Pourquoi le Français ?

I went to France with Sue, my francophile friend last year. She is there once again studying French – as she is every year – and writes this (bilingually).
“A common icebreaker in French classes is to explain the motivation for studying French. The responses are as varied as the people. For some, it’s a love of French food and wine, for others, it’s because someone they love speaks the language and they want to communicate with them in their own language. Still others have a family connection with France.”

Sue Pont Neuf_20151008_crpauto 35

Sue sur la Pont Neuf_

“Une entrée en maniéré courant dans les cours français est d’expliquer la motivation pour étudier français. Les réponses sont aussi variés que les gens. Pour certains, c’est l’appréciation de la cuisine et du vin; pour d’autres, c’est parce qu’on aime un français et on voudrait se parler dans sa langue maternelle. Encore d’autres ont un lien ancestrale en France.”

It’s difficult to explain my obsession with French. I love the sound of the language and the culture but this would be true of many other languages. Before I began my study of the language, I had no french friends, no french lovers, no french connection that I knew of.”

“C’est difficile d’expliquer mon obsession avec le français. J’adore la culture et la poésie de la langue mais ça serais le même cas de beaucoup de langues. Avant que j’ai commencé mon étude de la langue, je n’avais ni des amis français, ni des amants français, ni des ancêtres français.”

My (CCM) response: No other language has the melodic sound and poetry of French. This must be the reason why I have taken a class once a year for the last 8 years and meet a group of French speakers for lunch once a month.

la langue française

Ma réponse (CCM): Juste un point de désaccord sur “serais le même cas de beaucoup de langues.”  Il n’y pas autre langue avec son mélodique et la poésie du français! Ce doit être la raison pour laquelle je prends une classe une fois par an et rencontrer une groupe de francophones pour le déjeuner une fois par mois!

Are you a francophile, anglophile? (Are you a French speaker?  Feel free to take out your red pen and make any corrections!)  What other language do you speak or would you like to learn? Open the door to another culture and it will open your mind.

“Untranslatable” Words from other Cultures

The relationship between words and their meaning is a fascinating one, and linguists have spent countless years deconstructing it,  trying to figure out why there are so many feelings and ideas that we cannot even put words to, and that our languages cannot identify. This post is from Ella Frances Sanders, writer and illustrator.

Somehow narrowing it down to just a handful, we’ve illustrated some of these wonderful, elusive, words, which have no single word within the English language that could be considered a direct translation. We hope that you enjoy recognizing a feeling or two of your own among them.

1. German: Waldeinsamkeit

A feeling of solitude, being alone in the woods and a connection to nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson even wrote a whole poem about it.

2. Italian: Culaccino

The mark left on a table by a cold glass. Who knew condensation could sound so poetic.

3. Inuit: Iktsuarpok

The feeling of anticipation that leads you to go outside and check if anyone is coming, and probably also indicates an element of impatience.

4.Japanese: Komorebi

This is the word the Japanese have for when sunlight filters through the trees – the interplay between the light and the leaves.

5. Russian: Pochemuchka

                    Someone who asks a lot of questions. In fact, probably too many questions. We all know a few of these.

6. Spanish: Sobremesa

Spaniards tend to be a sociable bunch, and this word describes the period of time after a meal when you have food-induced conversations with the people you have shared the meal with.

9.French: Dépaysement

The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country – of being a foreigner, or an immigrant, of being somewhat displaced from your origin.

10. Urdu: Goya


The suspension of disbelief that can comes when reading a good tale.

The idea that words cannot always express everything has been written about extensively. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Words are but symbols for the relations of things to one another and to us; nowhere do they touch upon the absolute truth.”

‘Through The Language Glass’ by Guy Deutscher, goes a long way to explaining and understanding these loopholes; the gaps which mean there are leftover words without translations, and concepts that cannot be properly explained across cultures. But wait! Ella Frances Sanders,  author of Lost in Translation (a New York Times bestseller)  has now published a charming illustrated collection of more than fifty expressions from around the globe that explore the nuances of language: The Illustrated Book of Sayings For more see: http://ellafrancessanders.com/the-illustrated-book-of-sayings

I love words don’t you?  One of my favorites is “callipygous” as in a callipygous young lady; Aphrodite was callipygian i.e. “had beautiful buttocks.”   😉  Do you have any to share?

