In Competition 2809 you were invited to submit a letter liberally sprinkled with evidence of an imperfect grasp of foreign languages.
In his 1946 essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ George Orwell took a pop at the self-conscious use of foreign words and expressions: ‘Cul de sac, ancien régime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, Gleichschaltung, Weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance … Bad writers … are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones…’
They may be annoying and pretentious, but the would-be cosmopolitan sophisticates that Orwell rails against provide rich comic potential, which you mined with panache.
Commendations to Walter Ancarrow, Charles Owen, Mike Morrison and Derek Morgan. The bonus fiver is Chris O’Carroll’s and his fellow prizewinners take £25 each.
I’ve had a few tonight, so I may speak my mind with shocking indiscretion in this letter. In vino vidi vici, n’est ce paté? Your continental horror stories had me fearing the worst, but I’ve enjoyed my holiday far more than you did yours. E pluribus non est disputandum. Every country I’ve visited has its own characteristic Weltanschmerzung, from the Arbeit macht Freud outlook of industrious Germany to the Italian love of la dolce volta. (Saw an actual Mafioso, a capo di tutti carpaccio, in a Roman restaurant.) Surprised to discover how willingly I surrendered to French joie de Vouvray. Reclining in my hotel on a cherchez longue, sipping a café au fait, I felt quite in love with Gallic decadence. Had a pair of Parisian swingers invited me to join them in a mâché à trois, would I have accepted at that moment? Je ne sais patois.
Mon lieder cherie
How are things, meine Freund? In ipso facto, I’ve been meaning to drop you a billet-doux for a while, but I’ve been a la recherché du temps perdu, and hors des oeuvres with a dodgy back, so your letter has been parked in media res. But now the vista is more hasta, and mieux vaut tenir que courier, and all that.
The garcon has grown up over the last anno dominatrix, and now has a job (Wie der Wasser, so der sohn!) — you wouldn’t recognise him. He has a passepartout to great things if only he’ll make sure he doesn’t have a lapsus linguae, and keeps up his studio del conversazione. He’ll be up die Leiter and packing his casus belli for pastures new if he just remembers what he learned im schulze, and holds to his rule: men’s sauna in corpore sano.
Sir: I am following with great interest the flow of the cause célèbre on Europe in your columns. Though I’ve not exactly made amis en haut places, as it were, with my outspoken lingua Franka, you’ll find I can take a step derrière, pour mieux sauté, as our cousins across La Mancha like to say, and then I get abolutement into medias res with gustissimo. Frankness, brass neck or glass nose, as the Russians put it, makes people pensée, like our old amigo Pascal. If it is fortissimo opinion you seek, I’m your novus homo to give it. On the Scottish question it is one thing to stress the individuality of your alma matter with maxims like ‘whae likes us?’ but quite another to chercher la femme that is independence. My contribution to the debate? A little poem, un haut coup in fact. Voilà!…
Well, here we are in la douche France enjoying a glass or two of goats d’arome with our plates de jure or our fruits de mère. The food is good — the locals are all veritable gastéropodes —though snails and garlic are not my coup de grace at all. Soon our cultural tour takes us on to Germany, where we shall enjoy the worst and the sour Krauts, washed down with hellish beer and perhaps a glass of snaps, but alas, we are also being dragged to an opera in the Wagner-festival in Beirut (oh, Götterdämmerung! I said). After that we go to Italy, for a taste of la dolce latte. We get individual accommodation there, our own little cosa nostra. As it’s a fashion centre I shall buy a smart hat, a capo di tutti capi. But for now, je t’embarasse millefeuilles, as they say here in France…
A fairly hairy journée down but we eventually arrived tout dans l’un morceau. Our room’s nothing special but when you go out on the balcony it’s like wow! Hasta la vista!
Slight fricassee at dinner last night. When we said non to their mineral water (at 6 euros!) they wouldn’t bring us any eau de nil instead. Lots of gaulois shrugs and mous but no eau. And it isn’t as if it’s a gourmand restaurant — my squid wasn’t a patch on Greek calimera.
Anyway, today we’ve been looking round the Abbé. The best thing was a Mairie with baby Jesus painted al fresco straight onto the wall. We overheard the guide say the artist was Ann Connew (?). Didn’t know women were painting much then. Zut alors, after all this art and couture it’s down to the pool tomorrow and let le soleil brie!
Hi gang — Believe me it’s a doddle living in the ‘Midi’ (though it’s more than halfway down!) once you get into the culture, have a ‘bon mot’ to say for everyone in the village, which is a little ‘demi-monde’ of its own, and you won’t get a ‘nom de guerre’, which would be mortifying, or a ‘petit mort’ as they say here.
You get some misunderstandings, but there’s nothing ‘au gratin’ about them, no grudge, as long as you’re a ‘bien pensant’ who always shows good intentions, and once you’re invited to ‘fout le camp’ with your French neighbours you’ll know you’ve been accepted, even if holidaying in a tent isn’t your thing.
Eating out is fantastic, and this is a country where the idea of service is really understood (‘compris’). Call your waiter ‘garçon’ and you’ll immediately be on good personal terms with him.
Au reservoir, Tony
No. 2812 BOOKISH
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