Merci, Madame!

October 25, 2006 at 4:24 pm | Posted in backstory, food, vie quotidienne | 8 Comments

I got a nice compliment at dinner last night: the waitress, upon learning that we are Americans, exclaimed that I had “pas du tout” an American accent, and even raved that I had the perfect “intonation française”.

Yes, when it comes to conversations lasting under a minute and half, I speak just like a native. After that, unfortunately, it gets a little dicey.

She brought up an interesting point, though, with her comment about French intonation. Although French is not considered a tonal language, I’ve always noticed that much is conveyed by stress, tone, and pitch. Have you ever noticed the way an adult French woman will practically sing, “Au revoir et à bientôt!” or “Bonne fin d’après-midi, Madame!”? It’s enough to make you feel like you’re trapped in Broadway musical.*

This talent appears to be learned rather than innate, though, because children and teenagers almost never talk like this. Even though they are younger, their statements seem to occupy a much lower register, and sound closer to animated grunts than the flights of whimsy you hear among adults.

And this is my problem: because I learned French when I was a kid, I’m stuck speaking kid French. With some great effort, I can force a tuneful “Bonjour, Madame!” And at the restaurant last night, I came up with, “Oh, oui, je crois bien…” But I’m much more comfortable with sullen, self-effacing teenspeak: “Eh, ben… Chai pas. Et alors?”

Which, although reasonably authentic, also comes across as unforgivably rude in the mouth of a full-grown woman. So… I’m working on that. But I’m afraid I might need singing lessons to really pull it off.

And since I’m hungry, here are some gratuitous pictures of what I ate last night:

steak tartare

Steak tartare.


Et ses frites.

Sorry about the bite, but I’ve been fantasizing about steak tartare since I got here, and I couldn’t stop myself from nibbling a bit before I got my camera out.

*On a related note, has anyone else noticed that a lot of French women seem to speak in falsetto? I can’t believe their voices are really that high.



  1. Mmmm…the breadcrumbs lead back to food porn. Certainly worth the journey.

  2. Oh my god tasty!!! I’ve only tried steak tartare ones so far! Saad.

    A minute and a half is better than…well, nothing! 😉 I can’t even say “bonjour” correctly. IT SOUNDS PRETTY WHEN EVERYONE ELSE SAYS IT, WAH!!

    Pretend you’re singing when you’re speaking. Would that work?

  3. Aha! That’s it, I’m taking you out for steak tartare. I know a good place.

    Singing when you speak might work, or at least it would be fun and make people look at you funny. That’s always a good trick.

  4. yes – I know exactement what you mean – I was coaching my daughter (11 years old) for an oral test in her French class and I kept saying “sing it!” She can’t remember words easily and was worried she would fail due to forgetting vocab, but I think because she had the idea to sing the words, the teacher liked how she said things and gave her a very good grade.

  5. Emily –
    That’s awesome that singing worked for your little showstopper. Maybe I should have tried that when I was trying to memorize all of those poems

  6. I have noticed the singing!

    Or is that irony?


  7. OH man, I love me a good steak tartare! What’s funny is that when I first moved to France I was a bit afraid of it too, but now I ADORE it and I can’t get enough…

    It’s interesting how restaurants do them differently, the mixture of ingredients in the fresh ground beef, which obviously has to be of good quality. But sometimes they even bring you the ingredients and you can mix it yourself: your own signature, do-it-yourself tartare! (But then, where does the restaurant’s chef come in?!)

    Aargh, now I’m going to want one of those tonight too!! You’re giving me ideas… You’re such a bad influence 🙂

  8. BTW, can you tell that I’ve got food on the mind right now? Maybe that bowl of soup and salad I had for lunch wasn’t enough — and all these tempting pictures don’t help!

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