Pourquoi ai-je prendre des cours de français au secondaire ? Ce qu’il a été bon pour moi ? Bien sûr, je peux aller dans un restaurant français et dire, “Garcon !” quand je veux commander un verre d’eau, mais la lecture du menu ? It Ain’t gonna get moi très loin.
Translation: Why did I take French in high school? What good has it been to me? Sure, I can go into a French restaurant and say, “Garçon!” when I want to order a glass of water, but reading the menu? It ain’t gonna get me very far.
See? After taking French I and II in high school and a year in college, this is what it amounts to. Oh, I’ve even been to Paris…twice. It’s a beautiful romance language but they weren’t very impressed when I spoke the little French I did remember which was: “French Fries,” “French Dressing,” and “French Kissing.” And I am also crazy about Country French Décor. Maybe all this appreciation for all things French comes from my DNA. I am a descendent of French Huguenots on my maternal grandfather’s side.
Sometimes I become giddy and just break out into a French accent for the fun of it. And although in my head it sounds like the native tongue, I know it comes out just like Pepe le Pew, the fictional cartoon character from the Warner Brother’s Looney Tunes and Merri Melodies (and with my heritage you’d think I’d perfected it). First introduced in 1945, Le Pew is depicted as a French striped skunk constantly in search of love. But his offensive skunk odor and aggressiveness in the pursuit of romance causes other characters to flee from him in fear while he hops after them in leisurely pursuit.
Pepe Le Pew’s storylines typically involve his quest of a female black cat, Penelope Pussycat, whom he mistakes for a skunk (“la belle femme skunk fatale”). This black cat squeezed under a newly painted fence and is unaware that wet white paint caused a white stripe down her back. Of course this attracts Le Pew, but every time he tries to embrace her she frantically races to get away from him because of his putrid odor. He never loses confidence, no matter how many times he is rebuffed. These escapades are always set in exotic locales in France associated in popular culture with romance, such as the Champs-Elysees or the Eiffel Tower.
“And zee? Ah con speek jus liake hem.” (Think of a French accent when you read that.)
Once when putting my best French forward, I made a rather funny faux pas. In 1976, I had been working one summer at the Omni International Hotel in Atlanta. I was answering the phone for the catering department. The Hotel’s main restaurant prepared French cuisine. Hors D’oeuveres were délicieux. Des salades were magnifique. Entrees were attrait. Desserts were exquisite.
When the phone rang, I answered and a woman on the other end spoke, “Hello. Could you please read the list of the entrée choices in the main restaurant tonight?”
When I started reading from the poisson section a delicious favorite stood out. The recipe’s name, according to French lore, is referenced to a miller of wheat whose wife cooked everything coated with flour. The original French style of cooking this fish, then, was seasoned and floured, sautéd in butter, and finally topped with the brown butter from the pan. It was listed on the menu as Trout Meunière, which with my haste and poor French skills I delivered this enticing dish as TROUT MANURE.