Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Le Déluge

Dusting off the French is a difficult and humbling process. Not only do I have to retrieve whatever’s left in the old noggin there, but I have to question if I ever really learned anything at all. I know the word for “stamps” used to be in my vocabulary – I can see my mother writing it in swoopy letters across the chalkboard in that fluorescent-lit classroom all those years ago. But it’s gone from me now. I ask JP and D questions constantly for things that should be simple: “what is the word for clothes?” You know, phrases that are important to know: “where are my clothes?”

I am tempted to take the advice of one of my friends: “Frenchwise, when in doubt, just point at random objects and say Voila!”

So when an exchange goes well, I feel as though a parade is being thrown in my honor. I lightly mount my bicycle for the ride home with “We are the Champions” sounding triumphantly in my head. I punch the sky as though I’m featured in a heroic montage and congratulate myself on a job well done.

I went to the little shopping center today to get my watch fixed and asked questions and received answers in French from the people I spoke to: “Where can I get my watch fixed?”, “no, I don’t know if the batteries are still good.” And they responded and I understood. I switched out the batteries in another watch and even though my favorite watch is still broken, I was in a resoundingly good mood the rest of the afternoon.

The thing is, the phrases that have stuck with me from French are not truly helpful. Here is one that is particularly frustrating:

There were two boys in my French class in high school who were particularly animated and particularly funny (especially in combination). Imagine the Muppets’ Statler and Waldorf, but a little bit pimply and awkward around girls, but they bloomed beautifully in French class when comfortably masked by using a new language. They were perhaps a little too boisterous for a French teacher’s liking, but the rest of us all enjoyed the show.

Anyways, Waldorf and Statler took to a specific phrase, for no apparent reason: “et après ça… le déluge!!”

They said it after everything and very loudly. “Salut, je m'appelle Luc. Et après ça… Le DELUGE!!” “Cette viande est délicieuse. Et après ça… Le DELUGE!!” “J'aime écouter le petit oiseau. Et après ça… Le DELUGE!!” Over and over, always with incredible gusto.

As far as I know, there was no point in our classroom education that they learned this. I cannot remember my mother even giving us “déluge” as a vocab word. It just sounded good to them as far as I’m concerned. But they loved saying it and it caught on spectacularly. We all started finishing our thoughts that way. Even after class in the hallways, we’d be slamming our paint-chipped lockers loudly and shouting “Et après ça… Le DELUGE!!”

It simply means “And after that… THE FLOOD.”

The problem is that this part of French class is so well-ingrained in my psyche that I am tempted to finish every conversation with that phrase.

“Thank you, dinner was so delicious. And after that… THE FLOOD!!”

“Yes, I slept well. You? And after that… THE FLOOD.”

Another French lesson that has stood the test of time:

My elementary school was fortunate enough to have mini courses in French when we were in fourth grade. A guest teacher came in for two days a week and taught us French and it all culminated in a play that we performed for the school entirely in French. The year that we did it, it was “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Now, wrangling a group of fourth graders is hard enough without having to do it in another language. They basically drilled the entire play into all of us. We all recited every line of dialogue together while acting it out. Every one of us learned every line. I remember the inflection, the tone, and it all sort of fits together sing-songily in my head.

The more I speak French the more I wander around the house sing-songing to myself “Doc Doc Doc. Qui est-ce? Le Petit Chaperon rouge. Entrez. Oh le loup!”

To anyone that might hear me, I probably sound like a bad horror movie, gently singing “Knock knock knock. Who’s there? Little Red Riding Hood. Come in. Ah the wolf!” It’s so comforting in my head though.

In any case, I am glad that I’ve decided to take a course in French during my time here. Just a few hours a week, but it will be a chance to jog the memory for some far more relevant information. 


  1. Well, I obviously happened upon this blog at just the right moment.

    Et maintenant... LE DELUGE!

    I've shared your amused frustration, ol' friend. When I lived in Paris for a semester in college, I'd find myself standing at a bakery only able to think about Kiki and how he used to conduit comme un fou.

    Bookmarking your site now. Pumped to be privy to this adventure.


    Jamie-Lee (Monique)

    1. Oh man - I forgot Kiki! He did conduit comme un fou!

      I like picturing you buying a croissant only able to think of Kiki :)

  2. L'oiseau et le déluge!! Sara and the French postdocs will hate me now that I know a second word.

    1. You'll be happy to know that I learned the translation for shanda. It's requinda!

  3. Apres moi, le deluge is a direct quote by Louis XV who raided the French coffers, figuring he'd die before he'd have to deal with the country's debt. Sure enough, it was Louis XVI who paid the debt with his head. So I'd be careful how you use that quote!