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Bon mots in belle france


Lost in translation: Elle Gordon. Photo: Kip Carroll

Lost in translation: Elle Gordon. Photo: Kip Carroll

Lost in translation: Elle Gordon. Photo: Kip Carroll

'Elle?" "Yes? 0h, eh, sorry". Mumble; shuffles away. The shuffler is me a few weeks ago, slinking away from a conversation I thought I was involved in. Where was I, you ask? Well, I was ever so slightly jarred at my French cousin's wedding in Paris.

The 'elle' in question was the pronoun the French use in their sentences, as opposed to Elle, my name. My name came about as the result of a manic switch by myself and my family, with the realisation that Elspbeth, my given name at birth, was destined to be mispronounced and misspelt for all of eternity.

Before this wedding, I'd never given much consideration to my lack of ability in mastering French. If I remember correctly, I got a B in my Junior Cert French. Not too shabby. My Leaving Cert result? Let's just say it was in that neighbourhood - the dodgier end. Fast forward, and there I was, a pondering bystander, wondering mainly what on earth everyone was saying. I glance at my sister. "D'accord", I hear her say, as she throws back her head, laughing at some joke. I spot my brother, who is fluent in German; all those years mastering that language must mean he couldn't possibly be any more at ease with French than I. "Ah, oui, oui", I hear him say. It tumbles out, his pronunciation perfect. Harumph!

Luckily, my French cousin had considered the possible language barrier. Our table consisted of a glam colleague of hers from the UK, the Irish cousins, and some delightful Texans. This made for a seamless meal with no language mountains. Can you pass the butter? A perfectly useful sentence, as opposed to, Pouvez-vous . . . em, passer? Oh, never mind. It was a gorgeous evening. Then the speeches began. The thought of speeches at any wedding gets a bit of a mixed reaction. Sitting through the tales of dodgy dates and even dodgier outfits is a bit of a Marmite situation. I'm usually a lover of speeches - especially if you ply me with Champagne beforehand. And, at this stage, I was most definitely plied.

However, this was a whole new experience. My cousin had opted for a video montage of friends telling all the tales. This didn't just involve one, but a lot. There were roars, sniggers, chuckles, giggles, the occasional "Ahhh" and reams of ha-ha-has. None from the Irish side. We tittered and gave knowing nods. I moved onto a knowing nudge when one of my French cousins looked at me to accompany her in a giggle. I wondered would I be able to keep up my façade of understanding this hilarity. How much more did we have to endure?

Then, they appeared. Never have I appreciated something so much in my life - a slight exaggeration but, as mentioned, I was merry. The subtitle. The humble subtitle. There they were, a shining glimmer of translation; the Frenchies' laughter now mingled with enthused catching-up snorts from the Irish.

"Absolutely gas," we roared. It was glorious to find ourselves in the land of comprehension. But, before we knew it, the speeches came to an end, and, with that, understanding abruptly halted.

Then Usher's voice burst across the dance floor. The Irish side went wild singing along. What a joy! As a result of the margaritas consumed, friendships had formed regardless. A sort of mad dance-off was starting to erupt. France versus Ireland. One of my new French friends was singing along as she sashayed over to me with feather boas in hand, one for each of us. Yeah, I'm not sure why, either. On the boas went. Looking at her word-perfect singing, I thought to ask, "Eh, vous understand-ay vous the words of the song?" She looked at me and laughed. Quelle? Not a word, and yet we were having the best time. It would seem that no matter where you are, a party is just to be enjoyed.

For the next one? Given that I have a bit more time (my other French cousins are single) I'll make the effort to brush up on my French - after all, it's such a beautiful language. But mainly the important expressions. "Je peux avoir un verre de vin, merci" proved very useful.

Sunday Independent