Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 4, 2014
Pardon my French
In late May, husband Art and I joined the Kansas State University choir on their tour in France. We were taking advantage of the organized trip and also watching daughter Katie perform. Choir co-director Julie Yu was leading the tour, while husband and co-director Joshua Oppenheim provided moral support and babysitting services for their son Noah.
At one point while the bus was loading, Joshua took the microphone and began speaking French in a low, sultry voice. He was several sentences in when I heard "Pepé Le Pew" and "Chantilly lace" interspersed in the speech. I laughed out loud. Since I don't speak French, I hadn't realized he was just making up words that sounded Gallic!
I love languages, and French seems particularly romantic to me. I once took a six-week class in the language, but that was 40 years ago. Suffice it to say, my knowledge is now limited to Bonjour, voilà, merci, bon voyage and the numbers from 1 to 10. Some French words are similar to Spanish, so I could sometimes follow along with very basic conversations when we were in France.
But largely, I am without a French vocabulary, although I have tried at times to speak words with a French accent and that was partly why Joshua's efforts tickled my funny bone so much. Most of the time, I had to just smile and nod.
Katie also expressed a similar frustration with the language.
"My mouth doesn't know what to do with French," she said. "There is too much going on and there aren't enough consonants! French sounds prettier, but I prefer German!"
That might be the case, but when I thought about it, I realized how many French words, phrases and names we use in the U.S. One day awhile back, Art mentioned that when he told someone he had just met he was from Wisconsin, she remarked that there must be a lot of French living there. He was momentarily puzzled by her comment. Germans, Poles, Swedes, Dutch, yes, but French?
Then he thought about how many place names in his home state come from the French traders of the 1600s who came, traded, but then left after Britain took over most of the Great Lakes area. Eau Claire, Fond du Lac, Lac du Flambeau, La Crosse and Prairie du Chien are just a few towns with French names.
But while there might not be many today in the United States who consider themselves to be French, French words are everywhere in our speech. Art and I live on a cul-de-sac here on the Kansas prairie. I wish we had parquet floors rather than wall-to-wall carpeting, but c'est la vie.
Art is rather fond of Boulevard beer. He likes good old normal colors like red, blue, yellow, green, orange and purple, but he doesn't have a clue what mauve and taupe are. His mother and mine wore rouge when it was the fashion in the 1940s, and they had their hair couiffed in the swept-back style of that era.
After my recent fender bender, mechanics had to repair the grill of my old Cadillac. I was happy they didn't have to do the chassis as that would have been more expensive.
We've been invited to a relative's wedding this summer, and we sent back our RSVP - répondez s'il vous plaît - card. We'll buy something to add to the bride's trousseau.
While Art and I often meet for lunch, it doesn't quite qualify as a rendezvous. And there is little doubt that what we eat will not qualify as haute cuisine. Occasionally, we will eat at a café. We have indulged in croissants, crepes, baguettes, fondue, hors d'oeuvres, soup du jour and especially dessert. We have also eaten rotisserie chicken and lobster bisque, although I won't touch escargots with a 10-foot pole. I also knew, when perusing a menu in France, that I wasn't going to be ordering pigeon. Paté is not really to my taste either.
When we attended various parties in France, we partook of their excellent wines and champagnes.
Recently daughter Mariya applied for a new job and had to submit her resumé.
So I think the next time I see Joshua, I'll share this column with him to make sure he has these words in his repertoire.
Left: Julie Yu, son Noah and Joshua Oppenheim in front of the gardens at Versailles palace; right: Advertisement on a Metz street for the American TV show "Duck Dynasty." The caption says, "Discover a corner of the new American dream."