My boss talks through his top lip.
This adds an extra delicious layer of difficulty to my daily struggle with the French language.
A normal everyday exchange goes a little something like this:
Me: ‘Nice weather today’
Him: ‘Plap plap, plappety plap plap sunny plap plap, plap plappety plap January plap plap plip plap plip brown. Plap, plap plap banana!’
I can’t complain too much about this, as he’s just trying to be nice and make conversation, but I really run into problems when I need to check with him when I am and aren’t working. I’ve managed to get it to the point – after verifying with my other colleagues, and checking the rota – where the response should be a simple yes.
This doesn’t change anything though.
Me: ‘So I finish at 12.30pm today?’
Him: ‘Plip plip plap, plappety plap plap, plap plap 12.30pm, plap plap small plap plap plip, plap candles PLAP! Plip plap, plop plap plip trousers plap plip plap brown plap plap plappety plop banana. Plap plap plap?’
(looks at his assistant to verify something, she looks at me, she talks mainly in vowels)
Her: ‘Oaui, oaui oaui, ooooooooa? 12.30pm, oaui oaui eh? Ooooaui ooooo, oaui. oaui oaui oaui, banana ‘
Me: (nodding head, waving hand like Obi-Wan Kenobi) ‘So I finish at 12.30pm, yes?’
Him:‘Plip plip plap, plappety plap plap, plap plap 12.30pm. Plip? Plap? Plop? Plappety plap plap, fish fingers? 12.30pm, banana plip plap plap‘
Her: ‘12.30pm, oaui oaui, ooooooooa’
Me: (backing away, nodding head) ‘Okay, 12.30pm. I’ll finish then’
Due to these exchanges so far I have turned up twice when I shouldn’t have done. Thankfully the plaps and plips are getting less and less as my ears adjust.
There’s been no improvement when I talk to my father-in-law though, as he also talks though his top lip. Except his top lip has a moustache.
Me: ‘How’s it going Andre?’
Him: ‘Mwaf, mwaf, mwaf mwaf cold mwaf mwaf mwaf mwaf mwaf, mwaf mwaf mwaf?’
Me: (smiling, nodding vaguely) ‘Great, yes’
I was back teaching my group of French retirees English last night. As it was our first class following the Christmas holidays I asked them to write a short piece about what they did during the festive season. Then – to make it more interesting – I mixed up the sheets, so that each person would end up with somebody else’s work. They then read out the piece they had been given, with the aim of the ‘game’ being for everyone to guess who had written what.
I won’t go into too much detail, or copy out everything that was written, however I thought I would share one piece in particular, as I found it to be humorous, quirky and very evocative of rural French life…
I love Christmas when it snows
But this year it was just raining
Like cats and dogs – but I have no dogs
So I can say it was raining like sheep and cats
Though sheep don’t mind the rain, but the cats do.
As for the other animals, the kids were very interested to see the rooster jump on the hen.
Suddenly they understood everything…
Personally I never know when to politely enter a conversation with French people. I feel like a novice driver trying to join the roundabout of the Champs-Élysées. The French people in the English class I go to on Monday evenings don’t half like to interrupt conversations though. They just jump straight in whenever they feel like it.
Case in point last night at class. The aim was to go round the group (approx 15 people) and have each classmate speak a bit in English about what they did during the Christmas holidays, and once that was finished we would all then read a lengthy text at the end about Downton Abbey.
A lengthy text about Downton Abbey – and here was me thinking Christmas was over (that’s sarcasm BTW).
This all fell apart rapidly, because they insisted on cutting in and asking questions about the most minor of details when people were speaking.
Evelyn had a lovely Christmas. She spent time with friends and family. She had some lovely food. She saw in the New Year with her in-laws and her daughter. Her husband had to pick up their other daughter from Paris, as she couldn’t get home any other way due to the strikes. Evelyn also painted during Christmas.
This was how it was supposed to come out. How it actually came out was like this:
Evelyn: ‘I had a lovely Christmas with friends and family, and I painted…’
Pierre: ‘What did you paint?’
Pierre: ‘Did you paint a painting or a wall?’
Evelyn: ‘A wall’
Christine: ‘What colour?’
