Author, advertising and
publishing consultant, former
editor of Chicago and other
magazines, former creative
director of Campbell-Ewald and
other advertising agencies. For
more information, click here. Or
see Who's Who in America or
Consulting editor, historian, poet
and author of several books. For
more information, click here or
BLOGS and GLOBS: I have
been writing a blog since 1966,
only I didn't know it. In those
days, it came out in the form of a
newsletter on paper. Remember
paper? It never got lost in
cyberspace, although if it got wet
enough blog turned into glob. I
called it The Uncommentator,
and tried to make it amusing. To
read some of my favorites, see
Recent Books by the Frisbies.
OMNIA GALLIA DIVISA EST IN XXII VOWELS
PARIS — While strolling through the bookstore district on the Left Bank, I came across the French counterpart of the Berlitz phrase book I had brought from home to simplify dealing with Garcons, Gendarmes and the other tribes of Gaul, from Abatteurs to Zoologistes.
As soon as I glanced at l’Anglais pour le Voyage, I understood with new clarity why French is so much more difficult to pronounce than other languages, Spanish for example. I also understood why so few French ever passed through Ellis Island as immigrants. Despite our alliances in several wars, we can never achieve a true meeting of the minds with people who can find 22 vowel sounds in the same alphabet where we read only 13. Gallic elan is good for cooking, not so good for
Imagine a young French businessman making his first trip to the U. S. He meets a young woman and whips out his phrase book. The French editors urge him to say, "Kaen ai ghet you eu drink?" (Phonetic spellings are copied out of the book except for diacritical marks not available on the daisy wheel printer I was using when I wrote this.)
She’s practicing her French, so she responds, "C'est tres aimable." Since she’s pretty good at it, what she actually says sounds like, "Seh treh zehmahbl."
She doesn’t specify what she’d like because she can’t think how to say "banana daiquiri" in French. He returns with champagne. It’s always acceptable as a drink and understandable as a word, more or less, in both English and French.
Now he has to think of something else to say. "Aim heur an bizneus," he explains. "My neimz Pierre."
She replies with a smile, "Je m’appelle Sue."
Pierre, still doggedly working on his English, says, "Ghlaed tou noo you." Too bad. French offers an infinitely more charming way of putting the same thought. Sue gets to sparkle when she responds, "Enchante’ "
At this point, I would advise Pierre to put down l’Anglais pour le Voyage and devote his energies to finding out how much more French Sue understands. He can practice his English on the "weiteurz," "desk kleurkz," "belboiz" and "poorteurz."
Looking at cultural exchanges from the French point of view expressed in the book is refreshing. Certain value judgments seem to creep into the information offered tourists. Readers are told that they will find the service in restaurants in Etats-Unis much more "rapide" and less "ceremonieux" than in Europe. Customers are expected not to prolong themselves over the repast, in order to release their places.
Americans eat so hurriedly there are "innombrables" restaurants where diners actually sit at counters to eat complete meals consisting of "toute espece de sandwiches et hamburgers."
Making one’s whole dinner of a species of sandwich — and in a rush besides — obviously rates as one of the hardships of travel.
However, with more than 20,000 kilometers of coastline, the book notes, the U.S. is rich in fish and "fruits de mer." Licking their lips, the editors report that ‘‘menus are enameled (adorned?) with such exotic names as blue-point oysters, bay scallops, cherry-stone clams and Dungeness crab." A detailed description is given of jambalaya, a dish so celebrated that one can make a chanson about it.
An explanation of football notes that it is a violent sport more like rugby than European football, in which a player traverses the terrain for a touchdown while his teammates essay to block the action of the adversary.
At least, that’s my reading of the pertinent passages. I never studied French in school. My Latin and Spanish teachers always used to complain about my inconsistency in switching without warning from painfully literal translations to soaring poetic freedom. Which style I chose depended on whether I could tell for sure whether someone was doing something to someone else or having
it done to him, a point not always clear to me in languages other than English.
The French do have elegant ways of saying certain things. The highlights of American football games for the editors of l’Anglais pour le Voyage are the halftime ceremonies with their "joyeuses demonstrations des majorettes qu'accompagment des fanfares." A liquor store is "le magasin de spiritueux." An advertising agency is an "agence de publicité. Its creative director is the "chef du creation" and the boss is the "directeur." I feel classy thinking of myself as a chef du creation and a directeur.
Some things are the same the world over. In French as in English, a client is a "client." If a new one should suggest an assignment, c’est tres aimable.