Mathilde, s'il vous plaît répètez la prononciation du mot.
I ask my teacher at Paris’ Alliance Française if she can repeat the pronunciation of the word she just said. I have the vocab list in front of me. This unit is about the environment and Earth’s physical characteristics. I know she said the French word for jungle, it’s the pronunciation I’m wanting to hear again. Encore.
She says it again, la jungle. it sounds like she’s saying la chancla, in a Cory Booker-speaking-Spanish-kinda-way. As a run-on-word -- lachancla. I thank her and maintain a straight face, OMG, inside I’m cracking up picturing la chancla instead of a jungle.
On a serious note and digressing to the Democratic Presidential debate and the speaking of a few words of Spanish by candidates (never mind the quality of pronunciation), To my mind this is a shorthand way of saying, we see you, and you are part of this great big American community. Yes, it also had the feeling of pandering. But I'd rather feel pandering instead of the demonization, disrespect, and mistreatment that members of the Latinx community are subjected to everyday since the rise of Trumpism.
Some folks are bothered at hearing Spanish. I personally have felt this disdain and on occasion had snide remarks directed at me by total strangers: this is American and people here should speak English. Had I been speaking French or Norweigan, I don't think I would have gotten any such comments.
But back to la chancla, that flip-flop that mothers use to mete out discipline in Latinx households. Hearing the word chancla puts fear in little kids’ hearts. Beware of the flying chancla, as mothers aim this projectile with great accuracy. La chancla is fodder for Latinx comedians and has its memes and GIFs. It is also the subject of a podcast with a Latinx therapist that some chanclasos cross the line and enter into the realm of child abuse, more here.
Do a google search of la chancla merchandise and you will see that la chancla has found its way onto t-shirts, tote bags, mugs, and keychains.
I met up with my long-time Paris friend, Azucena, a retired language teacher, earlier this week, before I left Paris. She set our rendez-vous at a café at the Gare Saint-Lazare. The train station has a beautiful shopping area AND it is air-conditioned, super important – it was and continues to be très CHAUD unusually hot. Azucena and I were speaking about the fun part of making connections between a language you know and one you are learning, and I, of course shared my jungle vs. chancla moment with her. We spoke of the frustration of being in that in-between space, where you catch some of what’s going on -- fully aware -- that you are also missing big chunks. Azucena knows this not just as a language teacher, but also from personal experience, as she was born and raised in Buenos Aires and moved to France as a young woman.
Take the word souvenir, I said to her, we are all familiar with it. The French word souvenir, either as a noun or verb, is about memory and remembering. Wow, makes sense that this is what we call those items called souvenirs. So we, or others can remember a place that we have visited, to share an experience that we had. Some words that we use on a daily basis come from other languages, and often we are not aware. I find it quite exciting to learn that sort of thing.
When I tell Azucena about my aha moment regarding this word souvenir, she busts out a hearty laugh. May I share my own souvenir story with you? Yes, please do, I say.
When we lived in Bordeaux, I was preparing to perform a program based on Carmen, the Bizet opera, for my daughter’s school. The literature and music teachers wanted a simplified version of this opera presented to the 13-year old students. At that time, a young Polish woman worked as an au pair with us. She did not yet know French so we communicated in English. She was an accomplished pianist and would accompany us during rehearsals. At one point we were rehearsing the duetto and much of the song is about sweet memories (les souvenirs chéris) . The word souvenir is sung over and over again.
After rehearsal this young woman says to me in English -- souvenir, souvenir, is this duetto about those little things we buy on holiday to bring back as presents for relatives and friends?
Azucena was kind enough to provide me this link to the Carmen duetto she references, should you wish to see it. Click here to watch.
Being immersed in French for 6-8 hours daily for a month, either in class or doing homework, and being in Paris was a great experience. It will take me many more months to improve my pronunciation and gain the level of fluency to communicate comfortably and to carry on a conversation beyond the most rudimentary subjects, so I plan to continue my studies back home.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn another language, take the plunge. You don’t need to leave home, although it is wonderful if you can. There is so much available online, at your local community colleges, and at universities. I guarantee that it will be a mind-expanding experience.