Let’s Parler Franglais! by Miles Kington, illustrations by Merrily Harpur. Penguin Books, 1981. 0140056254.
The Franglais Lieutenant’s Woman by Miles Kington. Penguin Books, 1987. 014010142X.
Sarah: I know that you speak some French.
Gene: Very little.
S: Probably more than me, since you’re able to get through some graphic novels.
G: That’s not speaking, though, that’s reading. It’s very different.
S: That’s good. If you read a little French, but not much, this is the book for you. “Let’s Parler Franglais” was a column in Punch magazine. It’s a combination of French and English in very funny dialogues, in the style you would get in a French textbook. It’s funnier than it would be just in French or English. It’s a great combination.
G: Who illustrated this?
S: Merrily Harpur.
G: Her style reminds me Tomi Ungerer’s and Shel Silverstein’s.
S: If you get a chance to look at her work, do. It’s really good.
G: There are two books?
S: There’s more, but these are the two that I have.
G: The Franglais Lieutenant’s Woman! (laughs)
S: That one is full of short literary parodies. Kington was a cool guy, he was a writer, a musician, and a jazz reviewer for The Times of London…
G: (flipping through a book) Can you understand this?
S: Yeah, I’m re-reading it now.
G: It is kind of brilliant.
S: Yeah, isn’t it?
G: I can fully understand this. It’s really simple. And it’s got decent grammar, as far as I can tell anyway.
S: He translated, word-for-word, English turns of phrase, which I find very satisfying.
G: Will this be bad for my French skills?
S: Probably. But it will help improve your vocabulary, which is good.
There’s one bit in Let’s Parler Franglais where they’re at a post office. A guy comes in and asks for a dog license and the guy at the window says “Je regrette, on ne fait pas les dog licenses ici.” Turns out the dog license office is at Swansea. But he doesn’t want to go to Swansea. “Alors, je vais mettre le chien dans un paquet, et l’envoyer à Swansea.” He wants to send the dog as a parcel to Swansea. But the guy can’t do it: parcels are the next window over. It’s a funny back and forth, then he tries to send the dog as a letter. Then he decides to change the expiration date on his dog license so it looks like it hasn’t expired. The official is appalled. “C’est forgery! Nous avons des dog detector vans partout! Prenez garde!” He’s warning that there’s dog detector vans to detect dog license fraud, like the TV detector vans the UK used to find people who didn’t pay their television licenses.
G: So you have to know about British culture, too?
S: Yeah, there’s a little bit of that in here.
G: What’s “A la Librarie”? Is that library or bookstore?
S: Bookstore. The clerk asks the customer, “Et le nom de l’auteur?” What’s the author’s name? And she answers, “Je l’ignore. Mais il porte un bow-tie.” I don’t know, but he wears a bow tie. Perfect.
G: That’s me. I was at BEA more than ten years ago and I saw China Miéville on a panel with John Ringo, who writes military Sci Fi — his books are fun if that’s what you’re in the mood for. Ringo was wearing a kilt. The moderator asked him about it. He said something like, “Well, ten years from now, you won’t remember anything about this panel other than there was a guy wearing a kilt.” Kinda true, though I also remember Miéville’s imposing physique and all of his earrings.
S: The combination of languages in this makes my brain feel good.
G: I would have loved these books when I was taking French in high school.
S: That’s when I started reading them, when I first started taking French classes. You need to be able to use the vocabulary you have, as an adult. So they’re like funny ELL type books.