Sympathy and the odd freebie: Why you really should speak bad French

Sympathy and the odd freebie: Why you really should speak bad French
I don't understand a word you are saying, Madame. Photo: monkeybusiness/Depositphotos
Of course everyone who moves to France is aiming to, one day, speak good French. But in the meantime blogger Natasha Alexander explains why it is vital - and sometimes distinctly advantageous - to speak bad French

I often beat myself up for not being fluent after being here for nearly two years. Only the other week I left my French lesson feeling totally demoralised. I frequently come away internally wailing to myself “how am I ever going to be fluent?”

But then today, it suddenly occurred to me that there are some real benefits to speaking bad French. Really? Yes! And you never know one day I may miss these days.


Is this Santa's brother Pierre Noel? Photo: AFP

These may not be “the lost years” after all as I like to call them. Maybe they really are the “hilarious years”. Without further ado, here’s my way of making myself feel better…

1. It’s hilarious.

Yes, I am a massive source of entertainment to my family and indeed myself.  Not only that, my husband also comes out with some right corkers which have us doubled up sometimes. We now have a back catalogue of French gaffes that often come out to visiting friends and family. 

Such as the time I called up Jardiland to ask when “Pierre Noel” was coming to town. This caused the lady on the other end to laugh so much she was still laughing when she hung up. Not only am I laughed at by my family, I also bring unexpected joy to the receiver of my bad French.

2. You get off lightly.

For example, the other day after a nearby village’s post office was raided, the police were stopping cars in our village.

The gendarmes stepped into the middle of the road and were about to stop my car when – realising where my steering wheel was – they didn’t bother. They automatically assumed they would have talk to an illiterate Anglaise and thought better of it. Result – I was able to drive off with the takings of the post office. (I’m joking if a real life gendarme is reading this).

Not only that, if the person is struggling to get where you’re coming from they might give in/ back down as they are exhausted. 

For example, my son bought some football boots – he realised that the other one wasn’t in the box when we got home. Great.

French shops are notorious for not giving you a refund or just generally not having the UK attitude that the customer is king. We drove back to the shop – in my head I’m trying to construct the whole explanation of what’s happened. 

Upon entering the shop, I tried to explain to the lady what I had conjured up in my free-style French. She was struggling with my accent and after a nanosecond she was like 'yeah do what ever you need to do'. Turns out the boot was actually at home and now we need a three-legged footballer.

Accent struggles could even score you a free football boot. Photo: AFP

3. I can embarrass my children with ease.

When we first arrived in France the children weren’t helping me out for love nor money.

They would watch me shrivel up and die in word order hell before they would even contemplate helping me out. Only after leaving places would they tell me what I had said.

But who’s had the last laugh? Me that’s who. Now they can’t bear to listen to my pronunciation. They even do the French screwed up face when I’m talking. To save them dying of shame and embarrassment they quickly ask “what do you want to say?” and then do it better.

4. You look like you’re a really good listener

I have to come clean, I am neither calm nor patient. When I talk I flit between subjects and expect the person to fully understand that we’ve moved onto and I’m talking about something else.

But here in France, you have to listen and listen hard to what’s being said. I have perfected my 'ah ha, oui, mmmm' face so much so the talker actually genuinely believes I am getting all of it.

Of course, I’m only getting 85 percent, not bad you might say, only the 15 percent is the key part and normally the most crucial. When they do cotton on to the fact that you haven’t understood much, you’ve already won them around. They quite like you, as in France it’s not considered the height of bad manners to talk over someone – it is deemed normal. 

5. People are really kind to you.

They take pity on you and go that extra mile to help you. In this instance, the English people who can’t speak French after living here for 20 years help me out massively!  When French people hear me speaking they tell me about “l’anglais” not speaking a word of French and are totally impressed with my pathetic attempts. They are then super nice and kind. 

Natasha Alexander does social media management for companies in Normandy and across France and also blogs about her move to France at Our Normandy Life. Find out more here.

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