Sunday, 30 August 2009

J'aurais voulu...

So you know how when you learned French at school you were taught that when you went to the boulangerie, you should say, "Je voudrais une baguette"? And if you ever spent any time in France after that, you probably started to say just, "Une baguette, s'il vous plaît?"

So why is it that all of a sudden, I am hearing “J'aurais voulu...” all over the place? Is this something that all French people say and I've never noticed it before? Is it a regionalism? (In the Ile de France? Surely not!)

Or how about this;

Je veux = I want [not very polite]
Je voudrais = I would like (if you were so kind as to offer it to me) [polite]
J'aurais voulu = I would have liked (if you had been so kind as to offer it to me, but I'm not going to make that assumption)

Is the third one “more” conditional and therefore more polite? The people of my town certainly appear to be extremely refined.

I'm also considering a fourth possibility: that getting what you want immediately is so unlikely in France that it's better to assume that it's not even being offered to you, but here in the bakeries of Perfect Town (which is where I spend a lot of my time, purely to improve my French of course!) that is so improbable that it feels rude even to suggest it.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Lessons Learned from Flat Pack Furniture

I've been bad at blogging recently. Partly because I've been busy, but more because life in France so far hasn't really inspired me to write in the way that my first few weeks in Italy did. Maybe this is because Paris is a boring city, France is a boring country and the French are boring people who are simple and logical whose actions always make sense. Or maybe it's just because I've been here before and so I don't have the “Wow!...Whaaat?” reactions that I used to get in Italy. I could write about how my bank card still doesn't work because I needed proof of address from the electricity company, who didn't send it to me, or from the phone company, who I can't sign up with because they haven't closed the last tenant's account yet, or about how it did in fact work, but only for 2 days, and how now, even although I have proof of address, it still doesn't work because the single person capable of handling my account at the bank has been there precisely 40% of the times that I've been to see her (and one of these times was with an appointment). I could tell you about how the post office failed to deliver a box to my house because it was “heavy and cumbersome” (even although I could easily carry it myself) and instead sent it to the post office miles away instead of the one in the centre of town, where I was only able to collect it because Mr A was here with his car. But that would just be moaning, and there was no way I didn't know what I was letting myself in for before I decided to come, so I won't.

Instead, let me tell you some of the things that I have learned in the past ten days.

1.It is possible to furnish an entire flat for under 1500 euros in Ikea.
2.There are 3 Ikeas in the west of Paris. One is currently being refurbished, one only sells kitchens and one has everything you could ever want. You can only discover the third without being reduced to a wailing heap on the floor if you know somebody who is very understanding and has a car.
3.It is possible to spend six hours at a time in Ikea and may take you 3 days to choose your furniture.
4.It is possible to fit a double bed, a wardrobe and 2 people into a Fiat Punto. It is even possible to drive the car afterwards.
5.Ikea express delivery really does only go as far as the kerbside. If the lorry can't get close to your front door because you live in an alley, you better be prepared to carry things.
6.Ikea packaging is not designed to stay on the furniture as you carry it up a steep, narrow staircase with walls that strip the skin off your hands if you touch them.
7.Carrying 185 kilos of furniture is a lot easier if you know somebody strong.
8.As well as the Allan keys supplied with your stuff, you will probably need a different screwdriver for every piece of furniture.
9.If your furniture doesn't fit together, it often means that you have done something wrong. Sometimes, however, it just means that you bought cheap Ikea furniture and you need to get the hammer out.

If you have a strong, patient, intelligent person who happens to have a car to help you, you are very, very lucky. So thank you, Mr A, for being all of the above, and enjoy moving into your own (ready furnished!) flat!

Monday, 24 August 2009

False Friends in France and Italy

Normally, being able to speak French is very helpful when learning to speak Italian, and, I would guess, the opposite is also true. Sometimes, however, subtle differences between the two languages can cause you to make mistakes. Every time I cross the border, I get a little bit confused between sì, oui and si (respectively, Italian “yes”, French “yes” and French “yes but I'm contradicting you) and between si and se (French “if” and “oneself”; Italian “oneself” and “if”). Small mistakes that make me sound like a foreigner (with linguistic identity problems perhaps), and nothing compared to the howler I made today.

To understand what happened, you need to know that the verb sentire (si) in Italian means “to feel” or “to hear”, while (se) sentir in French means “to feel” or “to smell”.

I was at the hairdresser's and the conversation, roughly translated, went something like this:

Hairdresser: Are you English, Madame?
Me: Yes. At least, I'm Scottish.
Short pause
Me again: Can you smell it?

Despite the fact that I now have a very nice haircut, I am feeling inclined to hide my face in shame!