Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ma belle-mère

French class last night covered two immediately applicable subjects for me - the terms for various family members, and numbers higher than 60. Family members had not been on the agenda until one of my classmates - a young doctor from Puerto Rico - said that she was exhausted after a wild weekend on the town with her visiting fille (as she is not old enough to have a daughter older than a toddler, we were relieved to find that she had meant to say soeur).

After going through all the blood relations, I asked Marie-Laure for the term for mother-in-law, as my wife and I will be traveling to the beautiful horse country of Maryland this weekend for her mother's 80th birthday party. I had to wonder (and perhaps some of my colleagues in Lyon can enlighten me) is the term belle-mère an example of French irony or an indication of a major cultural difference? While the image of the mother-in-law as tormentor is a stereotype so very often proven wrong (my wife's mother being one such example), the term has a coldness that stands as a polar opposite to belle-mère.

Now, my mother-in-law may not be my tormentor, but those French numbers are definitely making my last few blond hairs go gray. Okay, so I suppose I could compliment ma belle-mère by telling her that she is not an 80-year-old woman, she is four 20-year-old women. That could work.

We spent a good part of the class listening to telephone numbers in French and trying to write them down (leading my Puerto Rican classmate to mutter, over and over, what I think is one of the most amusing expressions of dismay in any language, "Ay, chihuahua!"). While we all improved with repetition, it was certainly far from instinctual. At first I had thought that our Master French Numbers audio learning guide was going to be pretty basic, but now I see why it is so necessary and why I will be spending much time with it in the coming weeks.

No comments:

Post a Comment