I spent the weekend visiting my cousins in Chatou, which is less than an hour by metro from Polytechnique. I don’t really know how the whole family tree thing works, but the mom is my dad’s (first? second?) cousin and the daughters are my age which probably makes them fourth cousins three times removed. Right? Probably.
Anyways, my youngest (fourteen-year-old) cousin had a matching exercise to do for homework for her English class using a text from 1903. I mean seriously, are they trying to teach them to speak English or to speak Shakespeare? The exercise involved reading a one-page story (about a ghost who didn’t know how to disappear) and then finding synonyms for key phrases in a given list. So one of the sentences in the story is (word-for-word) “Cock-crow, be hanged!” First of all, what?! I would never say either of those phrases in conversation, ever. Second of all, the synonym given for “cock-crow” was “the sound a rooster makes”, which I suppose is technically accurate but the point is that it means dawn, defeating the whole purpose of the synonym matching exercise. The synonym for “be hanged” was “be damned”, which is fine and all but in conversation makes you sound like a grumpy old grandpa.
And then there were these sentences: “I’ve never come haunting before and it seems to put me out. I’ve tried to do it several times and it doesn’t come off.” To give you some background, the ghost is having trouble disappearing. But these sentences are ridiculous. It took me a while to figure out that “put me out” was a synonym for “confuse me” or “make me lose my head” or something like that (I can’t even remember because it made no sense). “Doesn’t come off” apparently means “doesn’t succeed”. The fact that it took a native English speaker multiple read-throughs before being able to figure out the meaning of the sentence makes me wonder how someone just learning the language is supposed to be able to do it. To be fair, I speak American English and not British English, but I don’t think that is particularly relevant in this case. Be hanged, I’m not surprised my cousin was not able to come off by cock-crow; I would have been put out as well!
Another notable thing that happened this weekend (besides getting to chat with my cousins, which was quite lovely all-around) was my cousin’s basketball game. She is fourteen and plays on a club team, so it’s basically the same level as a JV high school girl’s team. I went to watch the game with her older sister, and it turns out that people cheering say a lot of the same things as in the US but for some reason it sounds a lot more entertaining in French. Allez les filles! Allez Chatou! Il ne faut pas être des spectateurs; cherchez le ballon! (Which sort of means “Stop watching and start playing!” but literally means “Don’t be spectators, look for the ball!”) My favorite by far was the collective “OUAAAIIISS” when a team scored, which looks all French and fancy but really everyone is just saying “WAAAYYYY” all together as if it’s choreographed. On the bright side, my cousin scored two foul shots during warm-ups and one during the game. That totally counts as three, right?!
Lastly, I was introduced to a new card game that is really similar to Hearts (or Spades) but slightly more complicated. Also it’s called the “Bearded Man”, which is obviously why I was excited about playing it. Anyways, there are six or seven hands total with different rules for accumulating points, and at the end the person with the lowest points wins. The sad part of the story comes when I have to report that I was winning until the penultimate hand and dropped all the way to third (out of four) in the space of about three minutes. It was quite the letdown, but then I got to have a delicious spread of cheese, saucisson, salad, tomatoes, and bread for dinner which made everything okay. Plus a raspberry-crème dessert. Life is good.