Suz – a self-described Francophile writes about her lifelong desire to speak French. Suz lives in the states with (who she calls) her half French husband. Their running joke is – her next husband with be full French.
Lost in Translation?
When ma belle-mère, Colette told me this summer “Don’t order a wine”, I just smiled. I should start by saying that over the last 30 years, I’ve said to my husband a thousand times “I know that your mom didn’t mean to be rude, but…”
I can’t tell you how many times, she has said things to me that if someone else heard them they would cringe. But, I’ve learned that it’s just – what I’ve come to call lost in translation or LIT. Over the years I’ve watched for this in other non-native English speakers, and it really exists. It’s hard to describe, but in a nutshell as good as her English is, the little subtleties that occur in a language are LIT. You can translate words, but trying to translate a subtlety is extremely difficult if not impossible. I’m sure I’d have the same issue if I spoke French or another language, but I don’t – cause oh – I can’t but I’m trying.
“Don’t order a wine” Colette said as we walked out of the house one afternoon heading downtown to people watch. “Quoi” I said. “Don’t order a wine, they’ll think you’re a drunk” she responded. I’m sure the look on my face prompted her follow-up. “French people don’t drink wine in the afternoon – they’ll think you’re a drunk” she grinned. “Okay… then what should I order?” I said. “A Panache” she grinned.
Now, this is not my first or second or even third trip to France. I’ve been to France many times; I’ve been to French gatherings, restaurants, homes, etc… It’s different but it’s not that different. I’ve never been uncomfortable and I don’t ever recall anyone ever being rude to me. I usually just follow along and I’ve never had any problems. So, as I explain this, I don’t want it to sound like she was trying to school me in French etiquette. She wasn’t. She was really just trying to say “have a great time”. No for real, that’s all she meant. Don’t read into it. There was no sarcasm intended. She just wanted us to have a nice time and of course to subtly remind us that the French don’t drink wine in the afternoon. LIT at its finest.
When my daughter was born I planned on naming her Danielle. Until the day I got a letter in the mail from Colette that said “I guess a name like Jennifer just wouldn’t be good enough for you guys”. What she really meant was – she liked the name Jennifer and she was tossing it out there as an option. My daughter’s name is Jennifer.
Just so you know, I personally would not have ordered a wine in the afternoon. Normally I would have ordered a grand crème to wake me up and my husband would have had a Belgian beer. But, this day I ordered a Panache.
Believe me there have been times that I’ve shaken my head thinking – wow that did not come out very nice. But there’s never any ill intent. It’s merely LIT.
I’ve learned to listen for what she is not saying – rather than to what she is saying. And it’s always with love and good intentions.