I often get together with several French-speaking mothers with children about the same age as my little one. We meet at someone’s home and each bring a dish to share, and while our children play together or independently, we chit-chat about a variety of things—life, schools, travel plans, books, the news, etc. The last time we had met was just before summer started. So yesterday, it was nice to get together again to mark la rentrée.

In August, France usually slows down—school is out and many restaurants and businesses close. Therefore, many of the French go on vacation for most of the month and are back in September for la rentrée—it signifies the end of vacation and life returning to normalcy—everyone returning home and going back to work; teachers and students going back to school, life continuing after a brief respite.

I always look forward to joining this group of très cool mamans françaises. I sit there, listening, absorbing, and learning nuances in conversation, new vocabulary and phrases. I should say, all of these women are lovely—funny, smart and interesting. Also, all are native French speakers, so whatever they say comes out sounding beautiful. And then… there’s me, the only non-native speaker in the bunch who understands French très bien, but “speaks” French…ahem, not so bien. I call it Gorilla French and sadly, there’s nothing beautiful about it.

Here’s part of my dilemma. As my French comprehension is quite good and I often understand the majority of what’s going on, I actually start to feel like I’m actually in the flow, and part of the conversation. Wow, I think, my French has improved. I smile inside. Bravo Martine! Please note, I’m quite aware of the false sense of security this provides because, as you may already know, reality has a funny way of helping one keep it real.

You see, invariably someone eventually turns to me to ask a question, a simple one: How was your summer Martine? Did you travel? Or, perhaps it’s, what’s the name of the grain in the salad you brought? And just like that, I’m jolted from my sweet French reverie and…temporary paralysis. My throat gets tight, hot and thick. I have to swallow before I can even think of speaking. Next, my heart begins to flutter like a bird in a trap. Ahem, water? Where’s my glass of water?! Eyes on me, I know the words. I hear them spoken beautifully in my head. I quickly respond with a 1-2 word phrase. Phew, that sounded okay! Then, a follow-up question requiring a few more sentences to respond, or perhaps etiquette reminds me it’s now my turn to respond with a question. Again, I know the words and they sound so beautifully spoken, in my head. I think to myself, I’ve got this, I can sound normal. Then out it comes, my gorilla French. Zut!

I’ve been thinking that I’ve been going at it the wrong way. The next time I get asked a question in that beautiful language of love, dreams and all things nice, before I start to struggle with a response I should just pull out what I call my fainting goat technique. I’m sure it would really work well as it’s a great thing to use for life’s stressful situations. When these goat feel startled, stressed or that trouble/danger is near, they just freeze and poof, they faint. It not only should work super well, its also quite funny. Hmm, a temporary solution for me, n’est-ce pas?

To compensate in advance for my gorilla speech, I brought this non-gorilla-like Mediterranean inspired farro salad. Update: For a grain-free version, see myMediterranean Cauliflower-Couscous Salad.

Farro Salad

Mediterranean Farro Salad
Serves 4 to 6

1 cup farro
1/3 cup kalamata olives, sliced in half
1½ tablespoons capers
1½ tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
15 cherry, halved or quartered depending on size
4 green onions, sliced thinly
1 small cucumber, sliced
1/4 bell pepper, sliced thinly and cut in 1/2-inch pieces

Juice of 1-2 lemons, about 3 tablespoons
1½ tablespoons honey (or other preferred sweetener)
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground pepper

Make the vinaigrette: Whisk together all ingredients and set aside.

In a large pot of boiling water, add farro and simmer until just tender. Using a sieve, drain and rinse with cold water. Drain again, set aside and allow to cool.

In a large bowl, combine cooked and cooled farro, olives, capers, thyme leaves, tomatoes, green onions, cucumber and bell pepper. Add the dressing and gently mix everything together. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve.

8 thoughts on “Gorilla French

  1. Great post. So funny because I know the feeling. I had a Spanish conversation partner for almost 3 years before I felt confident enough to speak “almost” fluently. French is another story. Wow. I love the idea of the la rentrée. It beats the idea of “back to school” because it encompasses everything. I always marvel at how language reflects cultural values so well.

    1. Thanks Amanda. It’s a crazy feeling isn’t it?! For some reason I have less inhibitions when I muddle my way through Spanish and Portuguese. But with French, yes, it’s another story! I too love the concept of “la rentrée” and I love gathering little phrases like this from different languages and cultures to incorporate them in my own life and home. 🙂 You’re right, it’s a nice phrase because it encompasses so much. I hope you’re enjoying your rentrée this September!

  2. Martine ! You speak a so good french ! I cannot let you say that ! (en fait, moi c’est comme toi, mais en anglais !).
    Merci pour la recette, je vais essayer bientôt.
    J’ai pensé à toi car je commande mes légumes chez “From the farmer”, et cette semaine, ils partageaient une de tes recettes !
    A bientôt

    1. Merci Marguerite! Tu est très gentile! How exciting, I didn’t know “From the Farmer” shared one of my recipes! Thank you for letting me know. J’espère que la recette te plaira!! Merci encore, à bientôt.

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