Le Français Lost in Translation

I am going on a river cruise on the Seine, owned by a French line, and I want to share some amusing translations (in italics below) in the English version brochure I received. I say amusing, not incorrect as I find the discrepancies charming and hope they are never “corrected” (even though in a few cases I’m not sure at all what is meant!).

La Seine: ytravelblog

La Seine: ytravelblog

Boarding in Paris at Quai de Grenelle according to the disponibility 🙂 of the Quai.

Quai Grenelle by Pascal Poggi

Quai Grenelle by Pascal Poggi

Provide walking shoes. (Oh does this mean I don’t need to bring my own?… or must I provide for others?  😉shoes the savvybackpacker

Hostess: this person is present throughout. She will organize pre-meal games, the evenings and the aerobics (hmm?!).


I will certainly defend that space.

The sundeck is a place where a distinction is made between smoking spaces.

Bath towels are provided in the boat but there are no face flannels…. (Rats I was so looking forward to flannels for the face. 😉 OK I’m being too American; the British know what face flannels are, in fact they invented them.)

Certain places are not open to your safety. During maneuvers it is not possible to visit the bridge.

You can connect yourself with your equipment to the Internet. (Sorry no photo, but just picture that  connection in your mind’s eye 😉

We will present the various excursions which punctuate the journey at our ports. A museum that offers a show trail through the time of the picnics on the grass, cafés and idling away time on the beaches.

Rouen: Joan of Arc was burnt here…We will dine with Claude Monet in Giverney (really? I can’t wait!  😉… Monet was a passionate of gardening…This leads to Jumieges, a pearl of its kind.

Giverny on travelspot

Giverny on travelspot

Tour of Château Auvers only or if the number of passengers for the tour reaches not 35 people requested… Château Martainsville, after a drive for 40 min. to the traditions and Normandie Art Museum.

Alcohol may damage your health. Please drink in moderation.

Unlimited free wine : photo by dreamstime

Unlimited free wine: photo by dreamstime

All beverages are free of charge.


Quelle amusant… it will be even more amusing when I speak French to my hapless dinner companions – they can get even for me being a smart aleck here  😉

Wish me bon voyage et bon chance!  I’ll try to post pictures when I am there next week.

Two Writers I would Most Like to Meet

Rats! I just found out David Sedaris is coming to our town and the tickets are already sold out. I mostly read fiction, but my two favorite nonfiction writers are both humorists: David Sedaris and Bill Bryson. They make me howl – literally! These men are incredibly witty – if asked who I  would most like to meet over a cup of coffee, it would be these two writers, preferably together. That’s not likely to happen, but fortunately I still have a number of their books yet to read.

David Sedaris

David Sedaris



Sedaris is the author of ” Me Talk Pretty One Day” and “Naked”  – among other funny bestsellers and essays.


Bill Bryson wrote (among many others) “In a Sunburned Country” and my all-time favorite of his, “I’m A Stranger Here Myself” (a funny take on coming home after living abroad for many years).images

I can hardly believe our small town can book the likes of David Sedaris, but then I remember  Rick Steves, of “Europe Through the Back Door” fame came as well as Lewis Zamperini, the World War II prisoner of war, Olympic runner and subject of the book “Unbroken” now a feature film.


The library runs this Distinguished Speaker Series and someone told me we’ve also had Joyce Maynard and David Eggers. Aren’t libraries wonderful? As a person who grew up an ex-pat, without the the fantastic libraries I have access to today, I am ever appreciative and grateful.

MeTalkPrettyOneDayCover (wikipedia)

Click to see my review of  “Me Talk Pretty One Day” –  Sedaris’ hilarious book about the difficulties of learning another language.     


(Bill, I owe you one, but “The Mother Tongue” is at the top of my to read pile and I did post “I’m A Stranger Here Myself” as one of my top favorite books – see: Books I Have Known And Loved.)                

Expats note – there is (as often is the case with me) a multicultural thread to this post. Have you read Sedaris and Bryson? Who are your favorite nonfiction writers?

