Mon cher diary: A year of culture starts badly for Bernardo

That was then... the classy arty cover

That was then… a typical (or stereotypical) example of the arty covers of the past.

In December I bought myself The Living Language French 2014 Daily Phrase & Culture Calendar. I opted for French rather than Spanish and Italian because I don’t really need to learn French, I just need to refresh it after years of neglect, whereas with the other two I need more serious study. For much of December and January, though, I was away from home, so the calendar languished on my desk, alone and unattended, its vital knowledge yet to be imparted. But, maintenant, le moment est venue – now the time has come – for the grand opening. I have almost a whole month of French culture to cram into the next hour or so! And many insights ahead for the rest of the year, hopefully.

I have never bought one of these things before so I am curious to evaluate it. Here goes:

January 26: the cultural indoctrination begins

2pm. Shit! The plastic wrapping is so tough! I am wrestling with the thing and I cannot get it open. It’s harder than grappling with a condom wrapper while your hands are basted in lube! You need fingernails like sabres for this. I am too lazy to get up to go the kitchen so I will use my teeth instead. Maybe that is why the covers of this year’s calendars look like adverts for toothpaste. Is she going to give her friend a love bite?

This is now ... the covers look like toothpaste adverts

This is now … the covers are a reminder to floss daily.

2.04pm. Shit I just lost a tooth! Merde! Never mind, it was kind of old and yellow and rotten anyway, unlike the teeth pictured on the cover of the product. I’ll have to get a knife after all. Damn, now I have got a big hole in my mouth in the place where my most efficient meat masticator used to be. It’s Australia Day and all the dentists are at the beach. I wonder if I can glue it back in myself? Am I doomed to suck soup for the rest of my life?

2.16pm. While in the kitchen I got distracted and made myself a Turkey Spam Lite sandwich with some decaying lettuce and squirts of mayonnaise. The other teeth seemed to be able to masticate it OK. You can see why I take so long to learn languages, I get very easily distracted. It’s time to stab this stubborn calendar wrapper!  I wonder what I should have for pudding.

2.17pm. Success at last! We’re in! The calendar is pierced, and I am stripping it of its plastic protection. It comes with a CD of basic expressions and fits snugly into its casing, which has a prop at the back so that you can stand it up at an angle I suppose; I am afraid of pulling out the prop too far in case I break it. I usually break things.

2.21pm. OK, it’s January 1. Happy new year everybody! I hope you don’t have a hangover. I don’t, my head feels good apart from that missing tooth. The word for the day is aimer, to love. How nice. What a good way to start the new year. There is a quote from George Sand in French and English about love and happiness. I think the sample sentences will be more useful than the words of the day.

2.23pm. I  am uncomfortable typing on the bed. Maybe I should get out of my pyjamas now. I’ll go see if I have got any clean undies anywhere. BRB (that means ‘be right back’)

2.34pm. Found some undies in a cupboard. I forgot I had that cupboard. I wonder if the undies are mine, though. They might have belonged to the previous tenant. They seem reasonably fresh, though. They don’t smell of anything peculiar. I’ll spray them with insecticide, just in case.

2.47pm. I am showered, dressed and refreshed. And I have cut my fingernails. I like to type with the tip of my fingers, not the tip of my nails. My nails were starting to annoy me. I cleaned my teeth too, including the one that fell out. I am keeping it in case a dentist can put it back in. I couldn’t find any glue.

2.50pm. Well, after coming across parler, to speak on January 2 I was beginning to wonder if this calendar would just go for the basic words, but on January 3 we have bâtir, to build, and in the sample sentence creuser, to dig. Very practical, I guess. But sorry, Bernardo doesn’t do manual labour. You’ll never find him “creusing” with a shovel (if you use words in your own context, I think you will remember them better).

2.51pm. I am wondering what I should have for pudding. I am thinking tinned plums (pitted, thankfully, no hazards for my few remaining teeth) and dollops of cream.

