Letter from Paris: Go with the Fluh
Progress! I’m no longer the tongue-tied bumbler I was when I arrived in France, the guy who panicked when trying to ask for yogurt (yaourts, pronounced yow-oooooohhhhhrrrrrrrrrrrr) at the supermarket because I couldn’t tell when I was finished saying it.
Since I last wrote, I’ve had an official letter from the Mairie de Paris informing me of my successful completion of La Culture et La Société Française, Niveau B2: French Society and Culture, Level B2.
This was a class for those learning French as a Foreign Language, Français Langue Étrangère. For convenience, one usually uses the acronym FLE, pronounced “fluh,” which also sounds like a noise a Parisian might make when he sees tourists buying fake Birkin bags from a guy on the sidewalk outside the Louvre.
Fluh has six levels, from A1 to C2. My course was at level B2. Here’s what the levels mean, in practical terms.
A1. Beginner. Knows some very simple expressions that can be useful in satisfying basic needs. For example, “Yarn, please. Thank you.”
A2. Elementary. Understands common sentences, can communicate about simple tasks, familiar topics and matters of immediate need. For example, “Hello, I need yarn for a sweater.”
B1. Intermediate. Can successfully communicate about familiar topics and subjects of interest. Able to describe events, experiences, and goals. Can provide arguments to support ideas.
For example, “I like this yarn, but I do not like the color. Do you have this yarn in blue?”
B2. Fluent Speaker. At ease with spontaneous communication. Can express self clearly on a range of topics, discuss current affairs, outline advantages and drawbacks of a course of action.
For example, “I’m not sure how well the cables would show up in this yarn, what about that Norwegian worsted weight over there? It looks like it might work.”
C1. Advanced French Speaker. Can understand a variety of long and complex texts. Can express self spontaneously and fluidly across a broad spectrum of topics of conversation in all areas of life. Can grasp implicit meanings. For example: “Sure, the design is pretty, but her pattern writing makes me seasick–remember the trouble I had with her last KAL? Even with the companion videos I had to rip it out three times. But hey, you do you, it’s none of my business.”
C2. Bilingual. A level of mastery that would qualify you to be an official translator. For example: “I told her that shoulder shaping would make her look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame Goes to Rhinebeck, but did she listen? She did not. I mean she didn’t ask me, but I told her anyway because that’s the kind of person I am: concerned and caring. Remember how I warned you off the fugly asymmetrical shawl everyone was working on last summer for reasons I will never comprehend? I was right about that, too, wasn’t I? You never see anyone wearing a finished one, because blocked or unblocked it looks like a test swatch for a stitch dictionary you have to download from the Dark Web.”
If you’re curious about the yarn and the knitting … that’s for another letter.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions from knitters who would like to visit Paris, but aren’t sure how much French they ought to have in order to engage successfully with the natives. Of course the big guidebooks are cluttered with phrases that help you order a croissant or find the Moulin Rouge; but seldom, if ever, do they mention yarn.
So, a few basics.
Knitting is tricot (tree-co).
Crochet is crochet (cro-shay) and a crochet hook is un crochet (unh cro-shay) and that’s as easy as this is gonna get.
Yarn is fil (feel) which also means thread. Sometimes you’ll hear the word for wool, laine (lehn) used to mean yarn–any yarn, wool or not.
Needle is aiguille (ay-gwee). If you want more than one needle, which is likely, the plural is aiguilles. This is also pronounced ay-gwee because welcome to the special hell that is French pronunciation.
A pattern is un patron (uhn pah-trohn).
A sweater is “un pull” (uhn pool), a knitted hat is un bonnet (uhn baw-nay), a scarf is une écharpe (oon ay-sharp), mittens are des moufles (day moo-fluh).
“I would like…” is “Je voudrais…” (zhuh voo-dray)
So, “I would like some yarn,” is “Je voudrais du fil” (zhuh voo-dray doo feel).
“I would like a sweater pattern” is “Je voudrais un patron pour un pull” (zhuh voo-dray uhn pah-trohn por uhn pool).
A swatch is an échantillon (ay-shawn–tee-oh).
“Why doesn’t my sweater fit?” is “Pourquoi mon pull ne me va pas?” (poor-kwah mahn pool nuh muh vah pah)
“Did you swatch?” is “Est-ce que vous avez fait un échantillon?” (ess kah voozavay fay uhn ay-shawn–tee-oh
“I never swatch” is “Je ne fais jamais d’échantillon” (zhuh nuh fay zhahmay day-shawn–tee-oh)
“That is why your sweater does not fit,” is “Ça c’est pourquoi votre pull ne vous va pas.” (sa say poor-kwah voh-truh pool nuh vooh vah pah)
“But I never swatch” is “Mais je ne fais jamais d’échantillon” (may zhuh nuh fay zhahmay day-shawn–tee-oh)
“Please get out of my shop,” is “Veuillez sortir de ma boutique.” (voy-yay sor-teer duh mah boo-teek)
This material will be in the final exam.