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 — and very well too, and surely someone at the supermarket’s head office — where the songs are, I presume, chosen and approved — 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 — 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.