The Chicken Dance

Learning French

“Chicken happy can you monkey dance a cheese?”

“Quoi?”

“Chick-en happy can. You. Monkey. Dance. A cheese?”

“I am sorry; I do not understand what you are saying.”

I have decided that it would be hysterical to have my own English subtitles, you know, just a little screen in front of me to translate what I say in French into English.  Mind you, this would not be to help other people understand me, but so that I could see what it is that I am actually saying.

Lately, I have become more confident in my abilities to speak French (generally fueled by one of those extra-long aperitifs).  I speak rapidly and say multiple sentences at a time.  I do that whole “thoughtful pause” that foreigners always do that makes them look so casual and smart as they try to find the right word to use.  All in all, I look like the super-cool, multi-lingual expat…as long as you don’t speak French.

I remember going to Costa Rica with a friend of mine a few years ago.  Her family is Costa Rican but she was raised in the U.S.

“Wow,” I told her.  “Your Spanish is so good!”  To me she sounded like a local.

She laughed.  “That is only because you don’t know what I am saying.”

It is the same for me here in France.  If you don’t speak a lick of French and you hear me conversing you might think, “Wow, she has really got a handle on the language”; however, if you are French and you hear me speak French you will probably think “quoi?”

For example, I know the word for “good” and I know the word for “walk” but I didn’t know that when you put them together they don’t mean “good walk” but instead mean “cheap”.  These types of little confusions combined with my tragic pronunciation are why I often find myself staring into the baffled faces of French people.  They try to be nice and pretend they know what I am saying, but having been the foreigner for so long, I know what those smiling nods mean.

Maybe I should start asking trick questions to see if my sentences are coming out right:

“So, you love American food?”  I will ask in French.

“Oui, absolutement” they will reply, giving me an encouraging smile.

BUSTED!  Clearly no French person would ever say such a thing.*

Or maybe I could try…

(in French)

“While the French make some decent wine, Americans wines are much better, yes?”

“Ah oui, d’accord.”

DOUBLE BUSTED!  Come to think of it, this could become a rather entertaining little game.

But then again, is it such a bad thing for people to placate you?  Is it so horrible that they want to encourage instead of discourage?  It’s good to be given some motivation to keep trying, to have people pretending through the sentences they don’t understand so that they can piece together the ones that they do.  Of course, it would be nice to know whether I am asking if they enjoy the flavor of the fromage or if I am saying “happy chicken can you monkey dance a cheese”; but I guess I’ll just have to wait for the subtitles.

*Not only would a French person never say that they loved American food, they would be utterly confused as to what was meant by American food.  My repeated experience has been that most of them think that everyone in America eats cheeseburgers three times a day.

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8 thoughts on “The Chicken Dance

  1. So, what *were* you trying to say?

    I just learned that “je suis plein,” or “I am full,” means “I am full…of sperm.” Those French have dirty minds!

  2. haha – oh, I was just using that as a funny example!
    Yeah, I find that literal translations don’t often work in French. To say that you are full you really say “I am not hungry”, Je n’ai pas faim. Confusing…all the time!

    1. FBF’s family taught me to say “J’ai trop mangé” to say that I’m really full. The first time I said “je suis pleine” everybody laughed and now I finally know why! haha.

      I wish I could do the thoughtful pause! I just say the French “euhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” until I come up with my words. Not attractive.

  3. I’ve definitely encountered the cheeseburger conversation and one French man politely informed me this is why everyone in America is so fat. *sigh* Unfortunately, I don’t have enough dirty words in my French vocabulary to give him a proper response.

    1. “vas te faire foutre” is a good one! It’s similar to “go screw yourself!” only I think it’s stronger than that, but not quite up to some of our more r-rated curse words. I’m sure your old lady pottery friends must know some good insults they could teach you!

  4. They have! When I made a mistake once, they all cried out “Gast!” (similar to “Putain”) . . . lord knows what would’ve happened if I spilled paint everywhere.

  5. These are some very informative comments! I’m learning all sorts of stuff, MB is not going to know what hit him when he gets home from work. 😉

    Ugh…and I can’t even reply to the cheeseburger thing anymore, I generally just do an open eye-roll.

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