Saturday, February 6, 2010

"Lousy French"

Ok, so our French isn't really that terrible. It is also not really that good. But we can get by even if at times it is a bit of a tag-team effort. One of our biggest challenges is that sometimes things in France just don't make sense to Americans. So while we may be in fact understanding something quite clearly, our American brains are telling us that this is not possible. Instead of assuming cultural differences we often assume that the misunderstanding is due to our lousy French.

For example, just last week Teena and I decided to walk through Montparnasse cemetery (don't judge - this is such a normal thing to do that the guard at the gate happily gives you a map as you enter). Not 5 minutes into our "sightseeing" we saw a sign on a badly neglected grave that we thought was saying that the grave was going to be repossessed.  I read it, Teena read it, I read it again...we looked at each other, pointed to the words, decided that this was not could a grave be repossessed? "Lousy French." Why didn't Berlitz teach us the verb "to repossess?" We read this sign on various unattended graves hoping for clarity, but we kept coming to the same conclusion: It is not saying that the graves are going to be repossessed, that's simply not possible.  We just aren't reading it correctly.

Stumbling upon a groundskeeper I decided to ask him what the sign said. With a cigarette dangling from his lip we had the following rapid-fire French conversation:

Me:  "I was hoping you could explain what the sign on those graves says?"

Groundskeeper: "There is a lot of room to bury people. Sometimes 12-15 people in one spot."  
  {{Repeatedly stacks one hand on top of the other to indicate that many bodies can fit into one grave}}
  "If you don't take care of it, well it is good business to re-sell...oui?"

Me: {{Internal thought}}, not do I ask this politely?
  "But, and I'm sorry if this is a dumb question, what do you do with the people that are already there?"

Groundskeeper: "Well it is very easy, we dig them up to make room for the new bodies....oui?""

Me: {{Internal thought}}, not oui...I think I'm misunderstanding this...
  "You take them out of the ground? The dead people? And you bury new people there?"

Groundskeeper: "Yes...but only if you have 25,000 Euros to buy the spot. You see it is good business....oui?"

Me: {{Giving up}} "Oui."

Note:  "reprise" = to take back; to repossess


How does this gravestone come to happen?!? 
"So honey, I know we may not both die at the same time, but I was thinking..."

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