Where Are You From?

Expat File #16 (In answer to South African writer-expat Charlotte Otter)

I am from Costa Rica. I am from eternal spring with blue skies and billowing clouds that sometimes rush in from both coasts and clash in the middle in a torrential downpour.   I am from green slopes of volcanoes and hot beaches that were once deserted. I am from coffee fincas, gallo pinto (rice and black beans) and beautiful birds. I am from warm smiles and friends. (My high school classmates have dinner together once a month and I am invited whenever I am in town – which isn’t often, but I am on the mailing list nevertheless.)

Coffee beans drying in the sun.

Coffee beans drying in the sun.

Clase de  67 ps -crp 033Photo of my HS reunion a couple of yrs ago (I’m in 1st row, 2nd from R). We were always a small class but half of us have moved away.

I am from Costa Rica…that is what I used to say as I had no state or other place in the world to claim as my own. I grew up as an expat with American parents. I lived in Costa Rica longer than anywhere else… from earliest adolescence and into my twenties. I went home to visit until my parents left Costa Rica in my thirties (they had lived out of the country by then for forty years).

Oxcart on Samara beach circa 1980.

Oxcart on Samara beach circa 1980.

Resplendant Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal








I might say I am from Greece where we moved when I was but weeks old.  And my first sentence was   “Thélo̱ pso̱mí” (I want bread) – or so I’m told.

white tower thslnk_crp0815

The White Tower in the background was originally built by the Ottomans, but it has long been a symbol of Thessaloniki.  My parents hung this painting on the walls of our houses wherever we moved.  My mother and I returned to Greece in the 1990’s – and to my great delight –  the harbor looked much the same as this watercolour I know so well.  I remember the blue water where we went to the beach …or do I just imagine it? …because we moved to Germany before I was three.

My mother said I spoke German before English, so I dutifully studied it for a semester in High School. That was in Costa Rica where the teacher, Frau Marin really was  German (and spoke Spanish, but not English) – but I didn’t speak it any better than anyone else. But I am from Germany… Because when I was twenty-five I suddenly found myself singing” Baa Baa black sheep” in German – lyrics hidden in the recesses of my mind for a quarter century.  I know all the words to a nursery rhyme I learned as a preschooler:   Mäh Mäh Schwarzes Schaf, Haben Sie Wolle? Ja, ja, ja drei Mal voll.…

old house_0192

Old timbered house.

I am from Colombia … I am from cool mountains with orchids and flower farms, hot beaches and lowlands… I remember flying over jungles and snow peaked volcanoes; I remember“onzes” (snack-time), kind  people, and colonial villages.  My elementary school had a reunion last year and I went with my sister and ate ajaico (wonderfully seasoned chicken stew) and danced the cumbia.  It felt like home – from a lifetime ago.

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… And now I am from California. From warm days and cool nights, egalitarian people, incredible spring wildflowers, tall redwoods, beaches, and deserts  … the Sierras, Monterey County and Yosemite.

Mt Tam Pt Reyes05 psat 017Mt Tam Pt Reyes05 psat016

 Panoramic photos above of the San Francisco Bay Area seen from Mt. Tamalpais.

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Finally I could pretend to be from Hawaii where I’d love to retire .

Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay

My siblings are scattered like the wind as are my children, but we are used to traveling for family get togethers. It has always been that way. We are from everywhere.

Disclosure: the idea for the post came from a South African expat-writer, Charlotte Otter. She is the author of a crime novel, Balthasar’s Gift and her blog can be found at Charlotte’s Web.

Where are YOU from?

False Friends (Spanish-English)

Opps! I planned to reblog this  amusing and educational post from “Fine Roadkill Cuisine” but when I went to schedule it apparently broke the link.  So sorry followers! A cut and paste proceeds after my comment below.

