “Would you like some chip?” Leading one of us to add the punchline: Just the one. Like the elusive ‘h’ he will add s’s where they don’t belong: “We’re out of cereals.” Or imply a plural: “Your hair are looking nice.” I have learned to enjoy the compliment, and keep the correction to myself.

Despite our comical moments, one of which is captured in this photo from our first winter in Toronto, communicating across the language gap has not always been a walk in the park. It makes it easy to misunderstand each other, but perhaps also makes us work a little harder to try and understand the other person’s point of view.

Et toi? What’s your funniest experience of French in English?