26th January 2011. In any discussion about the pros and cons of a permanent move to France, it generally doesn't take long before the knotty subject of actually speaking French raises its head. If the new arrival is serious about integrating with the local community, then it's a given that he or she must do so in the language of Molière. One of the difficulties is that while grammar, vocabulary, verbs (& tenses thereof) can all be learnt from a book, French pronunciation is a totally different matter - and it's made more complicated by the fact that we Angliche (or perhaps it's just me!) tend to continue to sound individual letters more or less exactly as they are spoken in English.
Don't believe me..? Well, the acid test for me is to try pronouncing any French word containing an 'r'. We pronounce 'r' in English either as "aah" or as a soft "ruh" - whereas in French it's pronounced as "airrr" with the 'r' an almost trilled rattly sound in the throat (or, as it says here, a voiced uvular fricative sound). The problem for us Rosbifs is that that sound doesn't exist in English. If I concentrate hard, I can manage it but slipping that - alien to me - sound into a long sentence invariably catches me out. There are a couple of words that always cause me grief: "serrurier" (locksmith) and another is the "RER" - the fast Metro in Paris.
I know I've quoted P. G. Wodehouse's observation on this before but he understood the problem perfectly:
“Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.”
29th January 2011. Putting all thoughts of French pronunciation on the back burner for now, here's a real travel bargain from SNCF - and I quote:
Dès le 24 janvier, avec Lunéa, profitez de l’Hiver à prix Fou, à partir de 19€ (1) en couchette 2nde classe pour tous vos voyages en France!
A SAISIR! EN VENTE DU 24 JANVIER AU 14 FEVRIER 2011 POUR DES VOYAGES DU 27 JANVIER AU 6 AVRIL 2011.
Prem's price Lunéa tax (including 3€ online reduction), from per person for a one-way 2nd class sleeper with Lunéa on a selection of destinations and the availability of seats at this fare. Tickets are on sale from January 24 to February 14, 2011, for travel between January 27 and April 6, 2011. Tickets are non-exchangeable, non refundable, on sale until 3 days before train departure. Online payment required with ticket to print yourself, send free ticket home, withdrawal self-service kiosk in French train stations, or SNCF Rail Europe (extra 10€ per folder). Offer not valid with any other promotion or discount rate station.
"Wot's that all abaht?" I hear you say.. In a nutshell: cheap overnight sleeper tickets from 19€ (couchette) on sale from 24th January 2011 to 14th February 2011 for all trips from 27th Jan '11 to 6 Apr '11. All the details here..
I'd suggest you book your ticket to the Pays Basque and start brushing up your pronunciation right now!
29th January 2011. Meanwhile, out on the river on another cold morning, this time in an VIII sculler - up to the turnaround and back, only stopping for the turn. (Phew!) 14km (Running total: 406km)