There’s just a certain, je ne sais quoi about the melodic sing-song nature of the French language.
Let me rephrase that.
There’s just a certain, je ne sais quoi about the melodic sing-song nature of the French language when spoken by someone who can actually speak the French language.
When you’re in high school and studying French as a graduation requirement, the cadence of dialogue resembles a choppy staccato more than a flowing ballad. The words don’t exactly ebb and flow in intensity with each inflection, rolling off the tongue like butter from the croissant that students are struggling to remember the gender of as they reenact an awkward café scene in front of their overly enthusiastic French teacher.
For my high school teacher, to teach our class was to teach us about a life she was meant to be living 3,000 miles away.
Madame was convinced she was born in France and not in Michigan, and to prove that she immersed herself in the culture of a country she had visited just twice. This love extended to not just her professional life, but also to a mullet, unshaved legs and children who could speak better French than half of Paris.
As high schoolers, our first goal was to learn the curse words, how to ask for the bathroom and how to proposition complete strangers to sleep with us. Our second goal was to convince Madame to throw French “rendezvous” with snacks and “French” movies.
Considering her children had the complete collections of both Babar and Madeline and that she took our desire for food as a desire to experience the culture hands-on, we had an alarming number of that more resembled a two-year-old’s birthday party.
The conversation was only marginally more advanced.
We were forced to endure workbook after workbook of conjugation and verbs, describe our mood and the weather with alarming frequency and take an unnatural interest in the lives of manically happy strangers talking on videos and tapes about how where they were going in their blue car on various days of the week.
While I got to the point in my studies where I could read and understand a great deal of French, my spoken attempts remained choppy at best.
Madame, who eventually refused to speak English after two years, would speak to us as if in song. The ebb and flow in intensity with each inflection lulled me into a false sense of security that the same thing would happen when I opened my mouth and attempted to reply.
Yet when I set out to join her in a duet of dialogue, the words seemed to stick in my throat. More cacophonic than melodic, I struggled in vain to tell her that I was going to the bibliotheque on my bike on Tuesday and that I was happy about the weather.
“Viola! Can I can write it down instead?
How about another Babar party?
I’ll bring the crepes.”
At any rate, I recently ran into Madame at the store. Twelve years later she was still rocking the mullet and still refused to speak English, but we did have a brief and friendly conversation.
I believe I either told her I was fine or that I was a car.
She appeared pleased and either told me it was great to see me again or that I was still —how do you say it in English?—a pathetic monolingual loser with no rhetorical rhythm.
Either way, je m’appelle Abby.
Ou sont les toilettes?
This post was in response to this week’s RemembeRED prompt:
Write about a time that rhythm, or a lack thereof, played a role in your life. And don’t use the word “rhythm.”