I am off to France next week on a research trip for my next novel. And in order not to commit any faux pas I decided today that I should brush up on my French. Apropos the timing you may feel this is a bit late in the day, but au contraire, I am confident that with a little sang froid and a soupçon of je ne sais quoi I should be able to carry myself off with some panache. If I can just remember the difference between au naturel and eau naturelle, coup de grâce and cri de coeur, I should be able avoid any contretemps (and indeed any double entendres) during my research tête-à-têtes.
As you probably already already know from previous posts I love language, and particularly the French language, but vis-à-vis actually speaking it there is no doubt that we English generally have a very laissez-faire attitude. Most people I know either operate either in the ‘Allo ‘Allo, ‘Oh la la, zut alors, sacré bleu!’ mode or the more prosaic, ‘Parlez vous Anglais?’ mode. And, despite a multitude of evening classes and all the crème de la crème teach-yourself-language apps and CDs, plus ça change. The only French phrases that most of my friends can manage with confidence are ‘hors d’oeuvres, petits fours, vin rouge, nouveau riche, grand prix and papier maché’. Quelle horreur! But then en masse the English are known to be generally poor at foreign languages. C’ést la vie.
But the avant garde among us find this shaming, it is, in fact, one of my bêtes noirs. I believe it is de rigueur nowadays (you could almost say comme il faut) to at least have a go. Surely one of the raisons d’être of traveling is engaging with the locals. That’s certainly what I need to do on this trip. So next week I am going to give myself carte blanche to show not only some savoir faire but also some joie de vivre. I will use an aide-mémoire, I will seek out bon vivants and avoid ménages à trois (I have no desire to be a femme fatale) I will search diligently for the mot juste and chat away fluently to people in their pieds-à-terre about l’esprit du corps, cordons sanitaires, noms du guerre and agents provocateurs of the Second World War.
And will my trip be a success? Well, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a fait accompli.