Are French spelling changes a sign of the apocalypse?

Boromir on French Spelling reform

In case you were wondering, a heavy dose of sarcasm was used when deciding on the title for this post… We may have some time to go yet before the apocalypse is upon us, but I think it’s fair to say that almost nobody likes change and that people love to overreact on social media. When a French spelling reform was announced in early February, the reaction to the news that appeared on my social media feeds and elsewhere online kept me entertained for a good few days. No one gets more irate than a French person faced with the suggestion that the French language is less than eternal, timeless and a beacon of light in a world full of savage languages that dare evolve because what is at stake here is the survival of France as we know it, the very foundations of the world. Will no one think of the children?????

The Independent and the Guardian were two among many to publish a nice little report on the scope of the reform and included some of the reactions, which were indeed enlightening, and by enlightening, I mean I rolled my eyes so much I feared I was going to lose my contact lenses inside my brain. It led to an interesting discussion with friends on Facebook, as English people were understandably befuddled by all the fuss (as English is one of those wild languages whose evolution is left at the mercy of the masses) and my attempts at enlightenment less than stellar.

I have always been very good at grammar, spelling and the French language in general, I always did well at dictations, and I can appreciate a nicely put French sentence. I’ve always found a great deal of satisfaction in being able to write properly. So I understand the value of having and following set rules for how language should formerly be written, and I understand the dismay of suddenly being told that your efforts to learn how to put the flipping ‘accent circonflexe’ in the right place was for nowt. I bet there hasn’t been a change in the French spelling curriculum in decades. The Académie Française, that illustrious gathering of old-fashioned French minds that dictates what is and is not acceptably French, is not exactly known for being responsive to change, and yet it is them that pushed these changes forward. It is not like the English language is without rules either. Some are quite convinced that English is very difficult to learn because of the sheer number of irregularities; I mean, do try to pronounce cough, plough and tough without getting a headache.

What I mean to say, is that there is most certainly beauty to be found in complexity, but it is simply wrong to imply that there can be beauty only in complexity, that simplicity cannot be beautiful, or that simplicity is a sign of paucity or ‘dumbing down’. That, is most definitely an overreaction.

French people keep saying that French is a ‘langue vivante’, a language that is alive, whilst all the time looking at every suggestion of its evolution as a sign of, well, the apocalypse. It’s not even as if it hasn’t changed before. The poor accent circonflexe that is being removed from so many words, this little hat sign ˆ that has been put at the forefront of the discussion, wasn’t always in use. It used to be that hôpital was spelled hospital, and château was spelled chasteau, and the sign was added to remove the silent ‘s’. Yet it is possible that some French nationalists would like us to revert to speaking like the playwright Molière did – can you imagine having to go back to speaking Shakespeare’s English? Yeah, me neither.

This said, I know that I am going to struggle mightily with many of the spelling changes when they come into effect in September, not least that of the humble onion. It is going to go from ‘oignon’ to ‘ognon’, and I won’t lie, it looks weird to me, and I doubt that it will ever look anything but weird and misspelled. It may take a generation for the change to embed itself but to say that it dumbs down language? Ridiculous.

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31 days to love all things French {day thirty-one}

{day thirty-one} 31 days to love all things French

Bonjour!

This is it, the final day of my series on how to Frenchify Your Life.

31 days of actually finishing something

I cannot believe I managed to post every day for 31 days. When I first started, I thought I would get really stressed half-way through and give up. I was convinced I would not have enough content to write for such a sustained period. But I did it! I may have neglected my studies to do this (like, a lot) but it feels like such an accomplishment. This is particularly the case because Failing To Complete is one of the things I struggle with the most in my everyday life. I have a tendency to be full of fire and motivation when I begin something but the novelty soon wears off and I often don’t finish what I have started. It happens to me all the time. And yet, here I am on day 31, with 31 posts. I am giving myself license to go ‘yay me!’.

31 days of learning about blogging

I learnt a couple of things about blogging, namely that creating graphics takes FOREVER but should definitely not be neglected, and that if I trusted my gut and stopped nit-picking at my posts, it wouldn’t take me so long to write them.

31 days of… decent posts?

In my introductory post on 1st October, I stated that one of my fears when I started on this venture was that it would turn into an exercise in churning out posts of poor quality and/or low interest and value, just for the sake of writing. I tried to avoid this by planning topics and posts in advance rather than writing every evening for the next day, and considering the amount of research some of the posts required, I dare say it is a good thing I did! I feel I reached my goal of producing good content (I think! I hope?).

31 days of recommendations, just for fun

I forgot to say it in the actual posts, but I was not approached by anyone to review products, nor did I receive monetary rewards by companies or authors for any of the recommendations I made throughout this series. I did it purely because I personally like or use the products and sites mentioned. This said, most of the Amazon links are affiliate links, which means that if you were to go through the links to purchase the stated item, I would receive a small token of money which would go towards supporting the site.

31 days of French things

I hope you enjoyed the various topics I explored around the elusive subject of what it means to be French, and that the recommendations inspired you. We talked about food, education, history, beauty products and French novelists to name but a few, and I had a lot of fun writing some of the more random posts (hello, Napoleon!). Which one was your favourite? As you saw from my post on fashion, the fact that I know nothing about a particular subject will not stop me writing, if anything I will send you out onto the internet towards someone with more expertise. Do you have a burning question about France or French people you wish I had addressed? As ever, please don’t hesitate to contact me via email or the comments section if you want me to write about anything in particular to do with France and the French (or food).

I am now going to take a break for a couple of weeks to catch up on my studies for an assignment deadline on 10th November. I have no big plans beyond that, no big blog announcement of any sort but I aim to continue to write once a week as life allows.

If you missed any of this month’s posts again, I have curated the entire series on one page, which you can find under my main blog headings at the top of every page, or by clicking the graphic below. Thanks for staying with me this month, and happy reading!

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Books about France and the French {day twenty-nine}

{day twenty-nine} Books about France and the French

Today, I am just going to recommend a handful of books about France that are more humorous than hard history, but that I enjoyed reading and found accurate enough.

20151023_about the French bookshelf

The Secret Life of France by Lucy Wadham: I love this book; it is dry, astute and well-observed, and covers many interesting topics ranging from attitudes to illness to politics. It should be noted that it is more of a look into Paris and les Parisiens than an all-encompassing view of France. Most French people do not actually live in Paris, and often have quite a different lifestyle to those in the capital, in particular the bourgeois view on casual adultery, which is not actually the norm despite what the media will tell you.

A Year In The Merde by Stephen Clarke is not strictly a book about the French as it is a work of fiction, the first in a series, that tells the story of British expat Paul West’s misadventures in France, trying to set up his business and navigating relationships. It is a good laugh and is very accurate in its observations. It is a good series, although I would say the first two are the strongest. Stephen Clarke also wrote a Talk to the Snail: Ten Commandments for Understanding the French, which is as funny as it is informative, and the suggested phrases to use in conversation are helpful in the way that school lessons never seem to be.

Peter Mayle rose to fame with his autobiographical book A Year in Provence. I have read Bon Appetit!, which is a fun gastronomy trip via the very serious business of French food fairs.

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French people don’t jump queues {day twenty-four}

{day twenty-four} French people don't jump queues

French people don’t jump queues. They don’t tend to, and if they do, it is not well received and will likely result in the queue-jumper being passive-aggressively or directly rebuffed and sent to the back of the queue.

What happens however, if that apart from clear instances where queueing is inevitable, like at the post office or anywhere with a guichet (counter), the French do not see the need for queues in the first place. We don’t! Queues are all well and good and, you know, so civilised, but we just don’t care that much for such a level of required order. We know we’re all going to get there in the end, that there is nothing so urgent that queueing is going to resolve. What British people (and other, also very ordered, nations) see as chaos really does not seem that way to us. We like to be able to stand wherever we choose without risking being tutted at by some precious old biddy. And that is exactly how it looks to us: petty and a bit precious, just looking to make a big deal out of a non-event. Life’s too short to care about this sort of thing.

Take the bus queue: I have never been so bemused in my life than when I saw my first bus queue in my early days in England. Here’s my (very French) thought process when I see a bus queue: ‘What’s the point? There’s rarely so many people waiting for the bus, we know we’re all going to get in. Is having a choice of seats really such a big deal? What’s the worst that could happen?’ It’s even more ridiculous when there is a strike in London, and you see queues for the bus going round street corners, instead of people huddling closer to the bus stop. Is it because people are so selfish, they think everyone else are bound to elbow in at any cost and mitigate it with a nice orderly queue? Is it that people really care about who arrived first and who gets to take the window seat? As I said, French people don’t really see the need, or they don’t care that much.

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The Truth about Frogs and Snails {day nineteen}

{day nineteen} The Truth about Frogs and Snails

 

When I was preparing for this series earlier this year, I asked people on my Facebook page if they had any questions about the French that they would like answered, and one of the things that came up was: why do the French eat frogs and snails?

 

That’s a good question, which is just as puzzling to foreigners as the following two are to me: why do the British eat Marmite and why do Americans eat syrup with bacon? Mystère… If you live in the culture, it’s a no brainer; ‘because it tastes good‘ comes to mind, but like many cultural things, it can be an acquired taste, a ‘you have to be there to get it’ sort of thing.

 

When you think about what the Romans used to eat, you should maybe not be so surprised, France was properly invaded by them, and then of course, in medieval times, nobles owned the land and were pretty much the only ones allowed to hunt on it. The peasants had to make do with, well, peasant food. So in the case of frogs and snails, it probably went like this:

 

It was a dark and stormy night in medieval times and the peasants were hungry. They woke up to find an invasion of frogs crawling everywhere. ‘What to do with the vermin’, they wondered. Eat it of course! And so they did. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that. Don’t judge them.

 

I joke, but that’s as likely as any other myth story you will hear on the subject.

 

You are lucky in that I have tasted both frogs’ legs and snails so I can give you my personal opinion, and then you can decide whether it’s a food idea worth pursuing for yourself.
Photo: Todd Coleman

I liked frogs and I hated snails: both are pretty tasteless. I always describe the taste of frogs’ legs as ‘chicken that lives in water’. Bland but tasty enough when fried in butter, herbs and garlic. You do need quite a few of them to make a decent meal, as they are only skin and bones, the poor things.

 

Snails dish

 

Snails are prepared all manner of ways, including the traditional pan-fried in butter, garlic, and herbs (a French classic trio of flavours) and they’re OK I guess, if you like things that are bland and chewy. They taste fine but I didn’t like the texture at all, which goes to show it is a matter of personal taste.

 

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