Sunday, August 28, 2005

On en a rien à foutre

I saw a guy wearing a shirt that said "On en a rien à foutre" on the back. It was just a glimpse, but here's the process that it sent my mind into: 1. I know foutre, it means a whole bunch of things, including "dont' care" "fuck" "do". 2. En is the objective pronoun when a verb is followed by "de". 3. On literally means one but is used more often to mean "we" or just everybody around the person making the statement. 4. So then I was at We have nothing of it to not care. 5. And then I was like bling! oh yeah 'We don't give a shit about anything!" I laughed out loud to myself.

But foutre fucks me up. I know also that s'en foutre is used in an inoffensive way to mean "to not care." So if you want to say "I don't care" or "I'm not interested," you can say "Je m'en fous." First of all, it's counterintuitive to the english speaker because it's a negative comment in english but positive in french. Then, I can't find a single verb to come close to it in english. In english, being disinterested is expressed with an adjective ("I'm not interested" "he's disinterested") or negatively. What's the positive verb in english that expresses not caring in a positive form? To carethnot?

And then just to make it all complicated in french, it has to be both reflexive and have that elusive subjective pronoun "en" in it. Those things make it extremely tricky to conjugate on the fly. If "I don't care" was simply "je fous" (which as I explained above is still tricky, because the instinct is to say "je ne fous pas"), then it wouldn't be so bad to work on "il fout" or "Ils foutent." But those phrases mean "he fucks" or "they fuck!" So you've got to conjugate it as "Je m'en fous" and "Ils s'en fout" and then put those bad boys in the passé composé while you're trying to catch the metro!

Worse, foutre, as you can see, has tons of meanings. In this rare case, the Larousse is not very helpful. They claim it means "faire l'amour" as in make love. Which maybe it once did, but I don't think anybody uses it like that. But it also means "fucked" as in done for, or taken out. Like my kung fu teacher is always saying things like, "si tu fais ça, tu es foutu" (if you do that, you're screwed, or the opponent will have taken you down.) That sort of correlates with "fuck" in english, but in french it's foutu doesn't have such a harsh meaning. You could say it in respectable company and nobody would be offended.

Finally, some of the other people I asked also said that foutre can also be interchanged with faire as in to do. So you can say, "Moi, je l'ai foutu hier" (I did it yesterday).

Sorry to bore those of you who don't find these grammatical flailings interesting. Really, I'm asking for help. If anybody out there has a better handle on foutre and can explain it to me in a way that I can structure some kind of relationship between all the different meanings and structures, in such a way that I could get it in my mind and be able to use it, I would be most grateful!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The anglophone whirlpool

It's been a while since I've posted and there are many reasons for it (got a job, family obligations, etc.) but one underlying strand that I realized is that I've slowly been drawn into the anglophone world here in Montreal. Once out of the french language program for immigrants, I started to drift towards things that were familiar and easy and in english. My social life has been growing here and I've made connections with other people through playing basketball, my work and my girlfriend's job. All those people are english-speakers.

Montreal is truly a bi-lingual city and though there is a gradient and a wide middle which uses both french and english regularily, there are also totally separated parts, which are only french or only english. For me to stay in the only french side requires a real effort on my part and that's a tough effort to make when I'm trying to find work and make my way in a new city. It's one of those situations where having the the freedom to choose is actually worse for someone like me. If this city was totally french, I'm sure my french would be way better by now. I might be exhausted and a bit lonely and culturally disconnected at times, but I'd be out there. Here, because I can find work in english and play basketball in english and drink beers with other english speakers where we all share the same jokes and cultural references, it requires significant will to push oneself away from that towards the foreign.

I have two regular recreational activities that keep me connected to the french. My kung fu school is francophone and I go there 4 times a week. I'm an expert at saying things like "coup de coude en arrière" (rear elbow strike) and "prise de tête" (headlock) and I usually hang around after class just talking, so that keeps my french warmed up. I also play in a regular roleplaying group every other week and that is 5-6 hours of non stop listening and talking in french, with all kinds of vocab. Both these activities are fun in and of themselves, making the french practice really easy. Also, the other francophones there are mostly bilingual (not so much in the kung fu class) and immediately helpful with vocab and grammar.

Otherwise, it's basically shopping and comments on the street where my french gets used. I still don't really have friends where I can just hang out in french. My next door neighbours were bilingual, but they left and now they are all anglophones. My girlfriend, who is incredible in all other respects, is from Vancouver and her french is at the high school level. My job, which is part time, is also mostly english.

We did just finish a trip to the Gaspé peninsula (which will be an upcoming post) and my french got a serious work out there. We stayed at a lot of b&b's and hostels where I got to sit at the breakfast and sometimes dinner table and speak tons of french. That was great.

I give you all this background as a context for my current situation and the status of my experiment, which is behind schedule but slowly moving ahead. I had hoped to be more immersed in the francophone world at this point.

But I was given a serious push at the beginning of the week because I got a call from one of the places where I'd dropped off my CV. Now, getting a call back from a company where I've left my resume is a miracle in and of itself (that's something like 1 out of 95, but don't get me started). It's a francophone organization and they wanted me to come in for an interview the next day. Let me tell you, I was nervous! Job interviews are always going to make you nervous, but in a foreign language, that's a whole nother story. I was definitely stressing. I had fantasies of the interviewer just stopping the process about five minutes in and dismissing me because I was either not understanding a word or not making any sense.

We did a lot of job-related stuff at the french program I took, but it was a while ago. I wrote down a bunch of keywords and stock answers, looked up tons of vocab and grammar and practised. I also had my roleplaying game the night before, so that was great for warming up the ear. During the day, I listened to french radio (which I probably would have done anyway since the CBC is on strike).

The interview actually went quite well. I definitely stumbled and the woman interviewing me was very forgiving, often filling in sentences for me. I am a pretty good fit for the job, though it doesn't pay as much as I had hoped. At one point, she asked me what my goals were and I laid out my career and personal goals, (one of the phrases I'd memorized). She seemed satisfied by my answer, but then I remembered also to add that I wanted to improve my french. She basically said that my french didn't sound all that bad and she hadn't really considered it an issue in terms of my capabilities for the job (part of which would be as a teacher). Well, that was very good to hear. I don't know if she was just being nice, but it added a lot of confidence.

I don't know if I'll get the job, but despite the fear and a day of loose bowels, that interview was a great experience. Really forced me to turn back to the francophone job world and gave me a ton of confidence. After that, a job interview in english seems so easy! I've defnitely got a lot of work to do on my french and a lot more willpower needed to stop the slide into the anglophone whirlpool of comfort.