Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hits and misses in la langue francais

I have recently been enjoying ageless bondings with a student of French. It brought back memories of my days of learning French.

I had taken French as the second language for my Plus Two. Reason 1- you were supposed to score excellent marks in French. Reason 2- one scored pathetic marks in Hindi which was the other option. The most delightful reason, as we found out subsequently was - French was not taught in college. You had to have private tuitions, the benefit being that the French students got to laze around college during the language hour. I can't begin to describe here the joy of being able to be totally nonchalant when the Princi's spy came lurking on his rounds, to catch those students who were bunking class! Of legitimately roaming around the campus at a time when all classes were jampacked with students. Totally blissful those days and hours were!

But soon it came to be that every Jean, Marie and Pierre who cut classes used la langue francais as their excuse to be sunning in the open, instead of sleeping it out in class. And so the seniors, especially the non-Frenchies started taking the Frenchies to task. And so whenever anybody said that they were 'French students' the seniors started asking the freshers some questions in French to catch them out. If caught out, the juniors would have to sponsor bondas and tea at the friendly college canteen.

Now we were three friends then, and totally bindass we were about cutting classes in those heady days of college after emerging from a convent where you'd sooner be caught dead than cutting class. Unthinkable, unimaginable, mindboggling the very idea was- in school. And here was French showing us the way- a totally happening way! in our first year of college. We would bunk the hours immediately before/after French hour, so that we had two delicious hours of freedom. We never stayed in college during those hours, for we didn't want to get caught by our seniors. (we only wanted to buy ourselves bondas and tea, you see) We sauntered down deserted lanes and walked down railway tracks and waded into slushy fields for those elusive water lilies... We had LOADS of fun roaming the countryside by the campus, getting acquainted with the neighbours who never refused glasses of water to quench the thirst, and buckets of water to clean the feet, of the adventurers. Funnily enough we never went for movies! And we came back to college just in time to hear the bell break for the next hour.

One day while coming back from one of our jaunts a little early, we decided to while away the time in the reading room -where people did anything but read! Here you got to know all the latest college gossip- HOT and FRESH! Here the little romances budded and flourished! And here we were caught by our seniors whom we'd been giving the slip for quite some time now. We were cornered- 3 girls by 3 boys and the quizzing started, each boy concentrating on one girl.

My interrogator asked me what I was doing out of class.
I told him that French was my second language.
"Oh, so you're learning French, eh?"
"Yes," went I.
"What should you reply in French? "
"Oui," went I.
"Oui, monsieur."
"Ah. "An approving nod here.
He asked me who my teacher was and I told him. He knew of her.
He asked me what I was studying currently. I told him something, I don't remember what, now. I knew he didn't follow that and so I knew he was a non-Frenchie.
Then came the French quiz. He asked me
"Comment t'appelle tu?" Which is French for 'what is your name'.
By now I was a bit flustered , and irritatedly told him "Bien!" with perfect nasal twang and all.
Which meant 'Fine'.
For I had mistaken the question and thought he was asking me 'how are you', which was 'comment allez-vous'? Our teacher had taught us respect, you see.
He was puzzled, I could see.
"Bien???" he repeated after me, with an assessing look
I thought he wanted me to be polite.
"Bien merci," I said. (Fine, thanks. Pronounced byienmussi-hope the phonetics is correct, if not, sorry, I have not learnt phonetics.)
He was even more zapped. There was this presentable girl, with a name like Bien merci??
He looked at me doubtfully. Was I having him on? A sterner look. Intended to make me quail.
I thought he wanted the whole sentence. I gave it to him.
"Je vais bien, merci", I told him. (zhevaybyienmussi- I'm fine, thank you.)
He quailed. This was beyond him. Which place named their girl children Zhevaybyienmussi, wondered the look on his face.
It was my turn to be puzzled. And by now mutinous. I looked him boldly in the eye.

He looked away uneasily. Nudged his pals. Said let's go. And they went. Leaving us three to compare notes.
Which was when realisation dawned. Initially I was chagrined to think that I could have misunderstood him so. What would he/they be thinking of me, of my Francais? But then, the humour of the situation struck us all. And we lolled about on the benches with tears of laughter streaming down our cheeks.

Whatever else, I'm sure he would remember the girl named Zhevaybyienmussi with respect!

Of course later, we met up again in the course of our respective wanderings, and we smiled and laughed at the misunderstanding and exchanged real names. But the zhevaybyienmussi will always remain a laughing memory.


Hip Grandma said...

I learnt french too for the same reasons .To score marks.We did not have to speak french.Just understand it.I feel tempted to start french lessons again.I had a lovely teacher wno did not know a word of english.In the two years that we studied french,we managed to teach her a good amt.of passable english.Credit her for learningf!!

Just like that said...

HgMom- :-) Yeah, reading Usha's trysts with French makes me also so tempted to get the rust out and polish it, to at least a dull sheen.
Incidentally, when my results were out, I scored in my 40s! I was devastated and so was my teacher (i was one of her favourites) Then I gave it for re-valuation and scored close to 90s in the same paper!- 2nd highest in college.
The person who corrected my paper originally has been cursed so much by me. What if I hadn't the conviction in my language and let it go? Actually my teacher was the person who finally made me give my paper for re-valuation. Terrible, some examiners

WhatsInAName said...

Your comment reminds me of the bad experience I had during my boards of 12th. My strongest subject was maths and as goes my luck, the paper turned out to be too lengthy. I managed to finish it and yet messed up a question leading to loss of marks and flow of tears!!! Later after the results were out, there was uproar and upheaval among the students causing CBSE to have a repeat paper, which somehow I missed. I lost admission to Delhi College of Engg due to this carelessness on my part! I agree, terrible exams and terrible examiners !!!
:) Your post makes me relive my days of studenthood!

Usha said...

alo tu vas bien merci! ahhahahaha.
c'etair drole, ton histoire!

Just like that said...

merci beaucoup, madame :-)

Moppet's Mom said...

Hey, funny story! Are you from Kerala? Because only a Mallu would believe that 'je vais bien merci' could be someone's name! :-)

No offense meant - I'm a Mallu myself. Have also done a post on funny names. Do check it out sometime.

Just like that said...

Bang! you hit the nail on the head, moppet's mom. Am a mallu and
yup, he was a mallu too. Guess that was just not his day for smart things to say! ;-)