Very Minor Internetty Weirdness
Posted on November 1, 2007 Posted by John Scalzi 27 Comments
Which is: A whole lot of sites I regularly visit are in French when I visit. I suppose they’re read the IP address I’m using (which I assume is my hotel’s) and serving up their French-language pages. It’s not a problem, but it is amusing.
In other news, I am frankly surprised at how much French I can actually read; when I was in the airport yesterday I read a copy of Le Monde that was lying around and I had very little problem following the gist of the stories I was looking at. I wouldn’t say it was reading, exactly, since I know I missed a lot. But I didn’t miss as much as I expected I would, if you know what I mean. Spoken French, however, still has me completely lost. I’m doing a lot of smiling and pretending, basically. Most people here seem to be happy to let me do that.
That’s a much more civil response than screaming “Sacre bleu!!” at them and running away… it’s never worked for me.
1) In regards to the sites you visit being converted to French, you can thank the hotel proxy server for that.
2) I can predict at some point all those written foreign words will get very annoying.
I hate only being able to extract pieces of stories. But god. I still read “Heute” every morning on the way to work…
Just don’t try to read articles about sports or politics and you’ll be just fine.
I hate that. Last time I went to Japan, Google decided I learned Japanese. Apparently the IP address trumped my login.
In Stockholm, the hotel I stay at seems to have its internet gateway in Norway, so even attempts to get local Swedish info are frustrated.
Google’s intransigence on the IP address issue really gives me les merdes. In some countries it’s hard to even figure out which choice corresponds to English (that is if you can remember which button does what in the language de IP).
It would be much simpler also if they just put all the languages in their native forms rather than localizing the list for every language. So the list would say “… Deutsch, English, Espagnol, Français, …”
Oh, for a babelfish.
Or, failing that, at least a BrainPal. ;-)
Smiling and nodding has been a key part of my success in life. Glad to see that it is working for you.
Bon soir, monsieur.
Or, still better, Deutsch, English, Español, … May as well use the Spanish word for Spanish, rather than the French word.
And from my own experience, the French are much happier if you don’t even try to speak French unless you’re VERY good.
@8: Yeah I thought of that as I clicked submit.
@9: Not from my experience (in at least a dozen French towns and cities) – just a few words is all it takes to soften them up. In fact now they seem so eager to learn English, that whenever I try to practice my bad French, they try to practice their bad English and it’s a miracle anything gets communicated.
I agree with Mike: at least in Paris, it’s much better if you do try to speak French. You’ll stumble along for two or three sentences, then, your lack of skill having been established, they’ll smile and switch to English. Whereas if you start out in English, that’s a rude imposition that sours the whole conversation.
I had the same thing on a recent trip to the Far East while browsing the net. I got a deep appreciation for how similar the European languages really are when confronted by a language – Mandarin – and an alphabet that bear absolutely no relation to Western equivalents, far as I know. Suddenly French and German seem so much easier and clear than they ever did when I was trying to learn them at school.
How are the French gameshows? When I was living in Costa Rica I got pretty good at conversational Spanish, but the gameshows were still incomprehensible. The telenovelas were understandable, if silly, but the gameshows? As best I could figure they all involve pairing improbably beautiful women in tight clothes with humiliation for a chance at prizes. But that was all context because I didn’t understand any sentence longer than 3 words.
When I started learning French, I was surprised to find out that tens of thousands of French words are now part of English because of the Norman conquest and the Renaissance. I believe it was Alexander Dumas who said, “English is just French pronounced badly.”
Kevin Stampfl: That’s exactly what makes it so funny when the French complain about English words creeping into common use there.
I am curious about David (Long time etc.’s) comment.
I have done a bit of travelling and have been to both Montreal and France. In both cities I try to speak french.
Having been educated in Ontario, my french is not that good.
My experience in Montreal is that if you start speaking to someone in French and you don’t speak in the perfect Quebecois patois, then you are “un maudit Anglais” and they immediately start speaking English at you.
Paris was different. By trying to speak French, even badly, the Parisiens were quite pleasant. They understood that I couldn’t speak french like a native, but they were also grateful that I attempted to speak to them in their country in their own language.
It is this difference that leads me to say “they are not French, they are quebecois; there is a difference”.
In my travels I once went to Budapest; I speak no hungarian. I rented a room from someone who was hungarian but spoke fluent English. I asked her how to say “Thank you” in Hungarian. I figured at the very least, I could say “Thank you” to folks in Budapest in their native language.
I’ve encountered quite a few multilingual speakers in France–French/English, French/German, French/English/German, and so on. A huge fraction of the English speakers apparently learned from the Assimil book and CDs. (If you’d like to verify this, just say to people, “My tailor is rich.” See who laughs.)