Evelyn: ‘errr, blue’
Bertrand: ‘What sort of blue?’
Evelyn: (struggling somewhat) ‘Strong blue’
Bertrand: ‘Strong blue? You mean dark blue?’
Evelyn: ‘errr no’
Christine: (pointing at Martine’s jumper) ‘Blue like that blue?’
Christine: (pointing at Isabelle’s scarf) ‘Blue like that blue?’
Bertrand: (pointing at the dark blue curtains ) ‘Blue like that?’
Evelyn: ‘Yes, a bit’
Bertrand: ‘That’s dark blue’
Evelyn: ‘Ok. And so after I painted…’
Bertrand: ‘What brand was the paint?’
It went on like this all evening. Every time someone would get a decent ‘flow’ going, somebody else would interrupt them.
The class was due to finish at 9.30 pm, however I had to excuse myself at 9.45pm.
They hadn’t even started reading the Downton Abbey text either.
I’m hosting a birthday party for my son.
First parent rolls up and deposits a kid.
We chit chat.
Then he looks at me, eyebrow raised quizzically à la Roger Moore – the universal parent’s sign for ‘What time shall I pick my kid back up?’.
‘Dix-sept heure’ I say.
‘Cinq heure?’ he replies.
I nod my head, mentally correcting my French lingo.
Parent two rolls up and deposits a kid.
We chit chat.
Then she looks at me, eyebrow raised quizzically à la Roger Moore – the universal parent’s sign for ‘What time shall I pick my kid back up?’.
‘Cinq heure’ I say
‘Dix-sept heure?’ she replies.
I nod my head, mentally screaming at the French lingo.
Parent three rolls up and deposits a kid.
We chit chat.
Then he looks at me, eyebrow raised quizzically à la Roger Moore – the universal parent’s sign for ‘What time shall I pick my kid back up?’.
I hold my hand up with five fingers splayed out, point at it and nod my head smiling.
Tune in next week to hear me moan as I try to work out when to say ‘des fois’ and when to say ‘parfois’
I sell things on eBay in France quite regularly.
It’s the same as in the UK really, except they don’t use decimal points, they use commas. This is a fairly easy thing to remember, but if you don’t know about it, you may end up nearly throwing your laptop through the window after your listing is rejected for the 12th time. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.
This frequent selling has led me to get to know the workers at my local post office quite well, especially Pierre. Pierre is a lovely friendly bloke in his mid-fifties, and was one of the first people in France to ask me to change from the ‘vous’ form to the ‘tu’ form.
I’m still waiting on my mother-in-law to ask me to do that.
I told Pierre to call me Phil, as I don’t like Phillip. I think being called Phillip is only good if you are being called it by your grandparents and, as I told him, they are all dead.
‘Ah yes!’ He said to me when I made this request ‘Like Phil Collins?’. I nodded my head at him, yes, just like Phil Collins.
But with more hair.
I nipped in the other day with a couple of eBay parcels to send off, and he dutifully attached the postage slips that I had already filled out, while I babbled on to him in my approximation of the French language.
Then two days later I received a message with a photograph attached from one of my buyers.
Receiving a message from one of your buyers on eBay is, generally speaking, never a good sign. I can count on one hand the number of buyers who have messaged me to say ‘This item is great, thanks so much!’ or ‘Thanks for the speedy dispatch, five stars!’. However the ones who have messaged me to complain would require the use of my hands and several others to count them.
I’m not saying I’m a bad seller, just that sometimes people have unrealistic expectations of what they have purchased, regardless of the lengths you go to to accurately describe the item. Like if you list something as ‘A big pile of junk’ with photographs highlighting the low quality of said junk, and point out how junky the junk is. Then they message you after receiving their junk and query why their big pile of junk is a big pile of junk. You get what I mean.
Also if you receive a message with a photograph attached forget it – you have a serious problem. If someone’s gone to the length of taking a photograph, and attaching it to an email then it’s not going to be of them smiling and wearing the jumper you’ve just sold them with a message saying ‘I LUVZ THIS JUMPER IT IS SO WARM AND SNUGGLY‘, equally it’s unlikely to be of the PS4 you sold them, slotted in next to their Orange Live box, with a caption stating ‘She looks beautiful next to my Orange LiveBox, I am going to give you a five star rating and PS I love you‘. No, that photograph will be exhibit ‘A’ in their case as to why they don’t like what you sold them, and why they want their money back now, please (please is optional – some people jump straight to swearys).
