Well after a brief (two months!) break for a variety of reasons including; partners working away in Paris (mine), expensive cruises (theirs), and Easter holidays (everybody’s) the English/French group was back last night.
For anyone who has forgotten (I wouldn’t blame you) this is the weekly group I attend where I speak French to a group of retirees, and they speak English to me – and we correct each other. Last night’s meeting revolved around another presentation by Christian, the retired something-or-other (I think he has told me, but I’ve forgotten, so I just imagine he used to be a lumberjack).
He was quite keen to show us a cruise around the Canary Islands, until we pointed out that he’d already showed us that a couple of months back. He seemed to disagree with this – even when I told him the name of the cruise ship he sailed on.
I think he just likes the Canary Islands.
So after he grudgingly accepted that we’d already seen it and – thanks but no thanks – didn’t want a repeat, he treated us to a PowerPoint presentation covering his trip to China in 2001.
Christian had travelled (by bus this time, cruise ships tend to struggle inland in China) through the country with five of his friends. I couldn’t work out who his wife was, and didn’t want to question the group…’dynamics’ for fear of causing offence, but they all seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Well, except for a dark haired lady who resolutely refused to smile – but there’s always one, isn’t there?
I pointed out the fact that some of the fashions appeared to be from 1991, as opposed to 2001 – and this seemed to greatly confuse the other members of the group, as they went off on a tangent about something else. I used the universal mime-symbol for massive shoulder pads, but they didn’t get that either.
It was a bit of an eye-opener to someone who has never been to China (me) seeing vast parts of the country that have remained relatively unchanged, for centuries. Using traditional methods that their forebears employed.
These traditional methods even extended to the bus that Christian and his chums were travelling on, as it had to navigate a slight ‘step’ in the road. To overcome this the bus driver used the traditional Chinese method of forcing the occupants off the bus to gather stones to create a ‘ramp’ for each wheel of the bus, so that it could pass over this hump. Then he employed the traditional Chinese method of making the travellers push it too.
I double-checked this with Christian – twice – and he said it did actually happen.
And you thought travelling on a bus in the UK was bad?
Christian also informed me that the Chinese – at this point in time – had still not seen many Europeans, so he and his friends were something of a novelty and they had lots of photos taken of them, with the locals, by the locals. I suggested that he should have charged 10 pounds for a photo, and 15 pounds for them to stroke his head. He responded – very seriously – that it was a win-win situation as they got to take photographs with the Chinese as well.
One of these weeks I am going to have the group discuss British humour – with an emphasis on sarcasm.
Littered here and there, as a subtitle on the photographs, was the term ‘long noses’. Apparently – and I’m just passing this on – this is the term the Chinese use to refer to Europeans. As I said, these photographs were taken in 2001, so they may not use this term any more. It was a new one on me anyway.
The odd spelling mistake cropped up throughout the presentation, I corrected most of them for him (not too many though, don’t want to annoy a possible-ex-lumberjack), with the most interesting one being where Christian had referred to a small street as ‘smalls street’. I explained to them – after correcting it – that ‘smalls’ in English referred to underwear. They told me the name for underwear for ladies (culottes) – which I knew, and men’s underwear, which I did not. For men in France underpants are referred to as a ‘slip’, which, I told them, was an exclusively female term in the UK, referring to a – and I struggled here with my explanation – somewhat sexy, sheer undergarment.
They immediately knew what I meant, and gave me lots of additional details.
The saucy devils.
The funniest correction of the night for me – and for the rest of the group too I’d say judging by the laughter – was learning that I had been calling my French teachers by the wrong name for the last few months*. I had been referring to them as ‘maîtresse’ when I should actually have been calling them ‘professeur’. Maîtresse is fine if you are a pupil, or you are referring to a pupil’s female teacher at a primary school in France. If you are an adult calling your teacher that at college, you are effectively calling them your mistress.
So that explains why my ‘professeurs’ kept laughing at me when I said this.
I’ve got three of them though, all ladies.
Not one of them has corrected me…
*Yes I also go to a French class twice a week, for two hours at a time. What can I say? I obviously like having a near-permanent headache. I love this language and all its crazy ways.