Practical French Lessons by James Gallant

Practical French Lessons

James Gallant

Translate the following passages from English into French.


(Maid Marla has served soup to Madame Mignon and Mr. Cuistance. Cuistance stands at a window as Jacques enters.)

JACQUES: Please forgive my tardiness. What time is it?

MADAME: It is two forty-six.

JACQUES: To catch a city bus between noon and three in Paris is very difficult. I don’t know why.

MADAME: Nor do I. Mr. Cuistance, do you know?

CUISTANCE: (pointing) Extraordinary! A man dressed all in white on the roof over there appears to have wings.

MARLA: It is cloudy. I believe it will rain.

JACQUES: Well, it is April, the month of showers.

CUISTANCE: The wings are transparent. He looks like an angel, or a gigantic albino horsefly (albinos taon).

MARLA: April showers bring May flowers.

JACQUES: What is the origin of that commonplace (banale).

MADAME: I believe it is a very old saying in the Northern hemisphere.

CUISTANCE: The man is gently flapping his wings, like a moth at rest.

JACQUES: (whispering to Madame Mignon): Who is this man?

MADAME: He is Mr. Cuistance.

JACQUES: He is a friend of yours?

MADAME: I have no idea who he is. He joined us as we were having soup.

MARLA: We had tomato soup.

JACQUES: I much prefer chicken noodle soup (soupe de nouilles au poulet).

MARLA: I am afraid we do not have any of that. We have onion soup.

JACQUES: I am not hungry. However, I am very horny (libineux).

MARLA: I like to see that in a man.

JACQUES: You will not have to look very far.

MADAM: Is that our phone ringing?

MARLA: No, it is next door. (la porte à côté).

MADAME: That phone rings constantly since the new man arrived. We also hear repeatedly a mysterious thud. (bruit sourd).

JACQUES: The main cause of my delay was the long line at American Express. I was behind a very brash (impétueux) man. He wore luminescent sneakers (chaussures de sport). He was probably an American.

MADAME: Be careful what you say, Jacques. Remember, Marla is an American.

JACQUES: How could I forget? American women are the most sexually liberated in the world.

MADAME: You made arrangements for your tour of Provence?

JACQUES: Yes. I leave Monday at noon. I will visit Orange to see the triumphal arch and the Roman theater. Then I will go to Avignon.

CUISTANCE: A giraffe has appeared on the roof beside the winged man!

MADAME: And after Avignon?

JACQUES: I go to Arles.

MADAME: I understand they are showing Gone with the Wind at the Roman amphitheater there on summer nights.

JACQUES: A charming coalescence (fusion) of the ancient and the modern!

CUISTANCE: The man has risen to the ledge. My God! I believe he will attempt flight!

MADAME: There is that thud again.

MARLA: No, I believe it came from the street that time.

JACQUES: Is that blood Mr. Cuistance is vomiting?

MARLA: I believe it is tomato soup.


(The phone rings.)

PIERRE: Hello, Pierre Clement here.

CLAUDE: Hello, Pierre. This is Claude Martin.

PIERRE: Claude! How are you?

CLAUDE: I am well. And you?

PIERRE: I, too, am well. I know you have been in Italy. When did you come to Paris?

CLAUDE: Yesterday at three-thirty in the afternoon, by air.

PIERRE: You flew first-class?

CLAUDE: No, we had to leave Italy hurriedly. Only economy seats were available.

PIERRE: I am sorry to hear it. I know leg room (espace pour les jambes) is slight on economy flights.

CLAUDE: It was just as well (d’accord). They would not think to look for me in second-class.

PIERRE: You travel a great deal.

CLAUDE: I tire of it sometimes. So many addresses, and so many different names in different places. I sometimes forget who I am supposed to be.

PIERRE: It is an occupational hazard you must tolerate.

CLAUDE: Yes. I just brokered a deal involving a ton of opium from Afghanistan.

PIERRE: How is Claire?

CLAUDE: She is fine.

PIERRE: Is she still eager for a ménage a trois?

