Call of France

A Trilogy by Barry A. Whittingham

Category: Anglo-Saxon polite codes

An Awesome or a Simply Divine Weekend?

What if our puts dropped reverentially down with a satisfying plop?

Another of those things the Frenchman in us finds contradictory in you English is why such a pragmatic, no-nonsense sort of nation, proud to call a spade a spade, and so mistrustful of anything vaguely smacking of verbal ostentation – especially when it comes in the form of words of more than two syllables in length – should be given to such hyperbolic extravagance in their choice of descriptive language. For there is certainly no other people on our planet who have incorporated into their everyday speech such effusive adjectives as ‘fantastic’, ‘extraordinary’, ‘marvellous’, ‘incredible’, ‘amazing’, ‘stunning’, ‘awesome’ to name just a few (frequently reinforced by ‘absolutely’ or ‘utterly’) to qualify what is barely distinguishable from the mundane.
     Why, only the other day we had lunch with a friend in an English pub. The waitress, a pleasant, not unattractive young lady, brought us the menu, came back five minutes later, took down our order, and then departed after gratifying us with the sweetest of smiles along with a mystifying ‘wonderful!’ If, by this, she wished to compliment us on our choice of fare, the Frenglishman we are is yet to comprehend what she could have found so extraordinarily delightful about steak and kidney pie, peas and chips.
     But what annoys us most is the word ‘awesome’. Perhaps it’s because of the increasing ascendency it seems to be enjoying over all the others. Only last week an old school friend with whom we’d recently re-established contact after a lapse of many years was describing his two grandchildren, aged 10 and 12. ‘They’re little angels,’ he wrote. ‘When you next come to England you must visit us and see for yourself. They’re really awesome.’
     It’s not that we wouldn’t like to believe him. The problem is that our three years as a schoolmaster in England soon taught us that if you don’t keep on top of these awesome little angels they can make your life worse than hell. Mind you, at first we didn’t exclude the possibility that the meaning of the word had changed since our dim and distant youth, and that it was now more or less synonymous with ‘nice’, or at most ‘excellent’. So we got out our Shorter Oxford just to make sure. But there it was in black and white: ‘Inspiring wonder, dread, or amazement’. And then, to cap it all, last Friday evening we received an email from somebody (he was American, so it must be the same over there) offering his services to help us market our book.
     ‘Hi, I was checking out your Call of France website,’ he began. ‘It’s really awesome, but you could have a better Google ranking.’
     Now don’t get us wrong. In all modesty, we think our website isn’t at all bad. In fact, between you and us, we’re quite proud of it. But we couldn’t help thinking that a less extravagant-sounding word such as ‘nice’ or ‘attractive’ would have been nearer the mark. Mind you, he was trying to sell us something, so we did grant him some leeway. But it was the ending, ‘Have an awesome weekend’ that really got our Frenglish goat.
     It wasn’t as if we didn’t appreciate his politeness in wishing us something pleasant on parting. The French do it all the time. And it’s not that our weekends aren’t usually agreeable affairs. I mean, this Sunday – providing the weather’s reasonably nice – we’ll probably go out for a run in the car. And on Saturday, we’ve arranged to play a round of golf. But what could be awesome about this? What on earth could make it such a wondrous weekend in the true sense of the word? And then, all of a sudden, it struck us! Couldn’t anything so sublime only come from on High?
     Now, to be honest, we must confess that in our mature years we’ve become increasingly sceptical about the presence of a Supreme Being. Perhaps the seeds were sown in our English part’s formative years when both morning and afternoon dominical presence at church was mercilessly imposed. Mind you, we might possibly repent when we feel that last breath coming. But, right now, we’re in desperate need of some material proof of His existence. And we’d certainly be prepared to reassess our position if He decided to deposit a brand new Aston Martin DB11 Coupé in our garage (we don’t mind the colour as long as it’s not pink). Wouldn’t that be truly awesome?
     And, as for our golf, what if our usual drives, instead of systematically deviating to the right or left not much farther than we can spit, suddenly found themselves hurtling as straight as a dye for a distance worthy of Tiger Woods at his best? What if our twenty yard pitches, instead of failing miserably to attain the green, fell consistently within six inches of the flag? And what if our puts, instead of running a couple of times round the inner lip of the hole, and then defiantly popping out, were made to drop reverentially down with a satisfying plonk? Now, that would be more than awesome. That would be simply divine.

This blog is based on an article from the author’s latest book, Barry’s Frenglish Folies – ‘A potpourri of humorous, serious, and humorously serious reflections on the French and English seen through the eyes of a split-identity and occasionally demented Frenglishman’.

Barry’s Frenglish Folies is available as a free Kindle download at :

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MZ39MUB

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Unfriendlily Polite?

Some kind of stockbroker?

