I’ve just finished reading “An Englishman in Paris” by Michael Sadler and it would be a waste not to point it out to all and sundry as a magnificent reading book to be read à l’aise preferably while stretched out on your favourite transat under the hot mediterranean sun. Books about cross-cultural pollination and culture shocks have always fascinated me – probably ever since I first saw Corfu through the eyes of Gerald Durrell’s family many, many years ago.
Sadler fell in love with France and the French and loses all apparent Englishness by the second page of his book. His flowery, descriptive language and humour make Stephen Clarke’s “A Year in the Merde” pale in comparison. Sadler has given me a new quest: to drive to Dieppe (of all places) and buy my very own Livarot…
At table yesterday evening sat an Irishman, a Pole, two Belgians, a Frenchwoman, a Finn, a Yorkshireman (ok…. a Brit) and me. Let’s not bother with the questionable grammatic construction of the previous sentence. I am more intrigued by the cross-cultural hybrid – that species of human who has lived outside his normal cultural habitat and begins to develop or assimilate that of others.
The most obvious example of this is the language omelette. This happens to the subject under examination when, due to constant exposure to a third or fourth language in the land that is currently hosting, his language skills suddenly become a mesh of individual words with a life of their own. I have already discussed this phenomenon in Kinnie & Twistees some time ago. It happens when the brain – sick and tired of all the different language tags for the same thing – decides to discard one or more terms that will instantly become obsolete in favour of one word from one of the languages in the brain pot.
Let me explain. Let us take “rubbish”. When looking at the black litter bag sitting at the edge of a kitchen cupboard and begging to be taken to it’s coocoon stage in the heart of a skip on the roadside my brain comes up with the following sentence:
“Mel… I am going to take the —– to the cave.”
The cave being where aforementioned skip is situated. Note the gap in the sentence. That is where the word “rubbish” would normally go. Instead there is a clash of nomenclatures that occurs somewhere before the departure from the brain into the command box behind the vocal chords. Or something like that. “Zibel” is posed to be a straight victor having come straight from the “tongue my mother gave me”*, “rubbish” has a slight advantage since the general sentence protocol requires that we stick to one word as far as possible. In the end guess who trumps them all? Well I never… it’s “dechets”. Yep.. the French word now comes more automatically than any other.
The same happened to Gary the Yorkshireman yesterday. He was trying to describe a beautiful view in Sicily involving Mount Etna, a split village and lots of lava. What came out was something like this…
“You have to see it… it was… how do you say?…. incroyable”.
Folks. It happened to an Englishman. By the Yorkshireman’s own admittance this was not the first occasion that a Frog word replaces its perfectly acceptable English equivalent. Mon Dieu!
What’s next… God Save la Reine?
Is there a scientific explanation for all this? Dites-moi s’il vous plait!