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Today is the first day of spring: a bit cool and drizzly, but the birdsong is undiminished and the buds are breaking on the trees well in advance of normal. Today also marks la journée internationale de la francophonie (international French language day). No, I didn’t know about it either, until alerted by an article in The Connexion.
Apparently, today concludes a week featuring the French language, initiated by the French Ministry of Culture in 1995. Although hundreds of events have been organised to celebrate it, I couldn’t find much going on in our region.
Nonetheless, I have been reflecting even more than usual this week on the French language and culture. It started with the funeral of an elderly neighbour, Mme F. Although she had been ill, her death was slightly unexpected. As is the custom here, she was buried within a few days.
It’s also customary here, and a mark of respect, to turn out for the funeral of local people, however little you knew them, and so the church at Cornusson was packed. As I scanned the congregation from my carefully-chosen seat at the back, I realised that we were probably the only non-French, apart from one other person whom we know wasn’t born in France.
At the cemetery after the interment, the family lines up and you file past offering your condolences. It’s in situations like this that I am heartily grateful for being able to speak French well. I bless our first teacher, Dominique Renault, who had no small hand in this.
Unfortunately, when it comes to Monsieur F, the widower, our efforts are frustrated. He is very deaf and can’t hear what I say. Worse, the combination of his regional accent, lack of teeth and general indistinctness mean that we don’t understand what he says. This is a great pity. We’d like to spend more time with him and ask him more about his long life (he is 88). But our conversations are on the most banal level. Our only consolation is that French people we know don’t understand him, either.
The importance of speaking French well also came home to me when I reviewed the French citizenship forms that I picked up at the Préfecture about three years ago. Despite living here for 19 years, I have done nothing about it so far. But the impending French parliamentary and presidential elections next year, the fact that I can no longer vote in the UK because I left more than 15 years ago and the increasing prospect of Brexit have galvanised me into action. At least Britain permits dual nationality, so I can hedge my bets.
In addition to the sheaves of obscure documents you have to produce, a requirement is to take a test to prove that you can speak French to a reasonable level of competence. This has two parts: a multiple choice audio-based exam and an interview in French.
While I am not unduly worried about the test, I will be boning up on my grammar beforehand. Despite my years here, there are aspects of the French language that still trip me up. I am, even now, capable of pronouncing baisser as baiser. Look it up. As long as they don’t ask me to sing La Marseillaise…
You can read all of my posts about language here.
You might also be interested in my previous attempt at a French test:
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