When I went to England a few years ago my British boss seemed a little disappointed I didn’t speak English with a French accent.
All the stereotypes that have become impregnated in our collective memory tell us that as a general rule French women are sexy and French men are charming so everything à la française is très, très chic. While yes, some French women do look amazingly fashionable and some of the garçons are indeed charming (and also fashionable) I wouldn’t extend this rule to the accent. When I’m having a conversation with someone, I actually want to understand them, exchange thoughts and ideas, in a word communicate. I don’t want to be standing in front of them, mouth gaping, eyes fixed somewhere in space, my mind rambling from unicorns to E=mc2 because I just cannot make sense of what they’re saying.
I know French people whose English is at the good/very good/great level but every once in a while, at a conference, during a class or passing by on the street, I hear Francophones butchering the English language like it’s a pork chop. At a seminar I attended a few weeks ago, the speaker was absolutely painful to listen to. I might have been in a very crabby mood, but those two hours seemed like an eternity spent listening to a guy babble on a boring subject in an apparently foreign language. Among the plethora of zis, zat and the ubiquitous guttural R in all the wrong places, the word focus was the slap that woke me up from my boredom-induced slumber. And not because of its meaning or any bizarre connotations, but because its à la française version was fuck us. (That’s right, I didn’t even use an asterisk instead of ‘u’)
Before I started writing this post, I googled the matter and apparently it’s a common one. So, an appeal to all Francophones who happen to be reading this: if you don’t fully master the spoken English and have to give a talk in front of an audience, for the love of all that is sacred, either learn how to pronounce focus [foʊ-kəs], or use a thesaurus! Otherwise you will be remembered as the guy/gal who made [insert talk topic here] sound really, really dirty.
I posted this focus incident on Facebook, and my friends’ comments included the always fun-to-listen-to H sound present or missing when it’s not supposed to, as in “my [h]eyes” or “_andicap spot”, and the slap in the face that is the word “money” pronounced exactly like the English version of “Monet”. A veritable linguistic symphony is what this is!
I know that by now some of you are rolling your [h]eyes, thinking that the English are not doing that well when speaking French, either. Yes, that’s true. There’s an equal (if not larger) amount of butchering going on – voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir is, for many Americans all the French they know (mind you, I don’t think any French person would ask somebody to go to bed with them using this question). The inability to correctly speak English becomes however most obvious (and therefore more prone to being laughed at by bloggers) in the scientific community because at conferences and seminars outside of France the official language is alas, that of Will Shakespeare.