I ran into an English friend, Matt Beer, the other day and asked how his French was coming along. Not so good, was the reply. It turns out that Matt, one of the funnier people I know, still finds it virtually impossible to be funny in French. Because I’m also one of the funnier people I know, I totally relate. I asked Matt to write a little something about that and here’s what he sent.
So the question remains--how does London’s greatest wit turn into Eygalières' village idiot and, perhaps more importantly, why was he so self-delusional in the first place?
The idiot is me and the question remains unanswered. Let me explain. I’ve now been living in France for over seven years and yet when it comes to speaking French--you know, the correct use of the past tense and pronunciation of the word “feuille”—I’m currently locked in an epic battle with my daughter’s pet hamster for the honorary title of “least conversant family member.”
When chatting away at a dinner party, once I’ve discussed how sunny it was yesterday, I’ve run out of conversation. Suffering from acute embarrassment, I invariably get nervous, over-react, bring up the issue of Vichy France and never get invited again.
The excuses? Well…
We only speak English at home--true except when the family want to verbally abuse me and speak in French.
I work solely with English-speaking clients--true except when the clients want to verbally abuse me and speak in French.
I have never been on a language course--true as I wanted to avoid the humiliation of being asked to redoubler.
I have absolutely no aptitude for languages--very true.
My wife has explained to me that when I listen to a song I hear the melody and not the words. She has the opposite problem. Sometimes we merge our skills, sing a song together and embarrass the kids. But, nevertheless, I do believe she has a point. I just don’t hear the language. Add in the Provencal accent and this particular Englishman is dead in the water.
So what to do? Answer--nothing. Just enjoy the hospitality offered to me by some wonderful French friends, never again mention Petain and try at the very least to keep up with the hamster.
Oh and for any French readers “Il faisait tres beau hier, n’est pas?”
Being a qualified divorce lawyer for 15 years, Matt Beer decided to divorce himself from reality and move from London to Provence. He continues to run a legal practice and is also a screenwriter for film and television. He lives in Eygalières with his wife, Annie, and their kids Zazie and Sam. He can be reached at: email@example.com.