Lost in Translation?

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.

About Author

Annie is the producer of the Join Us in France Travel Podcast which you can find on iTunes or via your favorite podcasting App. Join her on Facebook: search for the Join Us in France Closed Group and ask to join one of the most active communities of Francophiles on Facebook.