There were three amazing-looking guys in the gym last night, not your regular gym-rats, but those sort of dancer/gymnast/martial artists that are just mesmerising to watch because they seem to be able to do anything with ease. They were doing super-fast one-armed press-ups with leg extensions while talking about where they got their hair cut. I was lying nearby on a mat recuperating from a spin class while listening to their banter, but realised that, probably due to exhaustion and overheating, I was actually mindlessly repeating out loud some of the things they said. Like “Jumping Jacks non-stop!” and “Pain is temporary!” and “Challenge yourself!” You have to say that with a thick French accent, because one of things the three guys didn’t do with ease was speak English. That didn’t stop them, though. If no one used English in French gyms, there would be complete silence. Is there a word for “Crunch” in French? Or “Step-touch”? Or “Cool down”?
Nice hosted the seventh annual Francophone Games (Jeux de la Francophonie) a little while ago. Apparently there are around 270 million French speakers in the world, either native speakers, or people like the Moroccans and Congolese, who might speak Arabic or Swahili at home, but French administratively, such as when they’re applying for a driving licence. That’s understandable, considering how many colonies and protectorates France has had over the centuries. Most of west Africa, parts of north America, strips of southeast Asia, there were even possessions in India until 1963… President Hollande came to Nice for the opening ceremony, which meant a huge security operation involving lots of Police Nationale, a force that appears to have more demanding height and chest-size requirements than the comparatively weedy local Police Municipale.
The competitors had to line up for hours to be searched and x-rayed in order to parade past the President, but unfortunately I’d forgotten this was all going to happen. Having made an arrangement with Joel to meet in Vieux Nice, I found my usual bike access was blocked. I didn’t mind. It was a good if surreal surprise to be forced to weave through crowds of exotically clad, excited, smiley people who had nothing better to do than pose for tourists’ cameras. Even the local girls, volunteers who were holding up little signs to herd the competitors through security (Burundi! Tchad! Mauritanie!), were posing like movie stars during the wait.
I wasn’t exactly clear on what the Francophone Games were all about. I’d assumed it was a sort of exclusively French-speaking Olympiques, but as it turned out, the games included things like juggling, story-telling, photography and puppetry as well as wrestling, cycling and table tennis… There was even a hip-hop competition (the gold medal went to the Congo). During the opening ceremony, a Haitien rapper called Kery James managed to upset the VIP guests by performing a Francophobe song dissing France. Just because you speak English, it doesn’t mean you have any feeling for England, does it? What did they expect?
I was confused about small teams from places like Poland, Estonia and Uruguay. Excuzay-mwa? Perhaps just very enthusiastic French-language schools on a class trip from Warsaw? I think lots of people enjoyed themselves and will look forward to the next Games (Abidjan 2017), but there’s a doomed feeling to an international get-together where the French language is the only thread. I had a similar feeling years ago when I blundered into an Esperanto-speakers summit in a Beijing hotel (I was looking for the bar, since you ask). When it comes to English, if you can’t beat it, join it. I know, I know, that sounds big-fat-bigot-piggish coming from an Anglophone, but hey, I get to watch all this at close quarters. And at least I speak French.
Women’s magazines are the worst culprits when it comes to Franglicization. I can stand in front of any newstand (a favourite pastime!) and would need several hands to count all the coverlines in English. The word “people” (go on, say it with a French accent: “peee pull”) actually means Celebrities. Every magazine has a “Lifestyle” section – but why not Style de Vie? One of my fashion caption favourites is “Le Look Boyish”, (le luke boyh-eeesh), especially teamed with “Le Look Boyish Smoking” (A “smoking” is what Americans call a tuxedo). I like “Le Look Trendy”, too. Over the summer there was a surfeit of “Royal Baby” references, used in an affectionately indulgent those-silly-English kind of way – there was even a Royal Baby flavour at our local ice cream store, a strawberries-and-cream affair. Once when Joel and I were watching our favourite French sitcom, Fais pas ci, fais pas ca, one of the characters was talking about a “keeler eedeea”. Wot? I had to ask Joel for a translation: a killer idea.
Management-speak is another painful area: “le boss est un top guy”, for example. Ouch. Joel is often so confused by 30 years in London, a mix of my everyday prattle and his loyal attachment to the football coverage in the English newspapers, that when a French word escapes him, he uses English words loudly with a French accent, which makes me snort with laughter, especially if he’s trying to be stern on the phone to, say, France Telecom or Banque Nationale de Paris… Because I love him so much, I won’t give you the worst examples.
Instructors at the gym often start a class with an overly excited, enthusiasm-whipping-up shout of “Are You Ready?” (Err youuuu rrrraddee?) I know they’ve all watched the videos, which come mostly from the U.S. and Australia, and they’re only doing what they’re paid to do (mostly very well, to be fair). If I were to shout Pardon? Je ne comprends pas! I’d be stared down. Like I said, if you can’t beat ’em…
It’s been such a long time since I’ve blogged, it’s shameful, but here’s a few pix just to let you know what we’ve been up to. We’re just about to move AGAIN, this time to an apartment with a VIEW, a BATH, and nothing else, which means, at last, we can drag out of storage some of the things we packed up nearly three years ago now.