CLAUDE: She speaks of it from time to time. Tonight, she wishes to attend the concert by the guitar virtuoso Andres Segovia at the Théâtre du Châtelet. She asks if you would like to make a threesome.

PIERRE: With pleasure! I have met a charming young woman from Wisconsin in the United States, Elise. She is in Paris studying the French language. Might she join us?

CLAUDE: Yes, of course. The more the merrier! (Plus nous serons, meilleur ce sera!)

PIERRE: She is studying, in addition to the French language, the philosophy of Descartes and Malebranche.

CLAUDE: I would not hold it against her.


(The steamship bearing two American friends has docked at Le Havre.)

BRUCE: I would like very much to visit Dijon while we are in France.

HENRY: You are interested in mustard?

BRUCE: (laughing) Dijon was, indeed, the mustard capital in the Middle Ages.

HENRY: I would like Dijon, I think, if the color did not always remind me of diarrhea.

BRUCE: When King François the First visited the city of Dijon, he exclaimed, “My god, there are a hundred bell towers!”

HENRY: Do they still exist?

BRUCE: No, our American planes bombed crap (merde) out of them during the German occupation.

(The two friends leave the ship)

HENRY: I am very nervous about this car I purchased by telephone long-distance from New York. I find it suspicious that the name of the Peugeot representative who is to meet us is Leblanc.

BRUCE: Nonsense. Peugeot has every reason to treat well its international clientele.

That fellow over there jingling the keyring (porte-clés) must be your man.

(The Peugeot representative introduces himself, and leads the two Americans to the parking lot at the port.)

BRUCE: We saw your beautiful white modern city from the deck of our ship.

LEBLANC: It is made entirely of concrete (béton).

HENRY: Why is that?

LEBLANC: After you Americans bombed crap out of us in the Forties, we rebuilt the city with concrete. It was fast and cheap.

BRUCE: Your city is a phoenix!

LEBLANC: A concrete phoenix…There is your little red Peugeot.

HENRY: Is there anything I should know about the car before I drive it?

LEBLANC: The motor will sound like that of an airplane, but you will get used to it.

HENRY: What is the maximum speed?

LEBLANC: Ninety.

HENRY: We intend to drive to Paris today.

LEBLANC: I cannot recommend driving at anything like maximum speed, because the car will shake as if it would fall apart. Also, there are very sharp curves in the highway between here and Paris.

BRUCE: We are very hungry. Is there a restaurant near the harbor?

LEBLANC: No, but on the road to Paris, you will soon pass a Burger King. You will feel right at home.

BRUCE: Henry and I do not eat beef

LEBLANC: You are expatriates?

(The two Americans are on the road.)

BRUCE: Henry, you drive like a little old lady. What is your speed?

HENRY: You didn’t see the signs back there for sharp curves ahead?

BRUCE: That driver behind us is very angry. I weary of his honking (coup de klaxon). Now he is giving us the finger.

HENRY: My god! The fool is going around us! There is a curve directly ahead!

(A loud crash. The two friends pass a scene of two cars on fire. Trapped passengers are wild-eyed and screaming.)

HENRY: By the way, Bruce, I forgot to mention that when we stopped at the gas station back there, I telephoned Rouen and reserved a room for us there tonight. If we were to press on to Paris, our arrival would be very late.

BRUCE: That was very smart, Henry—and I have heard Rouen is very picturesque.

HENRY: It was the setting for many of the stories of Maupassant,

BRUCE: I apologize for my remarks about your driving. They were unwarranted.

HENRY: Apology accepted. It occurs to me that driving is the one thing in this world we have never done together.

BRUCE: (nodding) We must be careful to avoid backseat driving (conduite à l’arrière).

About the Author

James Gallant was the winner of the 2019 Schaffner Prize for his story collection La Leona, and Other Guitar stories, scheduled for publication later this year. His e-novel, Whatever Happened to Ohio? from Vagabondage Press, and a collection of essays and short fiction, Verisimilitude: essays and approximations, published by Fortnightly Review press (UK), appeared in 2018. He has been an online columnist for FR since 2015.