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Sunday, May 22, 2022


Thank you, Stephen Darling, for the accurate translation. Taking all in all, I think we can say that he finds me lame, silly, trifling, otiose, insignificant, uninteresting, trivial, simply not worth paying attention to.  Which calls to mind Pooh-Bah’s remark in The Mikado when he is handed a small bag of coins as a bribe: “another insult, and by the feel of it, a light one.”


I was never big in France. Now, Croatia, that is another matter…  Or as the head of the little traveling acting troupe says of himself, in the wonderful old movie To Be or Not to Be, I am “world-famous in Poland”


Laurence B. McCullough said...

Or, as we say around here: I am known internationally, in Texas and the United States of America.

s. wallerstein said...

The French tend to be very proud of their culture and language, which has its positive side, but it can also drift into provincialism and outright xenophobia (Le Pen).

Why put down Poland and Croatia, which are more open to other cultures? That certainly is a virtue in this globalized world. Why accept the French view of themselves as the center of the universe?

For example, I read French fairly fluently and I easily passed an exam on reading French when I entered graduate school. I understand it so-so, I noticed in the last election that I understood Macron who speaks very clearly, but not Le Pen.

I never got the French accent right and as everyone probably knows, the French have zero tolerance with those who mispronounce their beautiful tongue. I had a French girl-friend many years ago and I was trying to master the French "r" when she sentenced in her heavily accentuated English (which I found sexy, unlike her view of my heavily accentuated French): "baby, you will never get it". I've never opened my mouth in French since.

As a life-long language teacher, I can assure you that the worst thing a teacher can do is to mock a pupil's accent as she did mine. No one in Latin America would do that with a gringo trying to master Spanish, but the French do.

Marc Susselman said...

Yes, the French can be very arrogant.

Marc Susselman said...

And for a bonus, when diplomacy worked:

John Rapko said...

I did my second-year French at UC Berkeley as a semester intensive, 2 hours a day, 5 days a week. I 'earned', if that's the right word, an A+ for my reading, writing, and oral comprehension; still I got a final grade of A-. I never cared about grades, but I was mystified, so I asked the teacher why. She (a French woman, and something of a legend as a teacher) replied, "I would never give an 'A' to someone with an accent as bad as yours." C'est comme ├ža.

Marc Susselman said...


Her French accent may have been impeccable, but her logic and ethics were execrable.

LFC said...

Now, I am exactly the opposite of you all. My French accent is quite good, but my vocab is weak, grammar bad, in short, speaking skill pretty atrocious. But my accent, c'est tres bien.

LFC said...

Since we're on the subject:

In the mid-1980s, I took a trip to France w/ a friend from college (who happens to be an academic whose specialty is French history). He did most of the speaking to "the natives," since his French is very good, and he also did all the driving, since I never learned to drive a manual shift and that's what the rented car had. In some ways the trip was rather trying, but I won't go into that.

Anyway, one morning, in a little hotel in south-central France (the Auvergne), he got tired of doing all the work and he told me to pick up the phone and order room-service breakfast. I was sure there was a suave, idiomatic way to do this, but I had no idea how to say it idiomatically or informally. So I picked up the phone and said "est-il possible d'avoir le petit dejeuner?" The guy at the other end simply said "oui," and we got breakfast.

Marc Susselman said...

This may seem like a stupid question, but the French accent is unique among the Romance languages, and the most difficult for non-native speakers to learn. The original population consisted of Gauls, and later Visigoths, who were Germanic. What explains how the French accent became so unique?

John Rapko said...

LFC, Since you asked "est-il possible," I was pretty sure the guy at the other end would have said "Oui, si vous le demandez."

aaall said...

"No one in Latin America would do that with a gringo trying to master Spanish, but the French do."

My French instructor was an American who had mastered the accent to the extent he could fool native born french speakers. He was also quite arrogant. There was a student from Quebec in the class and he would literally explode if the student lapsed into the local dialect. Strange man.

LFC said...

John R.

...I was pretty sure the guy at the other end would have said "Oui, si vous le demandez."

He might have, but didn't. I'm pretty sure he knew I wasn't French. (And I don't recall the mundane details of the rest of the conversation.)

s. wallerstein said...


In my experience everyone in Latin America looks positively on gringos trying to master Spanish and encourages them, flattering their bad accent, giving them positive suggestions, helping them along. They seem pleased that a gringo is making an effort to speak their language instead of demanding that they speak English. That's also true for Portuguese in Brazil.

On the other hand, the French will openly mock you if you mispronounce something in French. That happened to me as a tourist in France many years ago, trying my best to communicate in their language.

LFC said...


I think people's experiences differ. I don't recall anyone in France mocking me, even though it's clear, despite my pretty good accent, that I'm obviously not a native speaker. I haven't spent a lot of time in France, but my limited experience ranged from people being correct and somewhat formal to encouraging. No mockery that I can recall.

I have found it basically impossible to learn much Spanish, not that I've tried hard, but I've made a couple of stabs at it. My hypothesis is that at a certain age, some kind of flip switched and it became v difficult for me to learn a new language. French, on the other hand, I took in jr high school and high school, when I was young enough to learn. I suppose I'd have to make a really serious effort to learn Spanish to see if the hypothesis holds up. I find listening to Spanish spoken on the street etc., which I hear bc I live in an area w a substantial Hispanic population, frustrating because often I have no idea at all what's being said, everything sounds very fast and slurred. With French, otoh, which I don't hear very often, I usu have some idea of what's being said.

s. wallerstein said...


I'm "nul" at imitating sounds. However, in 45 years in Latin America I can only recall one person mocking my accent in Spanish and that was Enrique Correa, minister of the newly elected Aylwin government, who did not want to answer an "uncomfortable" question that I, then a correspondent for Pacifica Radio, asked him at a press conference.

In about two weeks in France several people mocked or at least looked disdainfully at me as I tried to order meals or asked for directions on the street.

As I said, I am a disaster, "nul", at pronouncing non-English and maybe even English sounds.

stephenmdarling said...

My pleasure, Robert. My wife says, however, the French word 'nul' definitely does not mean 'trifling'. If you want a literal translation, then 'zero' is the word.

stephenmdarling said...

Addendum. I just realised that perhaps the best word to use here is 'nothing'. So your work and Americans mean nothing to him and the French. Oh, well, at least your not one of us Antipodes in the land of convicts, as we seem to rank fairly low in relation to the Brits and Europeans (we are 'less evolved', as it was once said to me). The Kiwis have got it t right when they put NZ on top of the world map in their postcards. You got to take your hat off to the Kiwis. They know their place!

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

We give Monsieur Joffrin a lot of credit for his flaming, but I do wonder a bit when he says :"... we have enough problems with our own thinkers, influenced by Americans...".

Does he mean the influence of American culture on French thinkers?
Does he mean the influence of American thinkers on French thinkers?

In the first case, it sounds like the usual anti-Americanism of the far left and far right in Western Europe.

In the second case, I must confess that I can't think of any American philosopher who has had a recognizable influence on French thinkers. Unless the 3 Hs, Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger actually came from New Jersey.

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

Thanks to Marc for the wonderful links to Monty Python and the wonderful Stephan Fry!

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

Before anyone notices "e" not "a".

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