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Sunday, April 22, 2012

“Oh the Cow!” (Funny French TV)

So maybe it’s just my way of rationalizing the amount of time I’ve been spending online at night, but I have found the most hilarious French sitcom on youtube (it's not wasting time if I'm learning French, right?). Actually “sitcom” is probably the wrong term....it’s not the kind where you hear the audience laughing in the background. In my case you just hear yourself cracking up on the couch (to the consternation of my husband who is simultaneously trying to get real work done next to me...).

It is called “Platane” and stars Eric Judor, who apparently is already a well known comedian who had a successful run with a show called “Eric et Ramzy” and is now venturing out on his own. And essentially, that is also the storyline of this show. The first episode consists of Eric, playing himself, pitching an idea for a new comedy at a press conference-followed-by-party after which, completely drunk, he crashes into a tree (“se payer un platane” means “to crash into a tree” per wordreference.com) on the way home. During his several weeks of convalescence he experiences an awakening and decides his work needs to follow a more meaningful path, so he determines to shake off his comedic persona and direct a “serious” film. I haven’t followed its plot too well (it involves a singer learning she is a descendant of Edith Piaf ) as it is only the backdrop to the main story of the show which is his journey to getting it produced.

And that is the funny backbone as Eric employs endless cheating tactics that keep coming back to bite him. For instance, in Episode 4 where he pretends to be an environmentalist in order to lure nature loving star Monica Bellucci into the lead role, but when a real activist stops at his car window as he waits at a red light, Eric is annoyed when the guy puts a sticker of support on his cashmere sweater. The guy tells him to relax, it will come out in the wash, and Eric rips a piece of his guy’s jacket off and replies “relax, it will come out in the wash”. Retribution is inevitable when Monica invites Eric to be the keynote speaker at an environmental conference that evening, attended by the assaulted activist.

I’m not sure if I am finding it so funny because my French is better, or my cultural awareness has improved, or if the format of French comedy has become more American in style (it kind of reminds me of Seinfeld in the way the pieces all fit together). I just have this strong memory of not understanding French humor when I lived there and I am extremely proud of my growing ability get the joke!

I just realized my posts are starting to contain more adult-focused content. Let me think about how this is helping me be a better French teacher to Zach. Definitely not from my increased comfort with words like “putain” and “t’es chiante” which abound in the series (why is it when you swear in a foreign language you don’t feel like it’s all that offensive and is therefore overly tempting to do?). But we as a family have officially embraced Eric’s favorite expression: “Oh, la Vache!”- which I understand to be sort of the equivalent of a both positive and negative “oh my God” (by the way, I don’t mean any religious offense in my English translation of what would literally by “oh the cow!”)

I highly recommend "Platane" for French language comic relief. If you want to start at the beginning of the series, go here and then you should be able to link to later episodes (until it is removed from youtube for copyright infringement; by the way, if there is a legitimate way for me to access this content, can someone let me know?)

Oh la vache! It’s so late - bonne nuit!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Grown up reading in French

Grown-up stories in French

So after 20 years of what I’ll call lack of motivation, I am finally reading (books) in French. I had no idea what I was missing. It makes me think that while the heavy duty literature (Rousseau, Voltaire.. ) reading assignments from my high school French class were probably extremely important as a means of exposing me to literary canons, as a way to hook teenagers onto the pleasures of reading in a foreign language it is a bit counter productive. I never had trouble putting down a chapter of Le Rouge et Le Noir (Stendhal). But Le Voisin by Tatiana de Roznay? Pas possible!

In the same way that I try to encourage Zach’s reading--in any language--by following his natural interests (robots, pirates, bulldozers) and picking stories appropriate to his level of comprehension--I have recently begun doing the same for myself. It has been fantastic for my French. I have breezed through about seven novels borrowed over the past several months from my local library (I am extremely lucky to live in Bethesda!) based on a google search of something like “best selling French authors”. A few I have found particularly addictive:

Guillaume Musso: he’s written “Que serai-je sans toi”, “Parce que je t’aime” and at least one other I can’t remember the name of right now. I literally could not put these down. After reading three of his novels, each of which deal with themes of life after death and destiny, he seems a little obsessed. But the love stories are riveting and the plots gut-wrenchingly suspenseful. Another attractive aspect of his writing is that in every instance so far there is a Franco-American storyline or the story is set in an American city, usually San Francisco. Having the French language story in a familiar setting makes it somehow less “foreign”. It also brings a French writer’s perspective on American culture which I always find interesting.

I also absolutely loved Anna Gavalda’s “Je voudrais que quelqu’un m’attende,” which is a collection of short stories from such diversity of voices and perspectives (a gay veterinarian dealing with homophobia in a country village (fyi redneck = plouc); a young law student starved for romance; a late teenage soldier living in his brother’s shadow; a middle aged man reconnecting with an old flame) that it felt like the literary equivalent of a cross country tour, like I had done a dozen mini foreign exchange home-stays.

“Le voisin” by Tatiana de Roznay was disturbing but also enthralling. Essentially a lonely and neglected housewife and part-time writer is taunted by her upstairs neighbor, wreaking havoc on her psyche but at the same time she is forced to face up to her unsatisfying existence and ridiculously selfish husband. Excellent reading, if a little depressing.

In the past, before my French reading “renaissance” I had such a hard time reading in French. I never sought out popular authors, and with the classics I was doomed since I was lucky if I understood a third of the words and was too lazy (or normal?) to sit with a dictionary as I read. Now, thanks to these easy to read authors, I would say my comprehension varies from 65-85% depending on the book which allows me to actually enjoy the story. Whether because they employ a simpler style or just use less vocabulary, I am able to read through freely.

And from reading so many different books, I am getting a much better sense of which are commonly used words so if I keep stumbling upon ones I don’t know eventually I can’t stand not knowing what they mean (example: glousser=chuckle, ricaner=giggle). At that point the task of learning the words -- sitting on the couch with laptop on lap and book in hand and as I come to them while reading, and quickly looking up the unrecognized words on wordreference.com -- feels worth the effort.

So while my volumes penned by the big “intellos” gather dust on my bookshelf, I’m off to cozy up to “Embrasse-moi” by Katherine Pancol. Bonne soiree!