2.52pm. January 4 and 5. Aha, the calendar puts samedis and dimanches on the same page. I feel a little bit cheated. We are not going to get 365 words out of this calendar, we are only going to get … oh God, now I am going to have to do some mathematics and count the number of weekends in 2014 (it should be 52) and subtract the number from 365 – so yes, we will get only 313 words. Can something that advertises itself as a ‘daily’ do this? Why are Saturdays and Sundays given lesser treatment than weekdays? The word for the two days is chanter, to sing, so I am making a song and dance about this.

2.57pm. I have gone through a week of words that I knew already but now on le weekend of January 11-12, I have found an expression I hadn’t come across before, I don’t think: J’en suis fort aise – I am very glad.

2.58pm. I am thinking of getting back into my pyjamas and having a nap. All this intellectual activity is tiring me. And the insecticide in my undies is beginning to itch. Gosh, the January 13 word is dormir, to sleep. This calendar can read my mind! Probably there will be raunchy, raucous sex on the next page! Naaahh, there isn’t, the next word of the day is être, to be, and the sample sentence is all about the solemn symbolism of a cathedral. Yawn. Maybe they should bring out X-rated versions of these calendars.

2.59pm. Oh, here is a suprise. It is mercredi, janvier 15, and the calendar is giving us a description in English on Le Mont-Saint-Michel. So there will be fewer words to learn this year than 313. This must be the ‘culture’ part of the calendar.

3.00pm. I am wondering what I should have for the pudding that you have after the pudding. I am a great believer in five-course meals. The plums are all finished, but there is still some cream left.

3.01pm. The pages in this calendar don’t flip over and stay down in their place easily. You have to kind of batter them into submission. I think you are supposed to tear them off each day. That’s fine if you have no need for them, but what if you want to keep them for future reference?

3.04pm. It’s the weekend again! I like part of sentence of janvier 18-19: Ça va me rendre fou! – This is going to drive me crazy! I must make some Gallic protests. Mon missing tooth va me rendre fou!

3.06pm. I am wondering if I should cut my toe nails. Not because I also type with my toes, it’s just I seem to cut my finger nails more often than the toes. Do you think the finger nails grow faster than their pedestrian counterparts? Judging by the holes in my socks, I doubt it. I really must cut my toes more often. Or stop buying cheap socks. Oh, Bernardo, get back to the French stuff!

3.10pm. Right it is January 26, I am up to date in my cultural indoctrination. There was nothing new to me or very remarkable in a linguistic sense about the offerings for the past week.

The semi-intellectual verdict

Any immersion in another language is useful for anyone trying to learn that language. I suppose these calendars have to start off with the more simple stuff. I’ve had a quick peek into the future and I can see that the vocabulary will broaden. How much will I get out of it in the end? I’ll have to wait and see. It will jog my memory and freshen up my French. Maybe it will even teach me to say ‘Shit, I have just lost a tooth’ and ‘It’s about time you cut your toe nails’ in French. But judging what I have seen so far, I would say these calendars are more useful to beginners or those just progressing past the beginner stage, rather than toothless geniuses like me. Ditto with the CD, I should imagine. I have seen the other Living Language calendars on sale at reduced prices in some outlets, so maybe I should snap up the Spanish and Italian ones too. (There don’t seem to be any Portuguese or Romanian options.)

3.26pm. Cher journal. J’ai un headache. J’ai besoin de food. Mon tummy is rumbling. As janvier 7 says, reminding us that venir means to come, L’appétit vient en mangeantAppetite comes when eating, meaning the more you have, the more you want. Maintenant, je vais piller le frigo (I am going to raid the fridge) in search of le pudding you have after le second pudding. There must be quelque chose in le frigo that will go très bien with crème. A Vienna coffee maybe? Et biscuits? Ah oui, bonne idée!

See you in February! Ooops, février.


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