I’m bilingual, but I can’t do instantaneous translation (except casually) as it often comes out literally.  As kids, my bilingual friends and I inadvertently  and grammatically incorrectly would say “don’t molest me” as a common phrase when other kids bothered us.  You can see from the list below why we made this mistake – in Spanish “no me moleste!” is what you say, but it cannot be translated literally into English!  CM

Most mistakes in translated texts are the result of overly literal translation, in my experience. When we translate word by word instead of creating an idiomatic translation, the result includes strange and sometimes incoherent phrases or sentences. For instance, “He waited a minute or two” can be translated literally: Él esperó un minuto o dos, but it sounds more natural to say, Esperó un par de minutos “He waited a pair of minutes” or Se detuvo un momento “He paused for a moment,” because these are Spanish idioms.

Note that in English every sentence has to have a subject, in this case “he.” In Spanish the subject is omitted when it is clear from context and conjugation, as in the latter two examples above. A common error made by native Spanish speakers translating into English is to omit the subject in such sentences. This is especially tricky in sentences that don’t ever have a subject in Spanish, like Está lloviendo, which they might translate as “Is raining” instead of “It‘s raining.”

In the worst cases, a literal translation produces completely incorrect meaning, especially when false friends are involved. For example, a Latin American family took their son to the emergency room because he was dizzy and almost unconscious. They didn’t speak English, and when they tried to explain to the (English-speaking) nurse that the boy appeared to have been poisoned, she heard the word intoxicado and thought they were saying that he was drunk. The result was tragic, because the doctors saw little urgency in attending to someone who was drunk, and by the time they discovered the real problem, it was too late.  “Intoxicated” can refer to poisoning in English, but its primary meaning is “inebriated.”

False friends are constant reminders of the dangers of literal translation. “A gracious hostess” is polite; on the other hand, una anfitriona graciosa makes us laugh. “The teacher molested the children” is a horrible situation, but El maestro molestó a los niños could mean something totally trivial.

The website http://www.linguee.com is a great source of examples of translated words and phrases in context, extracted from  published text. It’s the site I most use when I’m translating documents. Of course, you have to look at the context to see if the examples are relevant, and you have to take care because not all of the translations are correct.

Following are false friends starting with G-O:

Gracioso: “funny”
Gracious: “polite, kind, hospitable”

Idioma: “language, spoken or written tongue”
Idiom: “figure of speech”

Inconsecuente: “inconsistent, contradictory”
Inconsequential: “trivial, of no importance”

Intoxicar: “poison”
Intoxicate: “inebriate”

Introducir: “insert”
Introduce: “make known by name”

Justo: “just, fair; exactly, precisely”
Just: “fair, equitable; only, barely; precisely”

Lenguaje: “terminology, jargon”
Language: “the tongue used by a community”

Maquinista: “train engineer, bus driver; machinist; machine operator”
Machinist: “lathe operator”

Molestar: “bother, pester”
Molest: “abuse sexually”

Noticia: “news”
Notice: “announcement; warning”

Ostensiblemente: “obviously, visibly”
Ostensibly: “supposedly”

This post was stolen  from “Roadkill Spatula” the handle for a fellow Colombian expat who works as a translator and is married to a lovely Colombian singer. He will be posting more False Friends no doubt; you can find his blog here :http://roadkillspatula.wordpress.com/author/roadkillspatula/

Me Talk Pretty One Day – Difficulties in Learning another Language

I am reading David Sedaris’ funny personal essays « Me Talk Pretty Someday .» I know everyone else must have read it years ago, but I had no idea it was about an American struggling to learn French while living in France, or it would have made it to the top of my reading list long ago.   Reading in bed the other night I let out a whoop and startled my husband; another time I laughed so hard I almost cried. The following are excerpted from his book (my asides are in these shaded boxes).  CM

MeTalkPrettyOneDayCover (wikipedia)

David Sedaris

David Sedaris




Meaning to say “Do you understand me?” instead Sedaris says:

“You will understand me” (and) the citizens of France responded with blank stares. I picked up a few new words, but overall the situation seemed hopeless. Neighbors would drop by and I’d struggle to entertain then with a pathetic series of simple nouns. “Food, ashtray, drink?”

“Yes,” they’d agree. “That is an ashtray all right.”

CM:  It reminds of MY  first trip to France when my back went out and I could not sit in those white plastic chairs ubiquitous in European cafes. Upon entering a restaurant I proceeded to explain that I was “mal de dos” and could I please have different “assiette?”

