Monday, June 21, 2010

Life of Garbage

One of the most difficult aspects of learning a foreign language is oral comprehension. It takes many years to have your ear become accustomed to deciphering the sounds, inflection and vocabulary. The advantage of practicing constantly results in training the mind to pick up new things.

But it is difficult. Misunderstandings develop when one interprets something different from what had actually been spoken. No matter how much practice you have, these auditive mistakes can happen. Even a 12-year French language veteran like me is not exempted from this inevitable fact of life.


One day, I spoke with Samantha, a Frenchwoman who greatly admires the United States and teaches English at the high school. She asked me what were some of my favorite shows.

"Oh, I like The Office, 30 Rock, Monty Python's Flying Circus, and I Love Lucy."

To my great surprise, my colleague said that she had not heard of the first two shows. Out of curiousity, I asked if she liked I Love Lucy.

"Well, yes I do. When I was a French assistant in Boston in my twenties, I would watch the show with my roommates. It's funny."

"Is I Love Lucy popular in France?"

"No. The French normally don't like watching older shows. In fact, most of them haven't even heard of this program or of Lucille Ball."

My jaw dropped.

I have been watching the antics of Lucy and Ethel played across my TV since I was 5. I cannot think of one American who does not get the reference of "Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do." Who hasn't laughed when Lucy tried to advertise Vitameatavegemin and became completely plastered? Apparently, not the French. To tell an American that you have never heard of I Love Lucy is like telling a Frenchman that you have never heard of Edith Piaf.

(Also, if the French don't like older shows, then why the hell do they still watch Little House on the Prairie?)

A sudden desire to rectify this ignorance rose in my body. I designed a lesson for my seconde students based on T.V. terminology and made a handout describing one of the longest running shows on American television. I had them do a little exercise in which they explained to me what their own favorite shows were.

Up until that point, I was unfamiliar with Plus Belle la vie. I later found out that it is a cheesy, histrionic soap opera set in Marseille. It appears that all the French are familiar with the show and they unanimously despise it based on the grounds that it is quite vapid. Yet I suspect that their appreciation is more of a "love-hate" scenario. If it is still on the air then it obviously has enough viewers who love-hate it.

Poubelle, by the way, means "trash can." So in my English teaching assistant mind, the title that means More Beautiful Life changed to Life of Garbage.

...At least I got the proper concept of the show right.

Barb the French Bean


  1. cute post. I got a good laugh out of it. I took French for two years and all I can say is can I sharpen my pencil. What a shame, it is a beautiful language!

  2. I really, really enjoyed the cartoons with this post


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