I moved to London seven years ago. In pure French middle-class tradition, my first foreign language was German, which did not really help. Taking German at 11 years old is supposed to put you in better classes. English is taught later…and when that time came it was probably too late for me to speak it properly…
The beauty of the brain is that it can adapt to any situation. I had to brush up my British skills. And I did. Enough to live and work in English, anyway.
But I must not kid myself here. I will never really speak proper English. Speaking or writing English is a subtle art that requires patience, practice and an excellent knowledge of the social rules. Too late for me, I am afraid.
That said, you know that you are on the right track when you realise that the sentence you are reading can mean one thing and its exact opposite at the same time. One day, I was reading about what seemed to be a clear-cut corruption case in one of the leading newspapers. But the internal investigation had concluded that:
“There [was] no clear evidence of corruption.”
On the face of it, it is a simple sentence. But, as I have learned, simplicity doesn’t always mean clarity. What does this sentence mean? Does it mean that the guy hasn’t done anything wrong? Or does this mean that there is unclear evidence of corruption -in which case he actually has done something wrong. With my usual esprit de l’escalier, I have finally realised that the Director in charge of the investigation was probably a lazy lump and he didn’t really want to conclude anything. The English language had allowed him to keep all options open.
I was relieved to have eventually found a credible theory on that one –believe me, it took me some time. When I explained it to a friend of mine, he said:
“I don’t disagree”
I was baffled. Technically, if he doesn’t disagree then he agrees. But then, he has chosen not to simply say that he agrees. Why? Probably because, in fact, he doesn’t really agree -see, one thing and its opposite again…I have come to the conclusion that, in fact, he doesn’t really care or he believes that my theory is too far fetched. That being said, I will not ask him to clarify. Too risky. Am already tired of interpreting.
I thanked him for his response (I was told that it is polite to do so) and he told me that we should agree to touch base next week. I panicked. When I found out that touching base had nothing to do with, actually, touching your base (or anyone else’s) I couldn’t help being relieved!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London