Here I am learning French (again). I’ll start by saying that even though I possess a GCSE in French I have the memory span of a goldfish. I remember very little of the French I learned in school other than the nickname for our unfortunate French teacher. Ms Buller, aka ‘the triangle.’
Why the Triangle?
“Why triangle?” I innocently asked as she swept into the room, ordering us to ‘Levez vous’ her mouth frozen in a permanent rictus.
“Just look.” said the bored girl sat next to me, rolling her eyes at my ignorance. I watched as her mouth inched upwards into a sly smile. Ms Buller turned her back. She shimmied and rocked from side to side up to the front of the room. Undeniably, she was shaped like a triangle.
This was something that she had inadvertently and in my expert teenage opinion, misguidedly, chosen to further accentuate with an A line skirt. My shallow fourteen year old self winced. How could I possibly learn French in the presence of such a heinous style crime? I’d imagined a stylish Coco Chanel gliding into the room. Instead I had been subjected to an isosceles eyesore. What can I say? Kids can be cruel and we were no exception.
In spite of her being neither French nor trés chic, I didn’t dislike the geometrically challenged Ms Buller. She wanted us to learn, didn’t unnecessarily harass us and was certainly a step up from the teacher I’d previously had. The disdainful Ms Baxter, or ‘Biddy’ as we liked to call her.
Where there’s muck there’s brass and ballerinas
Biddy was was a former ballerina who had somehow found herself teaching French in the deepest, darkest, crevices of uncultured Yorkshire. She visibly shuddered each time we opened our mouths, spilling out unrefined tangled balls of stubby, flattened, vowels and that was before we even attempted another language.
C for Carrefour and well, something else
When the French supermarket chain ‘Carrefour’ arrived in the county she positively combusted at our parochial ‘Carry fower’ pronunciation. The more apoplectic she became, the more we’d repeat it. Even if we’d never set foot in the place. Biddy baiting became a sport.
Seemingly everything local annoyed her. At 12 years old I was perplexed by her palpable exasperation at our lack of sophistication. Our innocent colloquial replacement of couldn’t with c’unt elicited a furious crimson cheeked response that especially puzzled me.
In retrospect, I always felt as though life must have been a huge disappointment for poor, refined Ms Baxter teaching feral kids, living in a rural population with the aroma of manure riding on the breeze. Needless to say, not much learning took place. No wonder, then, that I find myself learning French (again).
Back to School
So here I am, clearly not fourteen anymore, looking for a way to expunge those memories and finally get my head around French. I have a stack of French films featuring Audrey Tatou. I like to think of this as learning by osmosis (or lazy learning to be more precise). There’s a guy who runs a Deli I sometimes go to before work, on Great Portland Street in London. He swears to me that he learned English by watching the 1980s sitcom ‘Only Fools and Horses’. So I’ve got high (and completely unrealistic) hopes from that stack of films and a few copies of Le Monde.
Probably the only way that learning French (again) is really going to happen is by living in Paris and speaking every day without a get out of jail card. In the meantime, preparation is a great excuse to watch loads of French films and that’s pas mal (not bad)