Bilingual love can be murky …
Chantal, une ado (adolescent) who speaks excellent English with virtually no accent, is just back from two weeks as a paying guest with an English family who promised une immersion totale in English living. She got more than she paid for. She’s fallen madly in love with her hosts’ teenage son! Proud of her linguistic skills, Chantal now uses them to decipher daily love letters from Archibald, sent by mél (also written mail, synonyms: courriel, e-mail. But not émail, which means enamel.)
Unfortunately, Chantal is about to be unappy in love. Like many teen-agers, she is a little fainéante(or more vulgarly, feignante: do-nothing, or lazy), so she only looks up the words she thinks she doesn’t know. If the English word looks like the French one, she assumes it means the same as well. Since about 70 percent of words in the two languages are similar or identical, she’s got a fair chance of guessing right. But this can be tricky. There are at least a thousand words which seem identical in our two languages, but actually (not actuellement, but réellement or more colloqually,en fait) they are what we all call “faux amis” (false cognates). In fact it’s the nearly bilingual who make the worst faux pas (false steps) because people assume they mean what they say — and understand what has been said to them.
Rank beginners are usually pardoned their innocent vocabulary errors. The Américaine who likes French food so much she frets that she’s becoming fate just gets a knowing smile for worrying that she’s “conceited” and draws a slightly broader grin if she announces after a big dinner that she’spleine (drunk, or alternatively, pregnant, if you’re an animal), when she means “full.” For that, she should have said “j’ai bien mangé.” A novice is even forgiven for saying she has la morale basse(low moral character) instead of le moral bas (low morale or spirits).
Chantal’s moral is dans les chaussettes (down in her socks) when she shows me the print-out of Archibald’s latest. Regarde ! (Look!) In English, the expressions she has underlined are adoringly flowery. Archibald obviously has been at the thesaurus again. Little does he suspect that the same words in French make his declarations seem downright injurieux (insulting).
But bilingual love can be a murky business… this is what Chantal understood:
What a déception (disappointment)! Only a flip through the dictionary can save Chantal from a broken heart. For this is what Archie meant: