March 4, 2008

Entre Guillemets

While teaching English today, we had a discussion of places we would like to go. One of my students, Bruno, a taxi driver, who, for some curious reason, wants to learn English (and no, I assure you, it is not to accommodate his clients in the back seat) said that he would like to go to Yellowstone. Bruno is this sort-of inarticulate fellow in French, and so you can imagine how he sounds in English, and the other students seem to chafe against him. They sit next to him and seemed to be rubbed the wrong way continually throughout the class. They roll their eyes in their not-so-subtle French manner and act as if he is a burden to bear.

I quite like him, despite the fact that he only comes to 'tea time' (an hour where we serve tea and speak English freely with the students) for the biscuits and cookies. Maybe I like him because of that. He is so unpretentious. Sometimes after he has had enough of English for one day, he just gets up and says simply, “ça suffit” (that’s enough) and leaves. He said to me today, 'You like to display words with your eyes. That is good for us.' I took it as a nice compliment, although I’m pretty sure he was making fun of me and my wide-eyed nodding when a student says something correctly.

Bruno elaborated about why he would like to go to Yellowstone. First of all – to see the ‘bee-zon’ (bison). Second, for the ‘gee-zair’ (geysers). It took a full explanation from him using his hands to demonstrate an exploding geyser before I understood what exactly he was saying, even though the word for geyser is the same in English and French.

All in all, I think we can agree – two great reasons to go to Yellowstone.

I also had a good laugh with the other teachers when we were talking about using quotation marks in speech. Americans, of course, use a hand gesture with the first two fingers of each hand imitating quotation marks, while saying what is actually in the quotation marks in their speech - the Brits do the same. However, the Brits do not use the term quotation marks. They call those things "inverted commas."

And the French top everyone. They actually say the words 'entre guillemets' (between quotation marks) in the sentence just before the quotation-marked word.* For example, “J'étais vraiment entre guillemets pas contente” (“I was seriously between quotation marks not happy”).

*Xavier clarified that this way of speaking in French should be noted as a “personal assistant's way of speaking (in the 80’s).”


Princesse Ecossaise said...

Hello, I just randomly came across your blog and I'm really glad I did! I've been enjoying reading back some of your archived posts and just wanted to say hello.

I'm moving permanently to Paris in May and was thinking about working at the wall street institute too!!

Coincidence? I think perhaps I was destined to come across your lovely blog!

Take care :-)

JR said...

Emilie - Julie and I also wish for a vacation to Yellowstone. But our #1 reason is to see the geyser and #2 to see bison, so our priorities are a little different from Bno. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

That's funny. When I was last in Yellowstone (or Jellystone, as Fred & Barney called it), I actually saw a bison fall smack into a geyser. Two for one. Who would've guessed?

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