Monday, 19 July 2004

Away with Gallicisms

Perhaps because the French teacher was a nice man and very good at his job, I became a francophile when I was quite young. But in those days language teaching was not of the kind that empowered you to converse with people from another country, so after eight years study and a pass in French at something called ‘Matric’ I found when I crossed the Channel for the first time that I couldn’t speak enough of the language to buy a packet of cigarettes, let alone engage in any worthwhile conversation.

Later I discovered French films (this was the fifties), and wallowed in them once a week for several years. Then, the three jobs I had in my working life were all with organisations which had major involvements in France, and I was married for twenty-two years to a Frenchwoman. So, one way and another, I have picked up a bit of French; I am particularly strong on vegetables.

I like French. But has always seemed to me that we should not, while in our own country, use French words where perfectly good native equivalents exist. Why call for a menu, for example, when you can say ‘Let me see your Bill of Fare’? And if some smarmy clown with a silk stripe down his pants offers you a choice of pommes parmentier, à la dauphinoise, duchesse, sautées or whatever, then you should wave him away saying, firmly but not loudly, ‘Bring me a lightly boiled Arran Pilot’ (or, in the United States, mature Red Pontiac).

Actually, Americans need to work at this even harder than we do, particularly the francophobes among them. At least we are used to ordering a fillet steak rather than what they seem to like calling a feelay.

Of course, English has its limitations; if you have acquaintances who are blasé, chic or naïve you should not attempt to describe them to third parties.

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