by wjw on April 4, 2021

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of French television, particularly the last season of Call My Agent! (Dix Per Cent), a submarine thriller called The Wolf’s Call (Le Chant du Loup), plus episodes of Capitaine Marleau, a whodunit series featuring a kind of gender-flipped Columbo.

All this viewing and listening has encouraged a dangerous illusion, which is that I speak a foreign language.

While it’s true I took French in school (and Greek in college), any fluency has faded in the decades since. Yet French TV has encouraged me to the contrary, because I can understand so much of it: after all, the French for okay is “okay.” The French for super is “super!” The French for sexy is “sexy.” The French for email is “email,” brainstorming is “brainstorming,” burn-out is “burn-out,” smartphone is “smartphone,” motherfucker is “motherfucker,” and “oui” is “weh.” (That’s a joke for you Francophone types.)

I end every episode of French television with the delusion that I’m fluent in the language, but the truth is that I’m unable to compose any sentence that doesn’t involve curse words and terms derived from l’informatique.

This was made absolutely clear when I viewed the classic five-star noir Pepe le Moko last night, dating from 1938 before any of these Anglecismes entered the language. I left the film with no illusions, least of all the notion that life is worth living.

Film noir will do that to you.

Jim Janney April 5, 2021 at 10:36 am

I liked the guy in The Rift, the one who crept the goose, him. Will keep Pepe le Moko in mind when my Criterion channel subscription unpauses itself, but for now I’m not watching anything that doesn’t make me laugh.

Jérôme Boutet April 7, 2021 at 12:46 pm

Un de vos fidèles lecteurs, je suis heureux d’apprendre que vous avez une connaissance approfondie de la langue de Molière. Paradoxalement, je ne connaissais pas les films et séries que vous évoquez. Bonne continuation !

wjw April 7, 2021 at 3:53 pm

Jérôme, merci beaucoup pour votre joyeux message! J’espère que cela vous aidera à trouver de la bonne télévision française.

(Courtesy of Google Translate)

Steinar Bang April 10, 2021 at 4:56 pm

So… haven’t seen The Bureau yet?

Dave L April 13, 2021 at 3:15 pm

If you are enjoying French TV, and if you haven’t already tried it, Spiral(Engranages) is worth a watch. Eight amazingly good series about a Paris CID team and various defending and prosecuting lawyers. You see the underbelly of Paris, the life of a flic, how the Napoleonic justice system works and as a bonus you get to see how flexible “putain” can be in every day spoken French.

More light-hearted is Lupin starring the amazing Omar Cy. That’s on Netflix in the UK, so may be the same in the USA.

wjw April 14, 2021 at 12:05 am

I haven’t seen The Bureau yet, though I continue to hear good things about it.

I watched the first season of Spirals a few years ago, and was deeply impressed. It beat Rebus for the Most Depressing Police Procedural in History, and did it in the first ten minutes! I thought the first season was terrific, but the second failed to grab me for some reason.

I watched Lupin, and was annoyed they ended a very short season with a cliffhanger and no indication of when I’d get to see new episodes. Omar Cy was really impressive, and struck me as a sort of French Idris Alba. (Cy is also in “Le Chant du Loup,” by the way.)

Steinar Bang April 15, 2021 at 3:17 pm

(not French, so a little off topic, but I’m rewatching “Luther” right now, and I just wanted to say that it’st still pretty damn good! Very, very dark British TV crime drama, starring Idris Elba (Heimdall in the MCU) and Ruth Wilson (recently seen in “His Dark Materials“))

Hassan May 11, 2021 at 3:17 pm

Cher Mr. Williams,

J’ai beaucoup aimé les séries dont vous parlez également, et je vous conseille la série “Au Service de la France” ( A Very Secret Service in English).

It’s a comedy TV show about the french secret service in the 50s, and to me it is the best French TV has put out in a long while.

As for your comment about Lupin, I shared your feelings, however they did share the release date for the next season from day 1 (a play on their “You were looking but you weren’t seeing ” catchphrase, it was on Omar Sy’s profile/cover picture for a while.

Best wishes from France, and I hope Quillifer book 3 is coming soon!

wjw May 11, 2021 at 8:59 pm

The next Quillifer book will be out on 20 January, 2022! I just finished going over the copy-edit.

John Wilson June 13, 2021 at 5:25 am

With reference to the anglicismes, when I was in high school back in the 80s, my grade ten French teacher showed us an article. Apparently, l’Academie Française disliked all the English terms creeping into the French language and had issued a proclamation complaining about this and basically telling the French people to cease and desist.

It had as much impact as you might expect…

…except to trigger a response from the English Ambassador to France, who (if memory serves) started his letter with a reference to l”Academie’s bulletin, and then continued with something like, “The English language has always adopted words from foreign languages, and in England we treat this as something of a fait accompli. Indeed, such borrowings give our language a certain je ne sais quoi, to use a cliché. And in my humble opinion it would be a faux pas to try to regulate a people’s usage of their language.” And so on, throwing in many French language expressions that have become common in English. I thought it a wonderful example of that dry British humour. The crème de la crème, if you will.

And of course, I live Ottawa, Canada, and my Mother was Québecoise. I have played softball games with my cousins where I heard a person cheering on his teammate with, “C’mon, Denis, fais un hit!”

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