Tuesday, October 26, 2010

French Kissing

Today was a banner day.  I had my 14th lesson in my new French class and I didn’t quit.  Yay, me!  If you remember back when I first moved here, I jumped right into a French school and I quit after my 13th lesson.  Well, now I’m going to this other school and I think some of it may be soaking in.  A little.  A very little.  But still!

It is making all the difference that there are other people in my class.  Last time, it was only me and I was petrified, PETRIFIED, I tell you, to speak, because everything I said was wrong and I felt stupid.  But, now that there are other people in class, it has become apparent that all of us SOUND STUPID!  We each have our moments of glory, mind you, however brief they may be, where we sound legitimate, but for the most part we sound stupid.  It is as if someone came up to you in America on the street and said, “Hello, ma’am”.  Then, with an incredibly awkward pause in between, finally said, “Could you me tell”, and then about 30 seconds later, finally spit out, “where is to the city center the bus appropriate?”.  You’d be like, um, what?  Could you say that again?  You see?  This is how speaking we are.  Like Yoda, but not as cute or famous.

I am amazed that my teacher does not spend the whole 3 hours just cracking up.  Really.  We are that bad.  We think we are good, but then we open our mouths and it goes something like this:

TEACHER:  Ma chere, je vous veux conjuguer le verbe “connaitre” dans le passé composer.

ME:  (Under my breath in forbidden English), OK, she wants me to conjugate the verb “to know” in the past tense.

TEACHER:  Oui.   (Because she heard everything I just whispered to myself in forbidden English).

ME:  Uh, …um, je, no, wait a minute, j’ai, uh…you said “connaitre”, right?  OK, OK, uh, j’ai connaitru, no, that’s not right, uh, it’s right here on the tip of my tongue, I swear, oh, maybe, j’ai connu?  YESSS!  J’ai connu!!  Final answer:  j’ai connu.

TEACHER:  Oui.  (And then, under her breath, in French, Oh, la, la.  When is lunch?)  Out loud, she says, Oui, et qu’est ce que les autres neuf pronoms et leur verbes?

ME:  (Whispering).  OK, she wants to know what the other nine forms of the verb are with their pronouns.  Oh, my God, when is lunch?

And on and on and on it goes.  It’s painful, I tell you.  PAINFUL.  I am nearing 50.  As a matter of fact, I may BE 50 by the time I conjugate this verb in the past tense.  But she is so cute, my new teacher, that I want to do well.  I want to make her like me.  It’s like Stockholm Syndrome!  I mean, I wish I spoke French just so I could be friends with her.  I’m sure she is really cool and Swiss and does grand things on the weekends like attend concerts and the theater and hobnob with fabulous people.  I’m sure she is a hit at all of the cocktail parties with her stories about her brain-dead students.  I, myself, have probably provided her with fodder to last throughout the upcoming holiday season.

But, today, my 14th lesson, was tres special.  Inadvertently, I made her tell us a swear word.  Let me just go on the record right now and tell you it was ALL HER FAULT.  Innocently enough, she asked me for a sentence containing the verb “to sleep” in the past tense.  So, my sentence was (in English here),” The princess slept until the prince came to kiss her.”  OK.  I was good until I got to “to kiss”.  I didn’t know the verb “to kiss” in French.  So I looked up at Teacher and said my favorite word in school, which is “uhhh?” as in, I don’t have a friggin’ clue.  And then, I guessed, and said “Bisou”?


It’s like in Alaskan Inuit.  You know how the Eskimos have 3 million words for the word “snow”?  Because their world revolves around frozen water?  The same thing goes here in the French language for the noun “kiss” and the verb “to kiss”.  So, here is cute little Teacher trying desperately not to blush as she explains “le crescendo” of kissing.  OK, right there, she earned her money today.  Did you know that, in French, the “crescendo” was the advancement of something going ever higher and higher?  Neither did I, but now I do.  It sounds much nicer to “va crescendo” than to “go up the ladder”, doesn’t it?

So en crescendo, here is how one kisses in French-speaking countries:

Un bec                                                  A tiny air kiss in the vicinity of the cheek

Gros becs                                            A few, slightly bigger pecks on either cheek, more sound than                                                                  contact, if you know what I mean

Bisou                                                     Actual contact with the cheek, among friends,
                                                               generic word for kiss

Bisous                                                   The act, in Europe, of giving multiple kisses on cheeks, upon
                                                               greeting, among friends

Gros bisous                                        Giving bisous to friends with gusto, may include actual         
                                                         lip-to-cheek contact and squeezing of shoulders or biceps

Je t’embrasse                                    An actual hug and kiss, perhaps even on the lips, heartfelt,
                                                          among good friends and close family

Gros/tendre baiser                         An intimate hug/kiss between lovers

BUT, BUT, BUT baiser (pronounced exactly the same way as the last one on the list above) is also a verb which means a very vulgar way to have sexual intercourse, as in the difference between saying “I want to make love to you” and “I’m going to **** you.”

Aaaaach!  Do you think Teacher was blushing by now?  Well, yes, she was.  I tried to reassure her.  I said, “Beloved Teacher, until I get much, much, much better in French, I will not come within 100 metres of the “baiser” word.  I will stick with “bisou”.

Do you think I will quit French now?  No, I will not.  At least not until I can conjugate baiser with all ten pronouns.

*****Hello, again.  I just have to tell you that in between the time I wrote this and the time I am sending this, I have learned that “baiser” is NOT the equivalent of F*** You.  It is only the equivalent of “screw you”, which is pretty benign.  So how cute is Teacher, who blushed and could not even bring herself to properly translate it?  Lawd knows what Miss Thang is going to do when I inadvertently stumble upon a REALLY bad word!

Since I have no pictures of any of the natives bisou-ing, I will post some pictures of downtown Lausanne and the surrounding canton de Vaud.  xoxoxo

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