by Mad Dog
Theres a government board here, The
Institute to Make Our Life More Miserable Than It Already Is, that sits around and invents
French words to take the place of offensive English ones.
|| Its getting
time to shut things down here in St-Malo and head back to the states. Not just because
its a quiet, sleepy town and Im an adrenaline junkiethough that
certainly enters into the equationbut because Im on the cusp of being accepted
as a St-Malouin and, well, thats a scary thought.
other night Vincent and I went to the Teddy Bear, a restaurant wed been to twice
before. The first time I didnt want to go there. After all, I didnt travel
5,500 miles (or beaucoup kilomètres) to eat in a restaurant named after an
Elvis Presley song. The least they could do is Frenchisize it like they do everything
You see, the French abhor the idea of anything English working
its way into the language. Right, like the idea of anything or anybody English working is
reasonable. Just the same, theres a government board here, The Institute to Make Our
Life More Miserable Than It Already Is, that sits around and invents French words to take
the place of offensive English ones. Of course the French, who hate to be told what to do,
ignore them. But the MOLMMTIAI persists, though sometimes a little half-heartedly, which
is why week-end is the French word for weekend and pique-nique is picnic,
the cute spelling and hyphens being just enough (un petit peu) to make them purely
Another thing they do is add Le or La in front
of something, which instantly makes it French. Theres a bar in St-Malo called Le
Nashville Saloon. Seriously. And I saw one in Paris named Le Waikiki. Both, by
the way, are as French as the Teddy Bear, which if it would comply with the
MOLMMTIAIs ruling would show a little nationalistic pride (after all, Chauvin was
French you know) and rename itself Le Teddy Bear. At least then Id feel
better when I ate my steak tartare there.
An older man offers me a sample of some cake,
and in respectable English says, "Welcome! We like the English here in
Brittany." I was going to tell him I was American but why ruin the Kodak moment?
|| Anyway, as
Vincent and I were leaving the other night several waitresses went out of their way to
tell us "Bon soirée" when we left. Here in the Land of Structured
Formalities bon soirée is a much friendlier farewell than the common bon soir,
though not nearly as friendly as "Vous êtes mignon. Vous devez nous visite à la
maison." (Youre cute. Why dont you come home with us.).
The very next morning I went to the Saturday marché by the church and ran into my
landlady who offered me a ride home. Then the guy who sells escargots (which I bought the
last time I was there) smiles, waves, and asks how I'm doing. A few minutes later I stop
at a booth and buy some chèvre, where an older man who just bought some cheese
offers me a sample of some cake, and in respectable English says, "Welcome! We like
the English here in Brittany." I was going to tell him I was American but why ruin
the Kodak moment?
Its amazing how easy it is to get acclimated to another
culture. Its become perfectly natural to see signs and posters and newspapers and
cereal boxes in a language I dont understand. The sound of people speaking French
all around me somehow sounds very normal. I hear a familiar song on the radio and stop to
listen, for a moment not sure if theyre singing in English or French, since many
rock songs are re-recorded in French, or at least partly. The truth is, most of the time
it doesnt matter which version Im listening to since I usually cant
understand the English lyrics any better than the French.
So Im thinking, "Maybe theyre
being unfriendly because I dont have a dog, which makes me an obvious outsider. Not
to mention morally suspect."
|| This isnt to say
that the average person on the street is being any friendlier. Even an act of Parliament
couldnt take care of that (though I suspect gene manipulation could). People
arent walking up to me and kissing the air next to my cheeks four times, which as
far as I can tell is dangerously close to a marriage proposal. And they still wont
look me in the eye for fear that Ill see a spark of a smile and report them to the gendarme.
But I have had something of an epiphany. All this time Ive been convinced that the
French are cold, rude, and unfriendly, but as Im walking down the digue the
other day it dawned on me that this isnt true. Its the dogs.
Yes, the dogs. They all have them, mostly small furry, yappy little creatures that look
more like Tribbles than dogs. (NOTE TO SELF: Check the dictionary to see if perhaps chien
actually means "annoying mop" and not "dog.") They walk them, cuddle
them, talk to them, and take them into restaurants, feeding them while they're perched on
the seat next to them. I dont want to know about the rest.
So Im thinking, "Maybe theyre being
unfriendly because I dont have a dog, which makes me an obvious outsider. Not to
mention morally suspect." But that cant be it, because not quite everyone has a
dog here. Its true! Ive actually seen one or two French people without dogs
and others not only spoke to them, but in a weak moment almost cracked a smile. I said,
No, it turns out the answer does have to do with the dogs, but
its not an ownership question. You see, dogs here shit anywhere they want. I swear
Ive seen people stop and applaud when a dog craps smack in the middle of the
sidewalk instead of over to one side ormon dieu!in the street.
"Merde," I mumble, then suddenly realize that
the people arent being unfriendly when they dont look me in the eye or they
ignore me completely. They have to look down all the time so they wont step
in the dog shit! I bet one time they forgot, looked up, saw an American, smiled at him or
her, and stepped right in the middle of a big fresh pile of dog doo, which not only
explains why they wont make that mistake again, but why it is they dont like
anything American. Well, besides McDonalds, of course.
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