French Language Week

Plum blossom in our back garden
Plum blossom in our back garden

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Today is the first day of spring: a bit cool and drizzly, but the birdsong is undiminished and the buds are breaking on the trees well in advance of normal. Today also marks la journée internationale de la francophonie (international French language day). No, I didn’t know about it either, until alerted by an article in The Connexion.

Apparently, today concludes a week featuring the French language, initiated by the French Ministry of Culture in 1995. Although hundreds of events have been organised to celebrate it, I couldn’t find much going on in our region.

Local etiquette

Nonetheless, I have been reflecting even more than usual this week on the French language and culture. It started with the funeral of an elderly neighbour, Mme F. Although she had been ill, her death was slightly unexpected. As is the custom here, she was buried within a few days.

It’s also customary here, and a mark of respect, to turn out for the funeral of local people, however little you knew them, and so the church at Cornusson was packed. As I scanned the congregation from my carefully-chosen seat at the back, I realised that we were probably the only non-French, apart from one other person whom we know wasn’t born in France.

At the cemetery after the interment, the family lines up and you file past offering your condolences. It’s in situations like this that I am heartily grateful for being able to speak French well. I bless our first teacher, Dominique Renault, who had no small hand in this.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Monsieur F, the widower, our efforts are frustrated. He is very deaf and can’t hear what I say. Worse, the combination of his regional accent, lack of teeth and general indistinctness mean that we don’t understand what he says. This is a great pity. We’d like to spend more time with him and ask him more about his long life (he is 88). But our conversations are on the most banal level. Our only consolation is that French people we know don’t understand him, either.

French citizenship

The importance of speaking French well also came home to me when I reviewed the French citizenship forms that I picked up at the Préfecture about three years ago. Despite living here for 19 years, I have done nothing about it so far. But the impending French parliamentary and presidential elections next year, the fact that I can no longer vote in the UK because I left more than 15 years ago and the increasing prospect of Brexit have galvanised me into action. At least Britain permits dual nationality, so I can hedge my bets.

In addition to the sheaves of obscure documents you have to produce, a requirement is to take a test to prove that you can speak French to a reasonable level of competence. This has two parts: a multiple choice audio-based exam and an interview in French.

While I am not unduly worried about the test, I will be boning up on my grammar beforehand. Despite my years here, there are aspects of the French language that still trip me up. I am, even now, capable of pronouncing baisser as baiser. Look it up. As long as they don’t ask me to sing La Marseillaise

You can read all of my posts about language here.

You might also be interested in my previous attempt at a French test:

Exams French Style
French Test or Testing French

Copyright © 2016 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Hi Vanessa,
    My husband and I are planning a move to the region in a few years and I really enjoy following your blog and reading about your observations and experiences. Speaking the language is an important way to access the culture so I’m trying to brush up on my language skills… watching French series also helps but when the dialogue is fast, colloquial or with a strong accent, I find I rely on the ‘sous-titres’! 🙂
    Bon courage avec les examens!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for your comment and good luck with your move when you make it. You are obviously doing a lot of preparation – far more than we did! Even after 19 years we still don’t “get” some French humour and some of the local colloquial stuff is impenetrable. But when I think back to how bad my French was in 1997, I’m glad I put some effort into it.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Greetings All,

    Regarding a comment about Exams French Style ( few years back) Stephanie says ” nothing is ever straightforward in this county, it seems” Try the United States of America :-)) same thing and getting worse!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good luck, Vanessa, though I am certain your ability in French will carry you through admirably.
    I so love your comments on Monsieur F. We too have such a gentleman – I ‘chat’ with him knowing he doesn’t hear well nor understand me remotely. All I can say is it is reciprocated as his speech is guttural and quite indistinct to my foreign ear! My consolation is, when asked if he knew what the gentleman was saying, the barman replied ‘no, nunca’ (never)!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I’ve been here for 19 years, so it would be shameful if my French didn’t pass muster. I think elderly gentlemen like our Monsieur F and your acquaintance are probably part of a declining rural group. The only consolation for us is that nobody appears to understand them!


  4. I see that you deserve French citizenship, if only for your “integration”, whatever this may mean. I understand the general usefulness of the French test. But why make it such a stressful event ? What’s the point ? How many of the French would pass it ? Good like to you, Life on la Lune, and tell us when you will have succeeded … with the compliments of the jury !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I guess it is fair enough that people who want to be French ought to speak French, too. But many of us haven’t taken an exam for a long time, so we are out of practice. I will certainly write about my experiences!


  5. Good luck with the test – I look forward to reading about it. I will be interested to know where they site the bar in terms of proficiency. Being here in the US has taught me that I don’t even speak English properly (at least that is the conclusion I have drawn from the various bewildered looks I get when I ask for toilets, crisps, curtains or jam!)

    Liked by 1 person

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