This made sense to me as a seat or chair is an “asiento” in Spanish, but the maître looked puzzled and asked me to repeat my performance. I took a deep breath and repeated “mal de dos” and “autre assiette SVP?”

He told me “We  have only these assiettes,” while gesturing to a set table… with assorted chairs.The whole restaurant is watching now as I point to a nice wooden chair across the room.  “That one?” I asked hopefully.

After a pregant pause he replied, “Mais Madam, that is not an assiette,” and bringing me a dinner plate – c’est une assiette and…that (pointing to the chair)  c’est une chaise.”  The diners looked away hiding their smiles, while I slunk to my chaise.

un chaise et une assiette_auto0599

une chaise et une assiette


(Back to Me Talk Pretty One Day):  I’d hoped language might come on its own the way it comes to babies, but people don’t…hypnotize you with bright objects and fuss over you when you finally say “wawa.” It got to the point where I’d see a baby in a bakery… and instinctively ball up my fists, jealous over how easy he had it. I wanted to lie down in a French crib and learn the language from scratch.

I returned to Normandy the following summer and resumed my identity as the village idiot. “See you again yesterday!” I said to butcher. « Ashtray, food ! »

Village in Normandy

Village in Normandy

I found words in the dictionary and typed them onto index cards, and committed them to memory. By the end of the month I’d managed to retain 300 nouns, none of which proved the least bit useful.

2. jardin 0266ps - Copy

On my fifth trip I limited myself to words that people actually use. From dog owners I learned “Lie down,” “Shut up” and “Who shit on this carpet?” …The grocer taught me how to count… I’d learned a total of 1,564 words and kept my vocabulary in a wooden box… and worried that if the house caught fire, I’d be back to square one with “ashtray” and would lose the intense pleasure I felt whenever I heard somebody use a word I’d come to think of as my own.

Mont St Michel, Normandy

Mont Saint Michel, Normandy

My confidence hit a new low when my friend Adeline told me that French children make mistakes, but never with the sex of nouns.  “We hear the gender once, and then think of it as part of the word. There’s nothing to it.”  It’s pretty grim world when I can’t even feel superior to a toddler. Tired of embarrassing myself in front of two-year olds, I’ve started referring to everything in the plural, which…has solved a lot of problems… in saying the melons, you use the plural article which does not reflect gender… Ask for two or 300 melons and you are off the hook. I use the plural when shopping… the problem is finding a place (in the refrigerator) for 4 lbs. of tomatoes, two chickens and a pair of pork roasts.

 In Paris David Sedaris takes a French class with a bunch of immigrant students from a sarcastic teacher. When asked a question he writes:

The teacher’s reaction led me to believe these mistakes were capital crimes in France… She (scolds), “Even a ticiwelmun knows that a typewriter is feminine.”

I absorbed as much of her abuse as I could understand, thinking that I find it ridiculous to assign gender to inanimate objects incapable of disrobing…  these things could never live up to all their sex implied.

Tour EiffelThe teacher proceeded to belittle everyone… German, Japanese, Thai, Dutch, Korean and Chinese – we all left class foolishly believing that the worst was over…but my fear crept beyond the borders of the classroom. Stopping for coffee, asking for directions… these things were now out of the question… I was convinced everything I said was wrong.  My only comfort was that I was not alone. Huddled in the hallways and making the most of our pathetic French, my fellow students and I engaged in the sort of conversation commonly overheard at refugee camps.

“Sometimes me cry alone at night.”

“That be common for I, also, but be more strong, you. Much work and someday you talk pretty…maybe tomorrow okay.”

 Have you read Sedaris? Do you have a story to share about learning a language?

FINDING an ANCESTOR’s Birthplace: Mittelstadt, southern GERMANY

Many Germans immigrated in the 1800’s and later due to war, scarcity of food or poverty. My ancestry is predominantly English; however my mother’s great grandfather came from “Prussia.” After a little bit of research and discussion with relatives, I discovered Mittelstadt, the village he came from, is on the banks of the Neckar River in southern Germany. (Prussia more often refers to northern Germany, but some immigration person may have assumed Prussia included Germany – a common error.) Specifically, Mittelstadt is near the Black Forest, northeast of Freiburg and southeast of Stuttgart and Heidelburg in the province of Baden-Wurtenberg.


