Blissfully unaware

I was chatting with some friends the other day who said they were in the supermarket when an English song started playing on the overhead radio. It wasn’t just any song: it was Lilly Allen’s F*ck you very much. French families and teenagers were wandering around the supermarket while Lilly was singing expletives. Nobody batted an eyelid apart from my English friends who chuckled at the situation. I understand from living here that not all French people speak English, but many do โ€” and very well too, and surely someone at the supermarket’s head office โ€” where the songs are, I presume, chosen and approved โ€” must have seen the song title and realised that even though the swearing is not in French, it’s still not something customers would expect to hear when picking up their cheese and bread.

It reminded me of the time I was in the waiting room of a medical centre in La Clusaz. Music was playing and I listened to various French singers crooning on the radio about l’amour and les oiseaux (because the French always sing about birds). Then a Nirvana song came on. There I was, sitting with little French kids, listening to “Rape Me”. I shouldn’t be surprised, as this seems to be the most popular Nirvana song on that particular radio station and it was inevitable that it came on, but I when I thought about hearing that song in a waiting room in England or Australia, I also imagined the station quickly being switched by the receptionist. Meanwhile, here in La Clusaz, the song was only interrupted by a doctor calling my name.

Yes, this is France and French is the national language. No wonder nobody changed the radio station! But when I try to speak the language, I’m often greeted with frowns or shrugs from those who don’t have any tolerance for my bad French. When I visited the local vet the other day and tried to describe a tube of liquid that my itchy-eared cat, Bruno, needs, the receptionist frowned upon hearing my accent and my inability to remember the name of the product. I guess she figured this was going to be hard work. Her expression seemed to say (in French, of course): “Find another vet.” But before I’d said more than ten words, a kitten ran over her desk and I found myself gushing at how cute it was. She too started gushing like a proud mum, explaining that the cat had been dumped in a bag at the front door and that she thought he colleague would adopt the kitten when she came back from holidays. We had a ten minute chat about the kitten before I finally explained Bruno’s needs. She came back with the right medication and we wished each other a good afternoon before I left.

So, it seems that kittens build bridges between locals and strangers. Thanks Herisson (the kitten’s name โ€” Hedgehog because his fur was spiky). I’m not sure Bruno is all that grateful when he feels the gush of yellow liquid in his ears, but I am at least.


I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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5 comments on “Blissfully unaware
  1. Jean-Rems says:

    I see a business there. You could run a “hire a kitten” company for foreigner willing to ease their contacts with the locals.

    And once older the kitten would make an excellent fur.

    did I say that?

  2. Isabelle Felix says:

    Oh!! I must have been in the same supermarket or maybe they’re playing that song all day long! The one time I heard it, was a national radio playing it called NRJ, so I guess the director of the supermarkets don’t have their word on what plays. Still, not long ago we used to have laws, or common sense, that obligated the radios to play that kind of song only after 8pm…

    About 8, 10 years ago I used to laugh a lot when I was seeing that very fashionable tee shirt for young teens that had the cutest kitty drawing on it and pussy written on it ๐Ÿ˜€
    I guess even if a lot of ppl do speak english there is still not enough :p

    Me and Chris are getting the frowns and bad looks all the time when we go shopping around, there’s even some ppl that are gonna totally ignore his presence to talk only to me and that is how rude we french are!! But like your story at the vet proves it, you just need to scratch the little crust of rudness we have to find some pretty nice ppl under (kitties always help for that) :p

    Well I hope you’re ok and that we’ll see you at the last friday meeting!!

  3. April says:

    @Jean-Rems the “hire-a-kitten” idea started off so well…

    @Isabelle, English language on French clothing often makes me chuckle as it’s never quite right. Yours is such a classic example! I hope the etranger rudeness lessens as people get to recognise you around town. No doubt we’ll meet up soon!

  4. bertie bassett says:

    Good old Lilly!

    Last season Radio Les Arcs played her “Not Fair” song all day every day without any sign of a radio edit at all. Of course tout les lifties had it blasting it out at every possible opportunity – hence several embarassed dads trying to avoid having to explain to little johnny what ‘wet patch’ and ‘giving head’ meant whilst dangling on the truth wire.

  5. Smallseb says:

    I had the same experience at Christmas, at least two years ago, we were running errants with friends to make dinner, and in the store, a song from “The Pogues” was playing (fairytale of NY if I recall well)
    But everybody thought it was like a Christmas song.. And nobody noticed.
    We, 3 French friends, noticed the lyrics…
    Some people really need to learn English!
    And btw, I think the original song by Lilly Allen is different from the original. I think she only says Fff You. Still, if you know the language a bit, you definitely know what she is saying…

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About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced technical writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Drop by, my other site.

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