Turns out item one – which sold for around forty euros – had gone to buyer ‘A’ and item two – which sold for nearly four times that price – had gone to buyer ‘B’. This was a problem.
Thankfully both buyers were more than patient and polite, and both agreed to send the items back to me so that I could then swap them over, and send the correct item to the correct address. I of course apologised to them both profusely.
This had never happened to me before. Maybe I was getting old and forgetful?
Then I received the items back and realised what had happened. You see I always write the address down on the packages twice, once on the actual packages themselves, and then on the delivery note that is attached to it, kind of an insurance policy in case one of them falls off/is made illegible in any way.
The parcels each had the correct address written on them, it was simply the labels that had been attached incorrectly.
I explained this in a lengthy email to the two buyers, however I also stated that it was still my fault. You see I realised what the problem had been. It wasn’t that Pierre had mixed them up that was really the issue. Well, it was, but it wasn’t his fault.
No, the fault lay with the Englishman that had kept up an unending stream of French gibberish while he was trying to do his job, evidently causing him to become so distracted that he hadn’t been able to pay enough attention to what he was doing, and so had put the wrong labels on the packages.
I’ve re-posted the items and received the feedback and everybody is happy – albeit I’m out of pocket a few quid. I haven’t told Pierre about this mix up though, and I doubt I ever will.
However in future I’m going to wait to start talking ‘French’ to him until AFTER he has labelled up my packages.
I’m also going to buy him a bottle of wine for Christmas.
As well as a large box of headache tablets.
The missus has been working away a lot recently, last week in Birmingham in the UK and this week in Cannes in France. Birmingham to Cannes – that’s roughly the equivalent of one week in a Thailand prison vs one week in a…well, one week in Cannes.
This working away malarkey has led to me being on my own-some with the kids. Or should I say ‘kid’. You see at the moment my daughter is going through a somewhat annoying phase where she prefers the company of females. This is despite me raising her for the last six years. Therefore, to avoid unnecessary upset (for both her and myself), when my partner works away she stays with her grandma – or ‘mamie’, as they prefer to be called in France.
If I’m honest I really can’t complain too much, after all as anyone reading this who is a parent will know – or anyone with half a brain cell for that matter – one kid is much easier than two. I do still miss the kisses and cuddles at bedtime though, I’m not a completely cold-hearted monster.
So I’ve have had lot more time recently to spend just with my son, and this has led me to reflect on how similar we are to each other. It’s something that’s been pretty obvious for the last few years – or maybe since ‘day one’ if I really think about it – but these last few days have really hammered it home.
He loves reading, he loves having a laugh, he loves video games, he loves to draw, he loves films, he daydreams (a lot) he’s annoying, he whines (a lot) , he’s lazy (very) and sometimes I suspect he wouldn’t be able to find his glasses if they were sat right on the end of his nose. He’s also got a very high-pitched voice that can cut through any other conversation with all the effortless precision of a dentist’s drill.
Yup. He is me.
Obviously not all those characteristics still hold true for me. I’m nowhere near as lazy as I was when I was younger, but this is something that we often lose as we get older. Well, some of us anyway (I’m specifically thinking of my father here, who wouldn’t get out of bed even if his house was on fire, and whose catchphrase was ‘No’, usually in response to the question ‘Can you help me with *insert generic favour here*’ but more often in response to the question ‘Are you physically active?’.)
He even sits to read the same way that I do – curled up in a corner, one legged crossed over the other, completely lost in a far-away world. We both enter creative ‘fugues’ as well now and again – him much more often than me. This is where he becomes obsessed with creating some new thing, drawing some new creature or painting some new portrait. He will not be distracted from his goal until he is spent/it is finished (whichever comes first).
This, obviously, leads us to my daughter. Who is a perfect clone of her mother.
Organised. Strong-minded. Laid back. Friendly. Easy going. Mature.
