To facilitate my assimilation into Swiss culture and become a proper cheese-eating neutrality-monkey, I have started to grow some facial hair, tuck my shirts into my jeans (this is not purely continental behavior and I normally use it to identify posh English people; if they’re tucking a shirt into red trousers then it’s odds on that they’re called Harry and have a fondness for spanking…) and do a French course.
The French course is run by a company called Migros. Migros is – strangley – a Swiss supermarket chain a bit like Tesco. I know it might seem insane and that all they’re going to teach me is phrases like: I want to buy everything in the shop for twice the price….and…I want cash back; but you keep it. But Migros do this because they have an amazing CSR policy (I think that Tesco do have a CSR policy but I think it’s shit: like, they promise to not grind up babies heads to use as shopping trolley wheels or use Panda pelts as uniforms or they’ll promise to take the holes out of their carrier bags so that the oxygen saved by a baby chocking to death will offset the CO2 used to make the bag…that kind of thing).
So, Migros own some awesome playgrounds, and do lots of charitable things and have colleges where you can learn lots of things…including French. So, I used their completely confusing website to do an online test which rates your French and then you can take the appropriate course for your ability. My muppet-rating was A2 so I am above talking really loudly in English but I’m not exactly Tony Blair either.
Ecole Migros is in a town called Nyon (pron. Nyohn…ish) and it has a carpark with spaces for Matchbox cars, so I park the Touran across two and glare at people. There is pandemonium in reception as the receptionist cannot speak any other language apart from French and people are here…because they cannot speak French. I don’t know much about running a language course but I’d reckon that having a linguist at front of house would be top of my bloomin’ to-do list.
My course, it transpires, is half way through; so I join an established class and we launch into past-imperfect verbs and It is like they’re speaking Klingon. So I sit there and I think: here we go again. Grammar, grammar, grammar. I know grammar is important – but FFS, I am trying to communicate, not run for public office. So I traipse home clutching my freshly pressed book called Allors Deux, a sheaf of incomprehensible notes and some right, rock-hard homework.
I complete the homework (which even my missus thinks is a bit challenging) and return to my class and I am not on the list. The French teacher, who has a massive chip on her shoulder (maybe she was at Waterloo or something…), starts giving me grief in French (as she stoically refuses to speak English. I know it is probably good practice to immerse oneself in French at every available opportunity, but for admin? Jesus, woman, get over it…). We then start doing numbers.
Right, what the hell is up with the French and numbers? I am all good up to sixty and then seventy is soixante-dix (literal translation is sixty-ten), eighty is quatre-vingts (literal translation is four-twenties) and then ninety is quatre-vingts-dix (literal translation is four twenties and ten). I am totally bemused – what? These are the people who pushed decimilisation and kilometres and kilograms. If you say that you’re 6’2” and weigh 13 stone then they look at you like you’re the missing link or you’re an extra off Quantum Leap.
So you’d think that their numbers would be one to a hundred – but no, they are all: four and twenty euros, sil-vous plait. What are you? Saxon villagers? Do I swap you a goat for an Xbox controller? Then -THEN – the bloody Swizzers say (quite rightly) those Frenchies are off their tetes, you want to say: septante, Huitant and…I just wish these people would make their mind up AND SORT THEIR BLOODY LANGUAGE OUT.
It transpires that I have been bumped down to A1+, which is just above waving your arms around and using gestures like Marcel Marceau, but just below being able to translate Voltaire from the original text. Then I have an funny exchange with the new teacher:
Madame: So, when using tu…[tu is informal version of you]
MrShev: Can we use tu with everyone, or will we offend people?
Madame: No, only with people you know…and children and animals [love that they are grouped together…soooo Swiss*]
MrShev: But all the poeple I know in Switzerland are my family…and I don’t need to speak French with them.
Madame: [joking – I hope] Well, animals then.
MrShev: Animals speak French? [she looks blank…tumbleweed blows through the classroom] So shouldn’t we just vous everyone?
Madame: …well, you could, but…
MrShev: One less thing to learn and conjugate, isn’t it?
This is what annoys me about the language, it has zero logic. I know English doesn’t have a great deal more, but it has about 400,000 more words than French. At least it has it’s numbers sorted.
* I saw some Swizzers taking their dog to the playground. I don’t think that playgrounds are the right environments for animals that defecate whenever they feel like it. You can read about my feelings on dogs here. But the crazy bit was they deprived children of the swings and a seesaw and – briefly – the slide, because they took their dog onto them…and took pictures. There are places for people like this; they’re called asylums.