When I was still in England the phrase “Ooh la la” was synonymous with France, along with frog’s legs, strings of onions and berets. It was one of those phrases that I imagined all English speaking people assumed the French uttered every day, along with the great Gallic shrug, but which in reality no longer existed in today’s every day speech. So in today’s “petit morceaux” I decided to put you straight!
Not only do the French utter, alarmingly often “ooh la la”,but now shockingly, so too do I! It has become part of my everyday language! “Ooh la la”, works from expressing slight astonishment to downright outrage. If one is lost for words, there are various expletives of course, such as “merde alors” , but nothing quite tops “oh la la” for linguistic acceptability in any situation whilst registering quite clearly the gravity of the situation.
A friend’s central heating’s broken down – a simple conversational “oh la la” will be perfectly adequate whilst expressing sufficient sympathy, but being the recipient of an ‘arnaque’ or ‘rip-off’ or cheated out of something important, the number of “la’s” will increase exponentially.
As I entered my appartment this evening my salesman neighbour was standing by the side of his car next to a pile of huge boxes, stacked harpazardly on the pavement, talking loudly into his mobile phone, and suddenly he uttered…
“Oh la la la la la la la”
Seven “la’s” – I tell you – I am agog!
If only it wasn’t rude to stand about listening!
A tout à l’heure!
Today I was sitting on the metro, when I noticed a profoundly disabled woman sitting on a seat not far away. She was mumbling to herself a little and talking herself through what she had done and what she was about to do. People near her were looking distinctly uncomfortable and no-one seemed to choose to sit in the seat next to hers.
I couldn’t help being full of admiration for her. Despite the fact that society as a rule feels awkward in the face of externalised behaviour, I spent that journey thinking that how amazing she was. The total mastery of a language in the face of adversity. Despite the fact that I have all my limbs, and no obvious mental issues, I face daily the frustration and the feeling of inadequacy which comes of an inability to master the French language. No matter how many French books I read, nor how often I chat to people during the day, somehow my brain just will not store and sort the information I give it. Yet this woman, despite all her disabilities had succeeded, probably without even being aware of it, with something that I find so difficult. Does she even realise how hard the french language is?
Yesterday I sent an email to a French mother to let her know that I had all I needed to get on with some craft for the school ‘Marché de Noel’. At the end I added a quick note apologising for the fact I had probably needed to use the subjunctive tense and that my grammar was ropey.
Her reply was as follows:
“merci pour ton mot.
Pour la grammaire ,c’était:”j’ai tout ce qu’il me faut’ ou ‘j’ai tout ce dont j’ai besoin’ ou encore ‘j’ai tout trouvé”
Not only had I got it wrong, but there were at least three correct ways of saying it!
We take language for granted. When do we ever stop to realise what a huge achievement it is to communicate fluently. To take on a disability mid-life is a humbling experience. Mastering the art of communication is an incredible ability.
So “Keep talking” I thought of the woman ” You are so skilled …
and I could learn a thing or two!”