During our visits to Dad and Ann whilst they were living in Villefranche-du-Perigord one of the things that Martin and I had found quite amusing was the way in which a lot of Brits tackle the language barrier.
This post will be best appreciated if you can read parts of it (ideally out loud) with a French accent in the style of the 1980’s sit-com ‘Allo ‘Allo. You’ll soon realise which parts to read like this.
So, one morning Ann and I walked down to the Boulangerie, where she proudly showed me how her French conversation was improving.
Ann “Bonjour Madame”.
Shopkeeper: “Bonjour Madame, Ca va”
Ann “Un pain, s’il vous plait”.
So far, so good, the shopkeeper got the required loaf of bread, and I was indeed impressed.
But then…Ann suddenly started moving her hand up and down in a chopping, hacking like movement, whilst simultaneously saying quite loudly and forcefully “Tranche! Tranche!”. By doing this, all I can assume is that she was trying to reinforce the French word for “sliced”, to a French native, by performing a little bit of mime – all to hilarious effect!!
This story gave us a few giggles over the years, but little did I know back then that I would be equally as primitive in my use of the ‘beautiful language’.
So, in July 2017 when we were first making enquiries about how to proceed with acquiring the land we have gained some amusing tales of our own.
First off – the trip to the Notaire. It’s interesting how English people have a habit of asking if the French person speaks English, and then whatever their response is, simply proceeding in English but in a French accent. Much like this:
Candice (the Notaire’s secretary): “Bonjour Madame”.
Sharon: Bonjour, au revoir. Comment allez vous?” (hello, goodbye, how are you)?
Candice: Unspoken but probably thought “oh, she’s English – shit!!!” Smiles sweetly.
Sharon: “Parlez vous Anglais?”
Sharon: “Je ne parle Francais. Just a little bit” – (demonstrates with fingers how much a little bit is).
Stalemate!! Nothing is said for a few moments. Then…..
Sharon: English words with French accent “My father, he owned terrain, up there (points to up the outside of the village). He is mort. My step-maman Ann, she and him, owned the terrain and now are mort”.
Candice: Stunned silence.
Sharon: “Je desiree comprendez what can be done for us to buy the terrain”.
Candice: We are not entirely sure what she said but it was quite likely something along the lines of
This conversation went on in a similar way, and after a while we established a number of things:
- We have approximately 1% of the language skills required to progress with this project without assistance from a French speaking person
- We probably could buy the land
- The next person to speak to was the Immobilier (Estate Agent) and then the Maire (Mayor)
So, next stop was the Immobilier. Same story – “Parlez vous Anglais” “Non”….followed by my attempt to speak English in a French accent.
The Immobilier was very friendly, and I could tell he was trying to get the gist of what I was saying, but not really getting it. Eventually he said “un moment” and reached under his desk, pulled out a tablet, started to type. I thought he had maybe lost the will to live so much that he would crack on with his work, but no, he turned it around and lo and behold!! Google Translate!! We both laughed and he handed it to me to type my questions.
I managed to explain most of the story this way. Meanwhile, un-beknown to me, Martin had been outside sitting with the dogs and as often happens, he had been chatted up by an English lady (to be honest it’s the dogs that get the attention but I like to indulge him this fantasy). He had explained our situation to her and told her that I was on my own, attempting to converse with the Immobilier. So, suddenly she appeared inside – I had no idea who she was (or that she was English) – and started speaking fluent French, very fast and passionately!! I assumed it was a completely irrelevant conversation until I heard my name and also Martin’s name. I then said “did you just mention me and my husband?” and she then suddenly changed to English and told me who she was, promptly sat down and proceed to translate the conversation.
Things progressed rapidly then. I told Amanda who then told the Immobilier what I was trying to achieve. In this manner we managed to establish the approximate value of the land etc. All was going very well until we told him that we wished to purchase the land and build a small wooden cabin on it in which to live. This seemed to be met with stunned silence. Not sure why, we repeated this a few times. The Immobilier was still looking very confused. We went back to Google Translate and then realised the problem. Amanda was telling him I wanted to build a wooden cabin on the land, and he was misunderstanding this as my wanting to build a wooden cabinet (toilet) in the woods and live in it. Naturally he was puzzled why someone would want to do this.
This caused lots of laughs amongst the three of us. The whole situation was surreal actually. Sitting there, trying to communicate with someone who spoke less English than I speak French, a random stranger coming in to help, the whole thing was all a bit bizarre – but in a good way – I mean this sort of thing is not likely to happen in Chandlers Ford is it?
We left this conversation secure in the knowledge that if we did nothing with the land it would fall into wasteland and if there were to be a fire we might be liable, but also a clear idea of what our plans could be, and a real sense of what a bonkers life we were going to
©Sharon Rees-Williams – wordpress.com/thislittlepieceof.land, 2018
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have in Villefranche-du-Perigord