All right. So, in true Anglo-Saxon spirit, you’ve started out on friendlily polite terms with someone you barely know. The problem is what do you do when things don’t quite work out as friendlily as you’d have liked? How do you become unfriendlily polite? Only the other day, for example, someone cold-called us (he was American judging by his accent) … from New Delhi, of all places! We don’t really know how he’d got hold of our name, and we later cursed ourself for not thinking to enquire. After we’d informed him he was correct in his assumption that he’d got Barry Whittingham on the end of his line, without so much as a by your leave he proceeded to drop the family name. And then, in between all the Barrys, we began to realize that he was asking us to believe he was some kind of stockbroker, and that the instant friendship his insistant use of our first name seemed to imply obliged him to reveal that, if we invested a rather daunting amount in the shares of a certain company, some corporate miracle would take place within the next two months causing their value to increase by at least 50%.

Though we did manage to resist becoming unfriendlily polite for the next few minutes or so, it was when he said, ‘But you’ve got to act now, Barry!’ that it all started to crumble. But, strangely enough, what irritated us most was not so much the unlikely nature of what he was trying to get us to swallow as his dogged use of our Christian name. And when he added, ‘Barry, grab a pen and jot the name of this company down,’ our annoyance got the better of us, and we replied (it must have been the Frenchman in us) rather shirtily that we weren’t going to grab anything at all … for the moment, at least.

‘But, Barry,’ he insisted, ‘this is the opportunity of a lifetime. Barry, this is something you just can’t afford to miss out on!’

At this point even our Englishman began to get downright hostile, and we proceeded to inform him that if he didn’t want our conversation to become unfriendlily polite he would have to take ‘no’ for an answer. And it only took another, ‘But Barry…,’ for us to lose most of our self-control, and the little that remained of the polite gentleman our English alter usually tries to be only just managed a peremptory ‘goodbye,’ before we slammed the phone down.

On reflection, we would much rather have preferred being addressed by the occasional Mr Whittingham, rather than an overdose of Barry – or even, for that matter, by nothing at all. And between you and us, we’ve got to admit that a nice, deferential ‘sir’ from time to time wouldn’t have gone amiss. We must be a snob at heart.

 

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This blog is based on an article from the author’s latest book, Barry’s Frenglish Folies – ‘a potpourri of humorous, serious, and humorously serious reflections on the French and English seen through the eyes of a split-identity and occasionally demented Frenglishman’.

Barry’s Frenglish Folies is available as a free Kindle download at :

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MZ39MUB

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required



Anglo-Saxon Instant Friendship

 

Inappropriate Familiarity?

One of those many things the Frenchie in us has difficulty in understanding about you Anglo-Saxons is the fact that, in contrast to the more formal French polite codes where the use of Monsieur, Madame or Mademoiselle to address strangers is de rigueur,  the importance you attach to instant friendship requires you to greet people you’ve never met in your life before in the most familiar of terms. During our holidays in England last year, for example, we walked into a small  shop. There we were welcomed by an assistant, young enough to be our grand-daughter, and whom we’d never clapped eyes on in our life before, with a cheery, ‘Hello, young man!’ So much did her greeting smack of inappropriate familiarity that our French and Englishman joined together in firmly pointing out that, since she would never have addressed a genuine young man in this way, what really prompted her greeting was, in fact, the very opposite to what she was attempting to imply – namely, that we were no longer a young man!

‘Young Man’ and ‘Old Boy’.

So how is it possible for the uninformed Frenchman not to fall into total confusion in a country where the quest for instant friendship obliges you to  call a man ‘a young man’ when he’s not a young man, but rarely call a man ‘a young man’ when he is a young man, and where it’s quite possible to address both an old man and a young boy as ‘young man’, and both a young man and an old man as ‘old boy?’ Isn’t it far more logical to be friendlily polite with people you know, and just politely polite with those you don’t?

Instant Friendship?

‘Hello, I’m John.’

Mind you, we probably got off lightly. For such is the importance you English attach to instant friendship that when you go into a shop you can be addressed by someone you’ve not had the pleasure of seeing in your life before with a disconcerting variety of familiar appellations which can only lead the foreign observer to surmise that you’re on the most intimate of terms. What’s more, this obsession with instant friendship obliges us to invite people we’ve never in our life mucked the pigs out with to address us by our Christian name, or even its diminutive, and to take the liberty of using theirs. Last Saturday evening, for instance, we were invited to a dinner party given by a couple of English friends.

‘I don’t think you know Jennifer and John,’ said our hostess by way of introduction to a couple we’d never in our life met before.

‘Oh, just call me Jennie,’ replied the lady, her cheeks creasing into the sweetest of smiles.

Limits?

This addiction to instantaneous friendship can, however, show its limits. This was illustrated one day last summer when we took ourself along to an agricultural show with an English friend and his wife. As we were walking past one stand a young woman rushed up to our friend’s wife.

‘How wonderful it is to see you again!’ she effused, seizing her in a smothering embrace. A brief conversation followed between them after which we continued on our way.

‘Yes, I met her at a dinner party a couple of weeks ago,’ my friend’s wife explained, ‘but I can’t for the life of me remember her name!’

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This blog is based on an article from the author’s latest book Barry’s Frenglish Folies, ‘a potpourri of serious, humorous and seriously humorous reflections on the French and English viewed through the eyes of a split-identity and occasionally demented Frenglishman’.

You can download the free Kindle edition of Barry’s Frenglish Folies by following the link below :

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MZ39MUB

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