Je mens, tu mens, elle ment …

October 4, 2009

I am biased, of course, but I think Piaf is a very pretty little girl. It makes me feel a bit better about this that other people, even strangers, appear to share this opinion and go out of their way to tell me so. 

One such incident took place today. Piaf’s maman was away visiting friends overnight so Piaf and I have had 24 hours of unadulterated Frenchness together (well, I did watch Casualty, but that was after she had gone to bed so it didn’t count.) But Piaf cannot live by French alone. She requires play and stimulation too. I took her to the bookshop.

Our local bookshop is the sort that used to be widespread in my youth. Everyone loved them because they were independent and the staff and owners had genuine knowledge and love of books. However, they all went out of business in the 1990s because, while loving them because they were independent etc. etc, no one actually bought books there because Tesco was cheaper and Borders had a Starbucks built in. The one near us is one of the ones that have somehow survived. 

I took Piaf there, not because I planned to buy her a book – they only sell English books and I only buy her French books – but because they have a children’s play area, complete with a low table and chairs and plastic food and cutlery. Piaf loves it, and if she’s happy, I’m happy (especially when I’m looking after her alone.) But then, once she was ensconced at the table and busy giving pretend water to a doll, I felt a bit guilty. This is, after all, a retail business dependent on sales for survival. Perhaps I should buy a book? 

So I did. I cam across it quite by chance (serendipity?) but thought it looked just right. It is called The Secret Life Of France and appears to be based on a blog of the same name. Lucy Wadham, its author, sets about getting behind the myth of Frenchness to see how the country really works and why it is so different from Britain. Thirty pages in (I’m a quick reader) and I am enjoying it greatly. It is good to have something to test my own feelings against and also to assess what lay in store for me if things had been different and I had stayed (or, indeed, what we might expect if we moved there now.) If you are the sort of person who is happy to take a recommendation on the basis of 30 pages, then buy it. 

Anyway, while I was leafing through this book and Piaf was throwing things on the floor, a grandmother started speaking to us. Well, to Piaf, actually. Wasn’t she lovely? Wasn’t she clever? Wasn’t she playing nicely? Well, frankly, yes, yes, and yes – but, like I say, I’m biased, and what can you honestly say to that sort of rhetorical question? 

For the first time, I began to see the advantage to a miserable and gauche bugger like me of the whole French experiment. If I just smile and look embarrassed and speak English, I look like a cretin. If I smile and look embarrassed and speak French, I look mysterious and exotic and, most important of all, I have an excuse for not answering rhetorical-questions-from-grandmothers-that-aren’t-really-rhetorical-because-granny-clearly-expects-an-answer!

 Yet another of the many advantages of bilingualism …

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