March 21, 2011 | French
I am afraid to ask where the bathroom is.
My days have been filled with French Pimsleur lessons, French grammar exercises, and French vocabulary drills. I am trying to do as much skills rejuvenation as I can, as fast as I can, before I unleash my semi-French-speaking self on unsuspecting New Yorkers again. I am almost ready.
Lots of Languages Could Be Heard This Weekend…
…at the Architectural Digest Home Design Show
Questions keep arising. For example, I have been informed that one says la hauteur (height) and not l’hauteur. Is that true, and if so, why? You don’t actually pronounce the h, do you?
I learned that la musculation is “weightlifting.” That is one cool word.
Some of the vocabulary I have been coming across in my books is not very relevant to my daily life. I’m not blaming the books; the experience is just kind of underscoring that I have a pretty urban lifestyle.
For example, maybe this will be shocking to some people, but I can’t come up with the word for female horse (“mare”) in English without doing a Google search, so I am unlikely to need the French word (jument) either. And, although most of the time I can remember that a female pig is called a “sow,” I never, ever say it. So I probably won’t be using la truie, the French equivalent, a whole lot.
A nightmare (cauchemar): learning genders of 50 American states so that you can pick the right preposition when you want to say you are in one of them. For example, I believe it is Je suis en Pennsylvanie (a feminine state), but Je suis au Delaware (a masculine state). At least there are only two genders in French, and most states are male, but still! There are benefits to genderlessness.
I am just realizing I have a little bit of a phobia that I will unintentionally be rude, or crude, in asking for a bathroom in a foreign language. Think of how many words for bathroom there are in English, each with different associations and applications! We have:
- women’s room
- ladies’ room
- men’s room
- powder room
Bathroom vocabulary seems to be pretty complex in most languages. I just read that in French, les toilettes is equivalent to “restroom,” while a salle de bains is a full bathroom, complete with shower or tub. But at a restaurant, am I really supposed to ask, “Où sont les toilettes?”
To my English-speaking ear, that sounds very, um, specific. We are big on bathroom euphemisms in English. I have also seen a third bathroom option, cabinet, so I am filled with uncertainty. Help.
I have now finished Level III of Pimsleur. There are just 10 lessons left. I really wish there were more.