Provence blog

Dan Briggs, continues his Provence blog about Life at the French school gates. This week pronunciation problems land him in more trouble.

Week 2

Oh God, things just got a lot worse…..a lot, lot worse. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do school pick-up again.

And to think the week started so well. Cathy convinced me that I needed to be positive about my new life in France. And so, ever the faithful, dutiful, husband, while she was off searching for new micro-matter particles, I started French lessons.

KFT (Kindly French Teacher) and I come from different places in life. She’s all self-improvement, energy and get up and go. I’m a more relaxed do-we-really-need-to-do-this type of guy. Quite what she’s doing in Provence I’ll never know. She’d make a fine lawyer in London. Instead she’s my unrelenting task-mistress.

Despite KFT’s zest, I can confirm that without doubt learning a language is one of the most boring things in the world. I thought I left the passive tense behind in Latin lessons at school. But no, according to KFT I should be using the passive in 6 months. She said this with a beaming smile, as if the delights of the tenses are something I should be salivating over like a fine steak.

We started with simpler things. KFT wanted to check up on my pronunciation. She selected Manon de Sources by Pagnol, the quintessential Provencal text.

Quite soon our house sounded like a maternity ward, as we got stuck on an ‘ou’ word. In French ‘Ou ca?’ – ‘Where is that’ and the ‘ou’ in say ‘cou’, the word for neck sound very different. Pronouncing the wrong ‘ou’ at the wrong time can have important consequences as I was about to discover. Hence KFT’s determination that I get it right.

‘Oooooouuuuuu…..Ooooouuuuuuu…..Oooooouuuuuu’ KFT grunted

‘Oooouuuu….Ooouuu’ I grunted.


KFT’s face was screwed up in pain like a pregnant woman giving birth. I was sure a child was going to drop out any minute.

‘Ouuuu’ I mimicked like a good birthing partner.

In case you were wonderinh about the plot, here’s what I’ve grasped. Manon’s Dad is an office worker in Aubagne. He inherits some land in the countryside and sets about, like a French Robinson Crusoe, bending the harsh natural world to his will. The Machiavellian locals have other ideas and block the water sources on his land…Not that all this matters:

‘Ou, Ou, Ouuu, Ouuuuu,’ I grunted.

‘No,’ said KFT ‘Oooouuuu’ screwing up her face in apparent pain.

I started giggling, convinced it wasn’t really that important…how wrong could I be?

That night I slept in a bad position, as a result my neck was all crooked and out of joint. The following morning when I greeted pregnant Mother, the one who I saved from fainting, at the gates to the school (see Provence blog week 1), I felt obliged to explain why my neck was at a strange angle. I didn’t want her to get the impression that I was trying to catch another glimpse of her cleavage.

‘I did something bad in bed to my neck’ I said by way of explanation…in French this is ‘J’ai fait quelque chose méchant dans le lit a mon cou’ or something like that…see I’m making progress!

It was only as I walked away, having dropped my kids off at school, that my words replayed themselves to me.

Now a ‘cou’ is a neck and a ‘cul’ is something else altogether. The difference in sound to the non-French ear is microscopic. The ‘l’ in cul is practically silent and to distinguish the two words the ‘ou’ of neck must be pronounced like you are giving birth, not gently like an English ‘u’.

Here is what the pregnant blonde mother would have heard me saying:

‘I did something naughty in bed to my asshole.’

No wonder she left quickly.


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