Map of Rhine, Main and Neckar Rivers

Map of Rhine, Main and Neckar Rivers by Ostasieninstitut

Goose on bridge  entering the village.

Goose on bridge entering the village.


Mttlstdt am Neckar 0211 ps

Mittelstadt on Neckar River








I made a point of visiting while we were in the area even though I had heard that the church had burned down with all the records in the last century. We, husband Tom and I, discovered the church had been rebuilt and in more recent years been converted into a grade school

Mittelstat schule_0212 ps

Across the street was the graveyard and Tom and I browsed the headstones in search of the name Rudell ; I also looked on war memorials for ancestors of that name and queried some locals. Alas… no Rudells.

chapel in cemetary Mttlstdt_ps0214

Chapel in cemetery

Entering Mittelstadt




I then proceeded to the Rathaus where a nice young gentleman explained their records only went back to 1875.

RAthaus - photo by Panaramio

Rathaus – photo by Panaramio

At first he was frustrated either with my “tourist German” or with the problem I presented him (my ancestor was born in 1830), but then he reached back into his high school English and found it was better than he thought it was (certainly better then my German) and he rose to the challenge. We found if I tried to speak German and he replied in English we could communicate better than trying to use either language exclusively. He ended up giving me half an hour of his time and gave me several leads in different towns and dioceses. It turns out that the Protestants (“Evangelisch” he called them) have a different system than the Catholics and the records are kept in separate towns! I don’t even know which religion claimed great-great grandfather Charles (Karl) Eduard. I only had time to drive to one town(where the records had been moved yet again) so I will pursue the others by email when I have more time.

Karl Eduard Rudell immigrated to Arkansas – which I always thought a bit strange, but have since found out quite a few Germans ended up there. Some who fought in the Civil War were awarded a piece of land in northern Arkansas.

Photo of his Descendants in the late 1930s(?): from left to right, my Aunt Helen (his great-granddaughter) and his three granddaughters – my Grandmother (she looks just like my mother), great Aunt Essie Lucinda and great Aunt Grace.

Helen, Birdie, Essie, Gracelyn  mid 1930's 10108

This was/is an interesting and fun experience even if I eventually meet a dead end.  I have an ancestor to track down in Cornwall someday too.  I’m named after my great grandmother Lucinda Rudell, as is my mother and Essie Lucinda (in the picture above).  Amazingly I found the name Lucinda goes back mother to daughter for almost 200 years!

Have you worked on your family tree or visited the lands of your ancestors? And of course I would love any advice from you ancestry buffs – I’m a real novice.

Saying “you” three different ways in Spanish

In my youth it was acceptable to address most everyone (except children) with “Usted” but the reverse usage of “tu” was not true; this  appears to have changed. Language seems to have become much less formal and I find everyone addressing me as “tu” and I have to remember to do the same. Do you and Alicia agree? (Alicia…what a great name… tell her that is the name of the heroine in my novel!)I first learned Spanish in Colombia and then moved to Costa Rica where they use “vos”. I have dropped it as “tu” is more common, but didn’t realize it IS so widely used.
I’m a language lover myself and would like to repost this.
Saludos, Cinda

Fine Roadkill Cuisine

As a linguist, and having grown up reading the King James Bible and Shakespeare, I get extremely irritated when ignorant people goof around with “thou” conjugation and add “-eth” or “-est” to adjectives, nouns, wherever they think it might be funny. There is a mystique associated with “thou” because of its use in the King James. But its use was not complicated, although its conjugation can be. “Thou” was originally the singular form, and “you” plural. With time, “thou” became the familiar form and “you” the respectful form. By the late 1600s, “thou” fell into disuse, and now we use “you” for everyone.

Spanish has a more complicated pronoun history, and remains more complex than English. In school you were taught “tú” and “usted” for “you”. “Usted” conjugates with “él/ella” and is the respectful form, “tú” is the familiar, paralleling “you” and “thou”.

However, in real life, vast sections of…

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