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ricaine

bicyclette (c) Kristin Espinasse
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ricain(e) (ree-kah(n) ree-kahn)

    : American (slang)

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French lyrics to the famous song, below: Download MP3 or Wav file

Si les Ricains n'étaient pas là, vous seriez tous en Germanie. If the Americans weren't there, you'd all be in Germany. -Michel Sardou, French singer

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Ricane English and Hound dog French

The other night I received an unusual request from my daughter. Standing in the doorway, her voice was soft: "Can we practice English?"

"Bien sûr!" I said, patting the cushion beside me. We've come a long way since elementary school days, when my kids would stop me at the gates of their école maternelle: "Please don't talk, Mom. Pas un mot!"  

What had been embarrassment has turned, over the past few years, into fierté. "I am so lucky to have a mom who speaks English!" Jackie acknowledged, entering my bedroom.

Seated beside me now, my 15-year-old is determined. "I want to pronounce my r's like an American!"

"Really?" I say, beginning our lesson.

"Weally!" Jackie smiles, happy to jump in.

"No, rrreally," I correct her. 

"WWWeally," Jackie tries again, clearly struggling. Funny how that R humbles both of us, Jackie in English—and me in French! 


"Not 'wheely'."A wheely, I point out, "is something you do to show off on your bike! Try again. Rrrreally... rrrraspberry... rrrrow... row row row your boat."

Jackie laughs. She doesn't recognize Row Your Boat, but the rhyme is funny all the same. My daughter repeats the words, impatient when I don't respond right away.

"Corrige-moi!" She pleads, reminding me of her summer plans. She'll spend a month in Idaho, at her grandparents', and she wants to lose her accent, rrrrapidos

"OK. Listen up: rrrred... rrrromania... rrrrachel... rah rah rah shish boom bah! " 

My student laughs. The pop culture reference escapes her, but silliness is universal, and that she gets

Enough silliness, Jackie reminds me this is serious business! She only has 5 months to learn to speak like a star-spangled ricaine!

"But you don't have to sound like an American. Everyone will love your French accent!" I assure her.

Jackie shakes her head, and the look on her face is slang for nothin' doin! "I need to learn argot, too!" my daughter adds.

Jackie's wish to conquer her thick accent and to speak street English reminds me of my own aspirations to sound like a native. As an American, I have always wanted to speak French like Jodie Foster! 

Jackie urges me to talk in full sentences now, for more repetition and comprehension.

"OK," I agree, wondering what to talk about.... 

"It is a gift to be bilingual..." I begin.
(Jackie smiles, as she repeats)

Encouraged, I keep the drill going, sneaking in a few affirmations... Jackie repeats each line: 

Speaking French and English will open many doors for me... 

I enjoy studying language....

...and math, too!!... (Jackie shoots me a sarcastic look, but is obligated to repeat my English words... Which reinforces my idea...)

I know that the more education I get, the more opportunities I will have in life...

I organize my school supplies.... And enjoy keeping my room tidy.... I make my bed each morning... 

Jackie shakes her head as she repeats the last sentences. "OK, Mom. Can we work on the r's again?" 

As we go through Roxanne, row row, and raspberry shish boom bah, I steal glances at my daughter, admiring her profile as she twists her lips, trying to find the American r channel. If she keeps twisting, she just might reach it! Her silky hair cascades off her shoulder in a fountain of brown and blond. "What is it you call that style?" I ask, referring to her recent trip to the hairdresser's.

"Tie and dye."

The tie and dyed hair looks great on her; but the brown-roots-blond-ends wouldn't work for me, though. I go to the salon to reverse that effect!

As Jackie struggles with the string of "r" words, I reach over and pat her on the shoulder, sweeping her bottle blond ends aside.

"Don't worry, Jackie. I am incapable of pronouncing certain words, too."

"Weally?"

"The French word for 'truffle'... Impossible for me to pronounce it!

"Vas-y! Let me hear you say it!"

I shake my ahead, ashamed.

"Truffe! Go ahead, say it!"

I can't! I can't say the word. To say it is to appear a fool in front of my student. To say it is to lower oneself below even the Parisian mudpuddles. To say it is to eat humble pie.... To say it is to sound like a hound dog. I don't want to sound like a hound dog in French! I want to sound like Jodie Foster!

"Say it, Mom! Come on, truffe!"

"You really want to hear it?"

"Weally!"

"Twoof."


***


To comment on this story, click here. Share your own struggles with French (or English), as well as any humble pie moments. 


French Vocabulary

bien sûr = of course
une école maternelle
= preschool
pas un mot
= not a word
corrige-moi
= correct me 

la fierté = pride
ricain(e) = slang for American
l'argot
(m) = slang 

vas-y! = go ahead!
une truffe = truffle

Our daughter, Jackie
Our daughter, Jackie. Highlights à la "tie and dye" or "ombré" hair is all the rage in France at the moment.

 

Chateauneuf-du-Pape (c) Kristin Espinasse
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