That’s one of my favourite lines from the movie “French Kiss”. A Wonderful, feel good movie starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline ( I still love the movie – even though the husband has threatened to leave me for his “lost Meg” a million times…). This line, along with “My ass is twitching” and the scene when Luke tries to tell Kate how to say his name are classic moments of the movie and that’s all I thought it was. Until we came to live here.
Seven months down the line I realise more and more the subtle nuances of that movie and just how true they are of the French Folk. There is a scene when Kate is on a plane and Luke sits down next to her and prepares to chat to her all the way from the States to Paris. He introduces himself as “Luke” pronounced with a very french accent
“”Ello, my name is Lee-uk”
She responds, “Luke?”
She tries hard to imitate him, “Lee-uk”?
“Non, Non leesen care-fully…LEE-UK”
She gives up.
That sums up the French language. They genuinely want you to try and speak their language. The are proud of their language because it IS beautiful to listen to. BUT they will correct you until you are blue in the face while showing you in graphic detail where your tongue should be and how your lips should go. And when you just KNOW you are saying it correctly, they will still say “Non, non, and repeat it again . It drives me mad. The interesting thing about this exchange is that the last thing they will ever expect is for you to correct them with their English. That doesn’t matter…it’s ok to slaughter the language, after all, the Actual English have so many accents, the Americans have a different one, the South Africans and Australians have yet ANOTHER one so it’s not too serious (maybe they realise that English spoken with a french accent is also wonderful to listen to)…but French, Aah Oui, it is very important that you get it right!
To carry on with the movie, Luke (or Lee-uk to be precise) is a morose thief with family issues, he’s a drop-out and failure and is trying to pull his life together. His “ass twitches” when things aren’t going well for him and Kate delivers the line “Fester fester fester…rot, rot, rot.”
When you sit and watch the French folk go about their daily life, shopping, having coffee, walking through the market etc it takes a while to register how very little they smile and how almost miserable they seem to be. It seemed to me to be a bit odd as after all..have you SEEN the countryside, wildlife, flowers, coastline, food, forests. Those should make people happy all the time. But no, they seem to fester, fester fester…rot, rot, rot. I decided to ask a few french friends what it was all about.
Now please understand this is a generalisation I know but seeing it became so obvious, it’s quite worth mentioning. I learnt that on the whole, the French aren’t happy unless they are unhappy.” With hands thrown up in despair, deep sighs, large gestures and long mutterings they go through the day from one negative to the next. The fruit is unripe, the fruit is too soft, the fruit I wanted is out of season, too expensive, too cheap so bad quality, not cooked well, cooked too much, cooked too little, not seasoned enough,,the list goes on…and doesn’t just apply to fruit.. One french friend put it down to their deeply Catholic upbringing where being happy might be taken as a sin, another put it down to just a fussy, unhappy nation. I can’t judge because I haven’t a clue. I just made the observation and the light came on when it came to understanding the movie a bit better….and in retrospect, it just made it funnier.
When Kate was sitting on the train with Lee-uk quaffing down warm crusty bread and large quantities of creamy brie, she looked out of the window at the passing countryside of bright blue sky, rows of iridescent green vineyards, ancient stone villages glowing warmly in the sun she said,
“Beautiful, gorgeous, just beautiful!”
and his reply was a giant over exaggerated shrug, a dismissive wave of his hand and the words,
“I was born here.”
It took her, an outsider, to re-introduce the stunning beauty of his homeland again. Sad in a way isn’t it?
The beauty of France’s countryside and the stunning villages makes me happy and as the dear one (who’s always loved chatting to strangers) said the other day, when you’re happy and you pass someone in the street, you want to smile and say ?Bonjour”. Some villages are SO friendly, they don’t smile, but they will say “Bonjour”. Many won’t. I’m told that if they haven’t been properly introduced to you, you, your smile and your bonjour are just “all wrong!”
We’ve worn down the folk in the coffee shop we frequent. They now bring us the coffee without asking, they even say “Ca Va?”(how’s it) after the bonjour and one local elderly Frenchman who seems to be there all the time with the inevitable;e cigarettes and newspaper, now looks up, nods his head and says “Bonjour” to our cheerful greeting…sometimes he even says it first!
Now we just have to teach him to smile.
A la Prochaine