19 November 2009

Red and white

In our nice, quiet little neighborhood of nine houses — a hamlet or hameau in French — the local authorities have decided we need to be reminded of the rules. I'm sure that in their minds, the new signs they have put up are meant to spell out the regulations for people who don't live up here, but...

Our nice quiet hamlet, with our house
close to the end of the paved road.

Actually, the only noisy traffic on our road is tractors, and even they don't come through every day. Oh, and the garbage truck on Tuesdays. Car traffic is pretty much limited to vehicles driven by our neighbors themselves, the factrice or letter carrier, the porteuse de pain or bread delivery woman, the few people who own or work in parts of the vineyard, and a femme de ménage (cleaning lady) or aide soignante (healthcare worker) or two who are employed by different neighbors.

"No Dumping" — or you'll pay for it.

By now we have gotten used to the sign just outside our back gate that says "No Dumping, Under Penalty of Fine" in white letters on a fire-engine red metal panel. We only see it if we look or walk out the back gate. It's been there for about a year. Even so, it's not as if people were driving up to La Renaudière to dump their garbage, or even dead leaves or hedge clippings, before the sign went up.

The only people who ever dumped anything out there were the gardener who works for two of our neighbors — his name is Roland — and, I admit it, we'uns. Yes, us. Apples were our dump contribution of choice — organic apples to boot. The little triangle of land being protected by the warning sign belongs partly to the village and partly to one of the local vignerons (grape-growers), and when we moved here it was a six-foot-high pile of branches, leaves, clippings, and weeds.

Now a new sign has been erected, and it's one that we can see from the windows on the west side of our house. It's a blight on the landscape, drawing your eye away from the soothing views of vines, woods, skies, gravel road, maison de vigneron, and pond. Oh well. Suburbia is encroaching. It's too bad it's bringing such loud colors.

"Reserved for fires. 120 cubic meters. Access and pumping
forbidden except rescue and authorized personnel."

It is true that once in a while somebody will drive up here in a white van, pull out fishing poles and tackle, and drop a line in the pond in hopes of catching a carp or some other local fish. The pond was stocked years ago — by one of the neighbors, as I understand it. But it belongs to the village, and its main raison d'être is to be a source of water for the pompiers in case there's a fire in the hamlet.

We will get used to the new sign. I'd hate to ask the mayor to have it moved.

* * * * *

A funny thing happened when I went to see the doctor yesterday. We've had him as our primary care physician since 2004.

In talking with him, I happened to mention Walt's name — Walter, pronounced [wahl-TEHR]. Le docteur knows we live together, and he had seen Walt the day before. When I said Walter, the doctor looked at me, smiled in recognition of the name, and said something like: « Oh oui, 'zuh forss'. »

I was bewildered, so I just smiled and continued the conversation. I kept wondering, though, if le docteur and Walt had had had a conversation about, for example, the Star Wars movies, and about "The Force" so well mastered by the Jedi warriors. And if so, why?

After sitting there for a couple of minutes while le docteur looked at my records on his computer screen, I spoke up and asked him: « Pourquoi avez-vous dit 'zuh forss' en parlant de Walter tout à l'heure ? 'Zuh Forss' — qu'est-ce que c'est ? » — "Why did you say 'The Force' when I mentioned Walt a minute ago? What is 'zuh forss' ?

« Eh bien, le numéro quatre », he said. « La quatrième génération. » — "Well, it's the number four. The fourth generation."

That's when it dawned on me that he was talking about Walt's full name, which is Walter C. Streeter IV. The Fourth. And I remembered that a few days earlier, when I had stopped in to make our appointments, the receptionist had questioned me about that IV at the end of Walt's name. Is it a Roman numeral? Why is it there? She wanted to know.

I explained that Walt's father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all had exactly the same prénoms as he has, so he is the fourth person with that name. She seemed to think that was fascinating. And obviously she had shared the information with the doctor. For some reason, the IV of Walt's full name ended up on his Carte Vitale, the national insurance card. The Jr. at the end of my name did not.

The English consonant cluster -th- is nearly impossible for French people to comprehend or pronounce. Monsieur le docteur blushed when I chuckled and pronounced it for him, exaggerating the tongue-scraping movement over my front teeth. French people feel silly when they try that. We English-speakers don't even give it a second thought.

But can you pronounce the different sounds in tu and tout or vu and vous? Or son and sang or bon and banc ?


  1. Hilarious! That's a great little story :)


  2. May the Fourth be with you.

  3. Yes, now Walt is a real Jedi! Hysterical story. I have so much problems getting my students to pronounce the "th".

  4. haha.... my husband is also a IV (th?) and when we were thinking of names for firstborn....I said i didn't want a fifth (well, except for maybe bourbon) ....sometimes we get mail addressed to Mr "IVY" 'cause they r confused about the IV

  5. LOL, Wal ter IV. Maybe all French babies should learn the th sound and then they would be able to say it later on;-) And American babies should learn to roll their r's and so on...

    Sorry about those red and white signs, they are ugly.

  6. Very funny and a cute little story.

  7. Walt has an alien streak ?! Why I'm I not suprised? (Sorry Walt, only kidding ;)!).

  8. It's always a good idea to give the professionals something to remember and chuckle about. That way they know who you are, which might come in handy.
    It's a shame about the ugly red sign. Maybe with any luck someone who really hates it will encourage it to disappear one dark foggy night. Would anyone miss it ?

  9. Well Ken, this is my view:

    France was a monarchy once and thus, the Walter numéro quattro is a "must" . Sr or Jr is too much "new world"
    So he goes into the system and you are not LOL!!!!!

    ( now should I run for cover)

  10. Maybe they just had a bunch of signs laying about and someone decreed that they must be used.

  11. Bonsoir Ken ,
    I hope you had a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau to recover from this charming confusion , good health to you both , from Anne from Saint-Prest (28)

  12. We have great fun with our French neighbour teaching her how to pronounce "th".

    Doing the "look at where my tongue is" produces huge giggles, because poking the tongue out (no matter how far) is "too rude!!"

  13. Thanks for all the comments, everybody. Good luck, Dedene and Simon, getting people to stick out their tongues while they are talking English. Maybe we shouldn't exaggerate the tongue movement so much, but how else to you get French people to pronounce TH?

    Hi Anne from St-Prest, we had a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau and also a glass of Touraine Primeur. Have you tried that?

    The Beaver, you are probably right about the Jr., but people do know that word. It's the IV that confuses them. Despite Henri IV.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?