Tuesday, February 23, 2010

French Phrases

I bought a Page-A-Day calendar for this year. It has a French phrase every day.

Some days, the calendar seems to be made for the rank beginner who has never had a lesson in his or her life. For instance, I've "learned" to say things like:

Bonne Année! (Happy New Year!)
Moi aussi. (Me too.)
Êtes-vous marié? (Are you married?) I've used this one in real life before.

That's not what I bought the calendar for, though. I bought it so I can learn some idioms and ways of saying things that will move me closer to that Someday goal of fluency. Most of the time, my calendar comes through for me. Along with the married question, I also learned to ask this gem:

Êtes-vous célibataire? (Are you single?) Notice the way it assumes celibacy on the part of single people. How very Old School. Or very Christian.

There are other phrases that are very important to my life:

C'est le premier pas qui coute. (It's the first step that counts.)
On voit le bout du tunnel. (You can see the light at the end of the tunnel.)
J'ai besoin d'une sieste. (I need a nap.)

Sometimes I'm compelled to correct the pronunciation help on the page. It's printed in between the French phrase and the English translation, and the "single" question above would look like this: "Eht voo say-lee-bah-tehr?" Which is fine, but on occasion they spell words that I pronounce as "ay" with "eh" instead. Like they'd say Tais-tois is pronounced "Teh twah," when I know it's "Tay twah." So I cross out their pronunciation and write mine above it.

Yesterday, however, was a particular challenge. It said, "Tu me manques trop," and they said that in English it means, "I miss you so much," which just plain looks wrong. Literally, it says, "You miss me too much."

I spotted the lady who lived for 20 years in Burkina Faso, which was a French colony (formerly Upper Volta), so I asked her if the translation on my calendar page was right, and she said it was. I was confused. How can the subject of a sentence be "you" in one language and "I" in another? But she said it sort of means, "You make me miss you so much."

OK, I can go along with that.

So then I asked her how you would say, "You miss me." Would it be, "Je te manque"? But she surprised me when she said no. If I wanted to tell someone, "You're gonna miss me," it still comes out with "you" as the subject: "Tu vas me manquer."

I don't get it! Don't "I" ever get to be the subject of a sentence about missing someone in French??? It's patently unfair. Completely you-focused. And the lady at work couldn't tell me how it all made any sense. It just is.

I don't like it at all. It makes me want the page I had on Friday:

J'ai un mal de tête terrible.

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