It happens every time I get cocky and imagine I can speak French.
Someone screws up their face, lets their mouth fall open and peers into my eyes searching for meaning.
“La soupe. Ou se trouve la soupe? [Where is the soup?]” I said again.
This was not a complicated sentence. My noun was all good. The syntax was fine. So instead of giving up in embarrassment I persevered.
“La soupe, soupe.”
The woman behind the counter of the deli in a French supermarket the size of Australia tried her best but could make no sense of it.
“La soupe, la soupe!” I tried, mimicking eating out of a spoon.
A man working a few metres behind her called out: “La soup-pah!”
Is that not what I just said? Sounded like exactly what I said.
“Oh, la soup-pah!” the woman repeated.
Then I got it. It was all in the “pah”!
That kiwi habit we have of dropping the last consonant in a word (breakfiss for breakfast, toas’ for toast, ‘n’ for and (“breakfiss is toas’ ‘n’ ja’.) works really well for French words where the last consonant is silent. It’s a disaster area for all the others where the consonant is sounded – clearly in Parisian French but with such vigour in Provençal French that a random vowel ricochets off the end. Soup-pah!
Once again I was reminded that mumbling – completely acceptable means of expressing self-consciousness in New Zealand – does not work when you are speaking a foreign language, mispronouncing words and making grammatical mistakes.
“Oui!” I shouted. “La soup-pah!”
Her response, in rapid-fire Provençal French was incomprehensible but I smiled confidently and thanked her. I understood two things: the direction her finger pointed and the word “end” – and the end aisle was exactly where I found the soup-pah.