A friend of mine used to speed-spell whole conversations with one of his sisters about the other sister. The only thing this other sister could make out would be her own name and she’d be all “Huh? Huh? What?” while her two siblings would just smile menacingly and spell “H-A-H-A-H-A-H-A-H-A”.
My husband and I used to spell words out a lot when discussing things of a delicate or secretive nature in front of the kids. But since Mr Justice has learnt to read, we’ve discovered there is a definite downside to having a literate child in the house. Now, thanks to that little whippet-fast brain of his, he’s already shouting out the word before we’ve even finished spelling it. And we can certainly no longer make reference to something like “the F-word” and have him go off and muse quietly to himself: “Mmmm, let’s see… F… F… what begins with F? Why I do believe it’s Four Fluffy Feathers on a Fiffer-Feffer-Feff.”
And so, we have taken to speaking in Really Bad French when we don’t want the children to understand – as once mentioned in a long-ago post (remember “Open Rage Zoo“? I just re-read it myself and was, over four months after the event, finally able to laugh about it. And then cry a little, too.) Some people might be a little taken aback by my description of our French as “Really Bad”. They might even go so far as to exclaim “Mais c’est une grande suprise, NDM! You studied French until Year 12 and your husband did A-Level French as a young adult in London, so how bad can your French actually be?”
Well let’s just say that whenever we speak it, The Pixie gets Very Cross Indeed and shouts “STOP TALKING IN CHINESE!”, which I suspect most native-french speakers would shout if they happened to overhear us. If you’re still not getting the picture, let’s just also say that whenever I, personally, speak French it is the linguistic equivalent of deliberately putting a bumper box of tissues in with the dark clothes wash – completely unforgivable.
And of course the other big problem with all this is that not everybody is as try-lingual as my husband and I. When I find myself in conversation with another adult and want to say something – how you say – risqué in front of the C-H-I-L-D-R-E-N, I end up blurting out something like “Parlez-vous français?” in desperation.
And the other adult gives me this look that kind of says “Oh you pretentious twat, NDM. We had you down as a Salt-of-The-Earth type but here you are trying to talk French to me. Well. I. Just. Don’t. Like. It. Missy.”
And I’m left feeling all sheepish and wishing that I was a character in a Tolstoy novel instead of an Australian housewife so that I might be merrily parlez-ing le français with my peers at a ball in St Petersburg and would have a nice long complicated name that it makes everyone have to look at the list at the front of the book every time I am mentioned in the book to remember who the hell I am. And yes, my brain often goes off on these little tangents. It’s the closest thing I ever seem to get to a Real Holiday.
In any case, our French – however bad – is certainly useful for discussing all manner of subjects, from asking where the chocolate biscuits are hidden to making remarks about other people that I wouldn’t necessarily want to be repeated back to the subject (as children often do, little parrots that they are). Although, one of these days, Mr Justice is bound to go up to someone and say “My mother says you are a imbécile complet.” So I’ll be made to look bitchy AND pretentious. And it will totally serve me right.
In the meantime, Mr Justice is definitely getting his own back now that he is studying Italian at school. The other day he said to me, as cool as a cetriolo, “Mi chiamo [Mr Justice]. Come ti chiami?”
Huh? Sorry, sweetheart. I don’t speak Italian.
“That’s okay, mummy”, he replied in that tone of voice that suggested he might have patted me on the head if he was tall enough. And I’ll be darned if I didn’t then hear him mutter “H-A-H-A-H-A-H-A-H-A” under his breath…