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The Charming Mountain Goat – The Great Debate

November 23rd, 2013 · No Comments · Charming Mountain Goat, Provence, South of France

Perhaps those people who move to foreign countries and never learn to speak the language of their new homeland are on to something much more profound than previously realised.

Before being in command of the French language, it appeared attractive because of its melodic sound, its elegant phrasing and all those many words. They joy of first breaking through that crucial part in the sentence where one word finishes and another starts was revelatory.

The satisfaction of taking part in a conversation and holding one’s own is immense. But just as the saying goes that “you don’t learn a language you learn a culture”, there is a point when your knowledge tips you to the other side – a darker one.

A few years ago, writing in the summer heat with the windows open, the aforementioned melodic humming of native French speakers was wafting softly towards my ears. The Provencal accent adds even more to the beauty of the French language – gently singing each word echoing its Italian influences.

Even though I was not actually listening, the intensity of the conversation between the group of man outside compelled me to listen. As I stopped writing and tuned it I learned the following; this was not a learned exchange on the activity at hand (planting a vine to grow on the wall of a village house).

Instead, it was a deeply analytical exchange on the amount of croissants one should consume and how much one needed to exercise to work them off.  Two hours and a small number of minutes later, this was still being discussed with the same fervour and intensity. Presumably, however many croissants had been eaten that morning, the effort of the discussion would have burned off any fat.

Despite the heat, I closed the window.

And here is the dark side of understanding the French language; the French love to air their opinions with all their little twists and turns. One can listen and get lost in less than ten seconds, as the aim is never to actually come to a conclusion, find an answer or solve the problem.

In preparation for her leaving exams next summer, Piglet 1 has recently started her one-year course of philosophy. This is compulsory.

However, as her teacher pointed out at the parents evening, this 8-hour a week course is not there to introduce these young adults to the major ideas of western society, but: “to help them express themselves in proper French and teach them how to write well.”

So the rules as I understand them appear to be as follows: one talks to merely talk. The aim is to rattle off as many words as possible, and under no circumstance must communication take place. The person who talks most and longest and wears out the other person first, wins.

Perhaps this is a little harsh. I will make sure to talk to my neighbour about this subject next time I have a few hours to spare.

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