Chantal, une ado (adolescent) who speaks excellent English with virtually no accent, is just back from two weeks as a paying guest with an English family who promised une immersion totale in English living. She got more than she paid for. She’s fallen madly in love with her hosts’ teenage son! Proud of her linguistic skills, Chantal now uses them to decipher daily love letters from Archibald, sent by mél (also written mail, synonyms: courriel, e-mail. But not émail, which means enamel.)
Unfortunately, Chantal is about to be unappy in love. Like many teen-agers, she is a little fainéante (or more vulgarly, feignante: do-nothing, or lazy), so she only looks up the words she thinks she doesn’t know. If the English word looks like the French one, she assumes it means the same as well. Since about 70 percent of words in the two languages are similar or identical, she’s got a fair chance of guessing right. But this can be tricky. There are at least a thousand words which seem identical in our two languages, but actually (not actuellement, but réellement or more colloqually, en fait) they are what we all call “faux amis” (false cognates). In fact it’s the nearly bilingual who make the worst faux pas (false steps) because people assume they mean what they say — and understand what has been said to them.
Rank beginners are usually pardoned their innocent vocabulary errors. The Américaine who likes French food so much she frets that she’s becoming fate just gets a knowing smile for worrying that she’s “conceited” and draws a slightly broader grin if she announces after a big dinner that she’s pleine (drunk, or alternatively, pregnant, if you’re an animal), when she means “full.” For that, she should have said “j’ai bien mangé.” A novice is even forgiven for saying she has la morale basse (low moral character) instead of le moral bas (low morale or spirits).
Chantal’s moral is dans les chaussettes (down in her socks) when she shows me the print-out of Archibald’s latest. Regarde ! (Look!) In English, the expressions she has underlined are adoringly flowery. Archibald obviously has been at the thesaurus again. Little does he suspect that the same words in French make his declarations seem downright injurieux (insulting).
For me your visit was not just some risqué affair. I was being candid when I said I love you. My life has been altered by meeting you. The very thought of you intoxicates me. My affection grows day by day. I am going to dispose of my relationships with girls I knew before I met you, as evidence of my firm defiance of chauvinist conventions.
Ah, Chantal, you’re so versatile! If I am blessed enough to have you in my life , your fastidiousness and gregarious personality will surely help me achieve. Should we eventually marry, I’ll buy you an extravagant wedding dress with yards of chiffon and take you on a car trip around Europe for a honeymoon. We’ll have long discussions every night over dinner. I envision us living in luxurious affluence. We will have many adventures and use our talents to raise hardy children.
But bilingual love can be a murky business... this is what Chantal understood:
For me your visit was not just some risky business (affaire risquée). I was being naïve, ingenuous or idiotically credulous (candide) when I said I love you. My life has been changed for the worse (altérée) by meeting you. The very thought of you poisons me (m’intoxique). My illness (affection when used with intoxication) grows every day. I am going to keep at my disposal (disposer de) my relationships with girls I knew before I met you, as an obvious statement (évidence) of my mistrust (défiance) of nationalistic (chauviniste) agreements (conventions).Ah, Chantal, you’re so indecisive (versatile)! If I am wounded (blessé) enough to have you in my life, your tedious (fastidieuse) and sheep-like (grégaire) personality will surely help finish me off (m’achever). Should we possibly (éventuellement) marry, I’ll buy you a crazy (extravagant) wedding dress with yards of old rags (chiffon) and take you on a bus (car - a car is a voiture) trip around Europe for a honeymoon. We’ll have long quarrels (discussions) every night over dinner. I envision us living in lustful (luxurieux) crowds of people (affluence). We will have many casual love affairs (aventures), and wear out (user) our talents to raise impudent (hardi) children.
Your honest (loyal)
What a déception (disappointment)! Only a flip through the dictionary can save Chantal from a broken heart. For this is what Archie meant:
For me our love affair was not just sex. I was absolutely honest when I said I love you. Meeting you has changed my life. I‘m head over heels at the thought of you. I love you more every day. I’ve decided to cut off relations with all the women I knew before I met you, to show I’m not unfaithful like other men.
Ah Chantal, you do so many things well! If I have the good fortune to make my life with you, your meticulousness and outgoing personality will surely help me to be highly successful. If in the end we marry, I’ll buy you an extremely expensive wedding dress made of yards of sheer silk, and take you motoring around Europe for our honeymoon. We’ll have long conversations every night over dinner. I’ll make sure we live in wealthy elegance and comfort. We will have many exciting experiences, and employ our gifts to raise strong, healthy children.
Amuse-Bouche No. 28: Couples Troubles
by Julia Frey
Bilingual love can be a murky business...
©Julia Frey 2012