Yes, unfortunately with this one I think a little bit of me slipped in during the ‘cloning procedure’.
Apart from that though, she is just a mirror image. 2/5 scale size mini-mum, if you like. This also means that she has a tendency to mother her older sibling, something that he used to find annoying, but which he is relying on and appreciating more and more (see: lazy.) Needs his shoes? His sister brings them. Needs more tomato ketchup on his chips? It’s already in her hands. His glasses are dirty? She’s cleaning them. Getting picked on by a bigger kid? She’ll beat them up for him (this last one is a joke, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be true one day.)
Yes, we’ve cloned ourselves quite effectively, and can see ourselves in our kids each day. More and more as they get older.
He has blonde hair though.
Just like our old milkman did back in England.
I’m just saying….
Bit of before and after malarkey. I’ve got my exercise equipment set up in my garage and I got tired of working out in a gloomy, cobweb-infested cave, so decided to give it a face-lift.
I’ve fitted a material ceiling and will see long-term how that works out with regards to insects/dust but it gives it a fresh, airy look for now. If when I am doing pulls up I come back down with a face full of arachnids then I will fit a proper ceiling.
Hanging/floating chair in place so that me or the missus have a nice quiet place to come and read/nap/avoid kids.
Strip lighting in various places for when I’m working out at night/evening as the current one bulb is not up to the task of illuminating the whole room.
Picture is there so that while doing curls I can escape in my mind to a sunny place and imagine myself diving off the deck into the cool, fresh water (5 Euro in the reduced section of Aldi’s shit aisle). Took me a couple of weeks just doing the odd hour here or there, see what you think to the results … (apologies for quality of pics, I have a pauper’s phone).
All I ever seem to do at the moment is say negative things to the kids. And I don’t mean I’m just hurling abuse at them and saying nasty things – well, perhaps a bit. No, I mean all I’m ever saying is ‘no’ or ‘stop that’ or ‘give up’ or ‘put that down’ or…
The problem, for us anyway, is that they refuse to learn by their mistakes, so instead of understanding that what they have done is wrong, followed by them stopping doing it, they just do it again. It may not be that exact day, but they will inevitably repeat it.
Hitting each other, leaving rubbish everywhere, not doing what they are told, hitting each other, not tidying their rooms, interrupting people when they are talking, fidgeting ALL THE TIME, talking too loudly, being disrespectful, hitting each other…
I’ve been working a lot recently, in a travel and tourism office, and so my partner has had the kids to herself full time at the weekends, as tourism offices have family-unfriendly hours. This has led to her experiencing what I am only too familiar with: being bored by the sound of your own voice.
It’s generally after lunch that it hits you, after you have spent all morning with the kids, telling them to stop doing whatever it is they shouldn’t be doing. You sort of step outside of your body and start hearing what you sound like: a stuck record. A stuck record that just drones on and on and on in a Yorkshire accent.
I know some people may be thinking things like ‘why don’t you try to be nicer’ and ‘it’s your own fault’ and ‘what’s Yorkshire?’. And I wish I could be nicer and I know it’s my own fault to a degree, but I’m just not that sort of a parent. Oh and Yorkshire is a county in England.
Sometimes I see ‘positive reinforcement’ parents babbling away at their kids, in soothing tones, talking about ‘unkind words’ and ‘unkind hands’ and calling their kids things like ‘angel’ and ‘darling’ and ‘sweetheart’, and I want to be them.
But then I see their kids kick them in the knees two minutes later, before running away after refusing to eat their fruit-based-snack and I realise that they are just the same as I am. They are just fighting the natural order of things. But they will learn, they will turn to the dark side once Tarquin or Felicity has drawn ‘Mummy is a Dog’ on the wall in their own faeces.
I wonder if there will ever be a day when I get through a full 24 hours without shouting at my kids, a blissful day of no arguments, and no fighting. But that day will never come to pass, and I know why.
Because they are my kids, and they have my spirit flowing through them – and I was an even bigger dick in my day than they are.
And you know what, after all that moaning that I’ve just made you read? I don’t think I would really want to have it any other way…
…OK, maybe a quiet Saturday morning once a year would be nice. One can but dream…