I was impressed by the number of French speakers who could muddle along in a second or third language–it seems to be high, even by European standards–so I snagged a copy of Assimil’s “New French with Ease” in a Parisian book store. After about a week of study, I got rid of every other French course I owned. It’s surprisingly good, as these things go.
After about two weeks of practice, French pronunciation and spelling started to make sense. The French liaison system may look insane, but it if you learn it by ear, it makes some sense.
I just can’t learn a language by memorizing lists of vocabulary. Has anyone here succeeded that way?
On the “trying to speak the language” subject:
In 1978, I spent the last half of my senior year of high school living on a Kubbutz in Israel. We’d work part time, have classes part time, and have one day per week free to do what we wanted.
On one day-off, a group of 10 of us took the bus into Tel Aviv for the day. When it was time to head back, we decided we didn’t want to deal with the bus and figured we could afford to cram our group into two taxis for the trip back. (They were running these huge Mercedes as taxis at the time).
I spoke to our driver in really crappy Hebrew and with a bunch of hand-waving and such, made myself understood. About half-way back, the driver revealed he spoke fluent English. The guys in the second cab made no attempt at Hebrew.
Our taxi ride cost less than half what the second cab charged.
My French came from a variety of sources, most recently from a wonderful little school in the 9eme, so while my ability is still smaller than the garden of my aunt, it’s now much bigger than the pen of my uncle.
In my recent experience, I found the Spanish much less tolerant of non-speakers, and also much less likely to be bilingual. Since all foreign media is dubbed rather than subtitled (ditto Italy IIRC, but in contrast to almost all other European nations), they have no idea how to recognise another language from its sound or rhythm.
Andrew if you want to make the Quebecois more pissy at you, speak the French with the east coast Acadian or the Manitoba Metis accent and watch the stick up their asses get tighter.
If you want to get some practice with your French reading/speaking, you’re welcome to be in Montréal for the next sci-fi convention, Boréal, in 2008. Also, Worldcon will be there in 2009. Although, Montréal being Montréal, you can always get around speaking English.
To Andrew & Adela: Being a Québécois myself, I have to agree I tend to switch to English when I realise the person I’m speaking with is not confortable speaking in French. It’s a fine line between being polite, acknowledging for the effort the other person is doing, and getting the conversation to move forward. I often wonder how it’s percieved and I don’t always do it. You’re right, I’m sure it offends some people. In general, though, we really appreciate it when visitors try to speak French, even if they are not totally fluent at it.
The French have the most amazing cheese.
Not sure if it’s relevant to the linguistic discussion, but still; it’s excellent cheese.
Alexandre, It’s the purists and well, Bloc, from Quebec in my encounters that makes me want to whack the province with a big stick. Montreal seems to be the most mellow corner. I’m not bilingual anymore anyways. But if I take up French again I will keep you and others like you in mind.
@Andrew: It’s funny cause Matt said the opposite, but I spoke French rather fluently when I was over there, I found every one very pleasant, but my friends, who were speaking out of phrase books got treated rudely on several occasions in Paris… I suppose it’s one of those, where you are and who you meet kinda things. (I say I spoke rather fluently – by that I mean a Parisian lady thought I was from Toulouse… in other words, I had a Southern accent. : ) Now, in French Switzerland it was a completely different story, those people seemed to love us no matter what.
I ran into that on my trip to Switzerland. Google decided that google.com wasn’t good enough for me, I had to go to google.ch. Now, luckily there was a British/American flag that I could click to get English, but I couldn’t get to Google.com.
I use Blogger, and by the time somebody finally clued me in as to how to change the correct setting in Blogger, I was getting ready to leave. When you’ve gone through 5 different language settings (3 in Blogger alone!) and you still can’t get the site to respond to you in English, that’s a bit annoying. They have since changed that a bit, although I really, REALLY hate sites making their decisions for me based on my IP. Next time, I’m setting my home machine up as a proxy (or else just RDP in) and surf using my glorious US IP.
Come on, we’re talking about sites with cookies and logins that know that I was certainly using English before hand. Changing an IP address shouldn’t really change that. And then there are reports of IP changes that suddenly make even an English site turn to French just because it used to be in Quebec. Good luck on contacting Google on that one.
@25: Yup, after Google has ignored my accept-language, browser UI language, choice of google.co.uk, any and all cookies on my machine, you want to jump up and down screaming. Unfortunately,
screaminggiving feedback on their product groups does little, as they’re just as poorly patrolled by Google staff as Microsoft groups.
You can see travellers at internet cafes and hotels all across Europe banging their keyboards in frustration all across Europe. I think there’s something in the water in California that disables the concept of “international travel”. The geographically-challenged crowd at the MPAA want to block anyone watching DVDs they’ve bought in other parts of the world (and ironically, promoting pirate DVDs in the process because these are not region-encoded).
Alexandre, I concur.
I visited the Atwater market recently and my execrable French (of the “if you don’t use it – you lose it” variety) was not a problem.