Friday, March 17, 2006

Le Système Numerique

I started studying French officially in the 8th grade. We had taken a class in 7th that gave us a few weeks of each of the four languages (German, Spanish, French and Latin) taught at our junior high. (They added Chinese, Japanese and Russian at the high school.) I fell in love with French--it seemed so logical and beautiful and rolled off my tongue so smoothly.

My french teachers were wonderful, and every class was exciting and encouraging. I competed in the National French Exam, and every year placed in the top 7. I practiced thinking in french as much as possible, and diligently drilled my days of the week, months of the year, numbers, alphabet, regular verbs, irregular verbs, imparfait and passé composé... I continued in college, after testing out of as much French as you could test out of, and earned a minor by simply taking 4 classes. 9 years went by, and I missed it, but there weren't many opportunities to speak or practice or enhance my french with a busy life as a Band Director, working with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony, giving private lessons, and having a social life.

Then, my husband began to look for post-doc positions, and found one. In Paris. I was so very excited--it was pretty much all I could think about for nearly a year. I planned and planned, and practiced and practiced, and couldn't wait for the day my feet would touch French soil.

As I've said before, when I arrived in France, it was different. The things I had carefully studied flew out of my head, and the things I didn't know were important became very much so. Idiomatic expressions, slang, and even tone of voice seemed more important than correct conjugations or the occasional "le" when there should have been a "la". After a few months, things had become easier, and my french seemed to be much improved. I no longer had to say, "Pardon?" fifteen times in every conversation, and my responses became automatic--no thinking necessary. I started receiving compliments on how "good" my french was from people I talked to, and all in all, I was quite proud of my accomplishments.

Last week, while preparing for my sister's arrival, I stopped at the cheese counter of the Monoprix on Avenue d'Italie. I scanned the windows to look for something new or special, and came across a cheese called "La Tête de Moine"--the Monk's head. It was cylindrical, with a hole through the center, and was topped with a cheese cutter than turned in a spiral. I asked to sample it (mainly to see how it was cut) and was very pleased to find that it was a delicious, flavorful cheese. I ordered some, and watched, fascinated, as the cheese lady turned the crank of the cutter, and lifted off the delicate "cheese flowers" that came from it. She remarked that they can be used to decorate a cheese platter, because they are so pretty.

After she had filled the little barquette (box), she looked back into the case to see the price. It was turned away from her, and was far in the front of the case, so she asked me to read it to her.

I stared at the numbers, and for the life of me, could not think of how to say them.


She looked at me, a gentle smirk on her face. I sighed, and in English said, very quickly, "Twelve ninety-five."

She laughed. C'est plus facile, non?**

Oui. C'est vrai. Absolument.***

*The french way to say 12.95 is "twelve four twenty fifteen." Really.

**"It's easier, no?"

***Yes. It's true. Absolutely.



At 9:57 AM, March 17, 2006, Anonymous Nikki said...


I don't remember prices from our classes in HS! Did we do them?

[sarcastic voice]
Yeah - that's MUCH easier.
[/sarcastic voice]

At 10:55 AM, March 17, 2006, Anonymous The Bold Soul said...

Oh thank God. I thought I was the only one who took French since the 8th grade and still couldn't "do" the numbers without a struggle... 30 (ummm, TRENTE) years later. I feel much better now. Thanks.

At 11:09 AM, March 17, 2006, Blogger Chelee said...

I started french classes in 7th grade. They didn't offer it until 8th but I was an acception. I took 4 years of hs french. Life happened, and now, at 32 am taking first year college french. (-:

We went over number last qtr. I now mentally try to say it in french because it's so hard.

douze-quatre-vingt-quinze (god I hope I spelled that right)

At 4:27 PM, March 17, 2006, Blogger Deb said...

I wish the numbers were the only thing I had problems with! I never studied French in school, and I am finding it very difficult to learn. Even though I live in a house with 4 other Frenchies!

At 11:16 AM, March 19, 2006, Blogger Oz said...

Speaking of numbers...I was trying to give someone my phone number in English and had a difficult time---I'm so used to saying it in French!


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