Thursday, January 17, 2008


Last Friday night I realized how much Gilles and I have adapted to French culture since arriving here last September. This realization came over diner with friends at a local restaurant that serves dishes typical of this region of France. I was with a Norwegian couple and two Scottish couples, all of whom arrived in Pau before Gilles and I. One of the Scottish girls had two friends visiting from Aberdeen, her hometown.

These visiting girls did not speak a word of French, except for a heavily accented bonjour, merci, and enchante. They were wonderfully pleasant and eager to befriend the waiters with their limited vocabulary. They received English versions of the menu, not that these were of much help. The English descriptions of the French dishes on offer were still foreign to these girls. They opted for a dish that appeared safe and familiar: steak, well done.

As I helped them with the menu from across the table, I could not help but reflect back to our first dining experiences in Pau. We did not have the luxury of the English menu; everything listed on the French menu was a mystery. In comparison, we interpreted menus in Italy with ease, and we don’t speak Italian! Gilles and I are adventurous with regards to food, but we do like to know what we are eating. So, for my first French meal, I ordered a salad with goat cheese toasts drizzled with honey.

Last Friday, when this memory came to mind, I was taken aback by how easily I was now reading the menu. I ordered chipirones farci avec piment d’Espelette. Several months ago, I would not have had a clue what this was. But last Friday, I enjoyed skid stuffed with peppers from the town of Espelette with no surprises. I was quite proud of myself.

I may be advancing my French language skills, but I still have plenty to learn when it comes to the Scottish language. When the visiting girls were asked if the speak English, they said “no, Scottish”, and I think they truly are different languages. Here is what I have learned so far:

Tatties = potatoes
Skive = to skip something, ie to skip school
Uni = university
Hogmanay = New Year’s Eve

With all the languages floating around in my head, I did not dare ask the Norwegian couple for a few lessons in their language!

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