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:
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.
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