A Dyke A Broad #67
On navigating culture and language for my upcoming French test, the possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. Plus potatoes.
Hello from Paris!
This week I’ve been preparing again for the French test I need to pass for citizenship. It makes a change from the news. Besides the largely clown-like candidates in the upcoming presidential election, we’re treated to the sight of Russian tanks mustering on the border with Ukraine, a country only 1548 miles (2492 km) away from Paris. For you Americans, that’s roughly the distance between New York City and Dodge City, Kansas which a car can do in less than 24 hours. All you need is two drivers, decent weather, a case of Dr. Pepper and some Slim Jims.
The Brits (and the U.S.) apparently think a war is likely enough to recall a bunch of embassy workers, even if Russia keeps saying that they’re just playing, why’s everybody so upset about the 120,000+ troops they have deployed there? (For more on this, scroll down).
The French studies are going as well as can be expected, except that I remembered that the test will be done using the French keyboard, which is determined to hide half the characters I need. I also have to try to crawl into the mindset of a French person, and not just their language, which is always entertaining. Because even in English when presented with a text, I can decipher all the words, and even their meanings, but often fumble to identify the intended meaning, as opposed to all the others that seep in.
The whole thing makes me feel like I’m six or seven again, and the teacher is teaching us to read by sounding out words, which you do syllable by syllable, clapping for each one. She begins by asking, how many syllables, for instance, does the word listening, have? I clap twice. Because in my Kentucky home we pronounce it “lis-ning.” WRONG. Let’s start with something easier. The word, hay. I hesitate, because we pronounced it “heh-eee” with a tiny dip between the two parts. I clap twice. Wrong again. They end up sending me for remedial lessons. Or maybe that was because I couldn’t say words with “rl” at the end. At least not to their satisfaction. Their workaround was for me to break it down into two parts, swirl, becoming swu-rul, girl becoming guh-rul, guh-rul, guh-rul. I spent a lot of time saying, girl. I still do. And I still can’t tell you how many syllables words have. Girl definitely has two.
For the test, we will also be having two fake conversations of five minutes each. In one of the examples, you have to pretend to call up a hotel to make a reservation. What sorts of things do you ask?
How the hell do I know? I’ve never made a reservation over the phone. Not once. Who even goes to hotels? There’s still a pandemic on. When’s the last time I even talked to a stranger? In French? I think it was when I said bonjour to the woman at the grocery store check-out last week. An exchange that lasted five seconds.
Their second example? Call a gym and inquire about becoming a member. Stumped again. I haven’t set foot in a gym in years. I ride borrowed bikes and when I don’t have sprained ankles, I stump around the local track. I have no idea what a person would ask about. Hours, I guess. Equipment.
I bet I’m not the only person who, getting served up scenarios like those, will respond by staring blankly and wasting at least a minute by saying, “Ummmm.” Preferably with a French accent.
I wish they would just ask what I had for dinner or lunch. Not that I’ll remember, but at least I can speak convincingly about eating because I do it several times every day. Or why not ask what we did over the weekend? Every week has one. We usually take walks and look longingly into cafés. This Saturday, though, we met a friend and went to a park past several highways in Bagnolet where, on one side of the entrance, there was a large homeless encampment, and on the other a bunch of apartment blocks and a gaggle of drug dealers. They even had a rep at the park gate who was like a concierge. I heard him telling one guy, “I’m so sorry. No, I don’t have X. Though I can get you Y or Z.” So polite. So eager to please.
I could talk endlessly about that. But no, I’m gonna have to talk about hotels and gyms, pretend I care about wifi. I guess I better look up the word for refunds (remboursement).
Info on Ukraine
As Fiona Hill writes, It’s Not Just About Ukraine. Putin Wants to Evict the U.S. From Europe (and reconstruct the Soviet Union).
I’m quoting at length because it’s behind a paywall…
“December 2021 marked the 30th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when Russia lost its dominant position in Europe. Mr. Putin wants to give the United States a taste of the same bitter medicine Russia had to swallow in the 1990s. He believes that the United States is currently in the same predicament as Russia was after the Soviet collapse: grievously weakened at home and in retreat abroad. He also thinks NATO is nothing more than an extension of the United States. Russian officials and commentators routinely deny any agency or independent strategic thought to other NATO members. So, when it comes to the alliance, all Moscow’s moves are directed against Washington.
In the 1990s, the United States and NATO forced Russia to withdraw the remnants of the Soviet military from their bases in Eastern Europe, Germany and the Baltic States. Mr. Putin wants the United States to suffer in a similar way. From Russia’s perspective, America’s domestic travails after four years of President Donald Trump’s disastrous presidency, as well as the rifts he created with U.S. allies and then America’s precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan, signal weakness. If Russia presses hard enough, Mr. Putin hopes he can strike a new security deal with NATO and Europe to avoid an open-ended conflict, and then it will be America’s turn to leave, taking its troops and missiles with it.
Ukraine is both Russia’s target and a source of leverage against the United States…
The threat against Ukraine is, of course, also a test of the E.U., and France, since the presidency of the Council of the European Union just fell into our hands.
Le Monde featured an editorial this morning, Ukraine : l’Europe devant ses responsabilités, Europe faced with its responsibilities
En menaçant l’Ukraine par une pression militaire ostensible, Moscou met les Européens au défi de réagir. Si l’UE est mal équipée pour parler d’une seule voix, il est crucial qu’elle adopte les mesures de fermeté qui s’imposent dans cette crise.
By menacing Ukraine with its naked display of military power, Moscow defies Europeans to respond. If the EU is badly equipped to speak with one unified voice, it’s crucial that it adopts the necessary firm measures to respond to this crisis.
Will they actually come up with an effective response to Putin who dreams of a comeback for the USSR? Ummmm.
Did you know potatoes used to be illegal in France? Perhaps due to “a misguided link between potatoes and witchcraft or devil worship…”
The braindrain in France is slowing down. 2021 was a record year for French start-ups. A particular success—Exotec—a robotics firm. I am telling you this in case you think France is only about wine and cheese, fashion shows and tourism. (Après une année 2021 de tous les records pour les start-up françaises, 2022 s’annonce prometteuse. )
And in case you missed it, Lesbians, cats, and their boxes. The untold story: After 2.5-Week ‘War’ With 3 Cats, Woman Contacts Vitamix Asking For Empty Boxes To Replace The One Her Cats Took Over With New Blender Inside
Also, worth reading, Andrew Sullivan’s, How Biden Lost The Plot.
And an autistic writer raising important questions about the current trans movement’s cavalier attitude toward people like her in, We’re Lesbians on the Autism Spectrum. Stop Telling Us to Become Men.
That’s it for this week,