Once you get over the fact that 'My Uncles pen is NOT on my Aunt's desk' (and is never likely to be) the task of learning 'useful' Non-O-Level-School-French can begin.
Personally I arrived in France with reasonably good vocabulary, but without the ability to string much of it together into coherent sentences. Occasions to explain that 'My pen knife was in my brother's pocket' were few and far between, and I soon found that I had much more need to say 'My septic tank stinks', or 'I have leaking roof', or 'My beans are covered in aphids'.
French anomalies are everywhere, laid like traps for the unwary foreigner; here are a couple of amusing favourites.
Nouns in French are either boys or girls; yes, they have a sex. A window (La fenetre
) is female, and a carpet (Le tapis
) is male. But just to confuse the unwary foreigner, a man's beard is female (La barbe
), and a lady's handbag (Le sac a main
) is of course male. Well it would be, wouldn't it.
And whilst I'm on the subject, I was reminded recently of an ancient popular French 'bonbon' known as Sucre brulé,
which was translated by some English linguistic clever-clogs as 'Sugar Barley' (or Barley Sugar). Visiting Frenchmen to England then re-discovered this British delicacy, and it was re-exported back to France as Sucre d'orge.
This simple sweet contains not the tiniest trace of Barley, but is now named on both sides of La Manche
as if its Barley content was unquestionable!
We foreigners hardly stand a chance.
p.s. I've had 45 years in which to get to grips with Français
, and (I'm pleased to say) my usage is now 'acceptable'.