The historic district of Montreal is called, aptly enough, Old Montreal. We walked its streets today on an absolutely perfect day, weather-wise, with temperatures in the mid-70s and a bright blue sky. The district is filled with scenic Old World vistas, cobblestones, and quaint brick and stone buildings. Mix in the fact that most of the people here are speaking French, and you begin to get the idea of just how exotic and wonderful this little corner of Canada is.
I’m going to be spending some time in France in a few months, so I’ve decided to brush up on my French language skills. Actually, calling them “skills” isn’t quite accurate — unless the meaning of “skills” can be stretched to include a capability that really doesn’t exist. I can read a little French, and I remember that jambon means ham, but that’s really about as far as it goes.
I took French in junior high school, in high school, and at OSU until I met my language requirements. Despite these years of patient instruction, I never moved past the most basic levels. Not surprisingly, my French class memories don’t involve having rapid-fire conversations with proud and dazzled teachers. Instead, I remember trying to get some “extra credit” by helping my high school French teacher decorate her classroom for Christmas. To my befuddlement, she wanted me to hang up the letters of the alphabet. After I did so, she asked me if I got the reference. When gave her a confused look in response, she gestured at the letters, barked out a short Gallic laugh, and said “No L!” I shrugged at this weak example of French humor, then remembered that sophisticates in that country considered Jerry Lewis a genius.
In college, our pleasant if somewhat beefy French instructor wanted to give the class an example of the importance of precise pronunciation. She explained that, during a recent visit to Paris, she was being pestered by a beret-wearing, cigarette-smoking man. She meant to dismiss him with a gruff cochon, which means pig, but instead she said couchons, which unfortunately suggested a desire to do the horizontal bop. She then barked out a short Gallic laugh as the members of the class snickered at her embarrassing predicament. The only other things I remember from my college French classes are that we students thought mangez mes sous-vetements, which means “eat my shorts,” was a hilarious insult even though the exasperated teacher pointed out that the French never use that phrase, and we also put n’est ce pas? at the end of every conceivable statement because it at least ended our halting sentences with a smooth closing.
So, trying to get up to speed on French in a few months is probably futile — especially since studies indicate that trying to acquire new language skills becomes more difficult with age. I’m going to try anyway. I’ve reserved some French language instruction CDs from the library and am going to listen to them on our morning walks. I’m starting with French for Dummies. The title is a bit insulting — but it’s probably accurate, n’est ce pas?