A while back, a book club in my hometown chose Finding Me in France as one of their summer reads. So I did a Q & A by Skype with the group, great fun indeed. One of the questions was aimed at discovering my biggest faux pas in France. I thought about it for a few minutes and decided that there was no one large calamity, rather a series of smaller humiliations strung together like perfectly shaped pearls; little piles of merde forming one big pile of merde known as my life in France.
But today I stand corrected. To Lori and her gang of bibliophiles: I have a new answer to your question. Let me set the stage a little. I have the mouth of a fishwife, meaning I have an ever so slight propensity toward the profane. Oh not here on the blog as you all know. No, here I can censor myself, unlike my speaking life where every thought that pops into my addled brain spews forth without so much as a passing glance from decorum and dignity. I learned this from Neil, or at least that’s the story for our purposes.
Anyway, one of the great things about living in a foreign language is the slate gets wiped clean. There is no real flow of speech so I never relax enough to let things slide into verbal debauchery. The point is I don’t swear in French or so I thought. I have made a terrible discovery. For the last two years, TWO YEARS I TELL YOU, I have been expressing “I don’t care” or “it doesn’t matter to me” with the phrase je m’en fous, which roughly translates to “I don’t give a f*ck.”
Just imagine, it goes something like this:
Lovely French waiter: “Would Madame like the duck or the fish for the main course this evening?”
Me (polite voice, big smile): “Monsieur, what do you recommend because I don’t give a f*ck.”
Somehow the issue came up at a dinner with friends the other night and it was revealed that I’d been led astray on the use of this phrase. The worst part is that Neil was the one who told me, “Have you really been saying that everywhere?” he said, like I couldn’t have used that information before now. I know I’ve used it many times in restaurants, stores, and god know where else. My nerves.
Now when I make a mistake it’s almost always someone else’s fault. Of course Neil is to blame on many fronts but I suspect the real culprit here is Mademoiselle Elodie. Many of my phrases have been picked up during physiotherapy sessions. Elodie and I often swap colloquialisms and as her luck would have it (she adores English cursing), she stumbled upon the motherlode of English expletives when she took me on as a patient. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of my tutelage. How could I not be? Whose heart wouldn’t be warmed by a chic, young French woman who greets you with, “Jesus f*cking Christ, how are you today?”
In my defense, I have always warned the fair maiden that these phrases are not safe for public consumption. She loves the C-word (she did ask for the worst I could think of) and I’ve told her time and time again to never, ever use that. I’m not sure if she’s heeding my advice and in the big picture I suppose that’s okay. Even the most horrible English words sound charming with a French accent. Plus, she’s young and snappy and very pretty, so she can get away with a lot.
As for me, I’m getting older and perhaps wiser by the day and with that comes an increasing devotion to the concept of saying (and doing) whatever the hell I want. Let people think what they will. Sure, I probably sound like a crass buffoon most of the time but hey, life is too short to worry about trivial matters like French Potty Mouth Syndrome. Really, at the end of the day, je m’en fous.