Tuesday, July 13, 2010

French Appreciation Month - Day 5

Day 5 - Avez-vous du beurre?

Those of us who have taken a foreign language class, particularly the first year class in high school have somewhat mixed emotions about some of the phrases we were made to learn. I suppose if you believe the theory that the most important part of learning is actually learning how to learn, then it is not so important what foreign vocabulary you learn so much that you practice memorizing it. And it is not so important which verb you are conjugating, so long as you are learning about gerunds, past participles, present indicatives, and imperfect subjunctives. Somehow we got through 8 years of English classes without hearing most (or any) of these terms, but yet we are expected to pick them all up in the first semester of a foreign language. And, yet, through all of this, there are a few phrases that can lodge firmly in our minds, much like corn on the cob sticks in our teeth. Such as:
  • Mi aerodeslizador está aparcado fuera. (My hovercraft is parked outside.)
  • Los cactus púrpura necesidades de agua. (The purple cacti need water.)
  • Welche Farbe hat der Bleistift (What color is the pencil?)
  • Der Bleistift ist blau, nicht war? (The pencil is blue, isn't it?)
  • Avez-vous du beurre? (Do you have butter?)
The last one stands out the most for me because of the story that went with it. Apparently, my brother didn't pronounce it quite right when he was asked to recite it in front of class. The original attempt to pronounce beurre as rhyming somewhere between 'sir' and 'fur' was dubbed as sub-par. By the time my brother was telling the story that night, the 'u' sound had been stretched out to about two seconds and the 'r' sound had been mostly swallowed and replaced with a weird sound that was somehow a combination of a gargle, a gulp, and a phlegmy throat clear. It was hysterical. So hysterical that about half the conversation that ensued between my brother and I in the next two days consisted of asking each other about the availability of butter. Every time it got annoying for our parents, we were able to say, "But we're learning French."

Flash forward twenty-odd years. We were at the beginning of a family vacation and my nephew was asking for butter for corn on the cob. Seemed like a great time to teach some French. Apparently what I think of as funny translates very well to the three-to-five year age group. We had my two daughters, my nephew and my niece all suddenly very interested in whether they might be any butter. Repeatedly. For the rest of the week. Hilarious for me. Not so much for the rest of the adults.

Thank you, France.

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