Saturday, November 6, 2010

No French

By Patrick Plummer
My boss hated French. He despised France, including the French people, but he had a peculiar bias toward their language. For example, we could not take a cigarette break but we could go outside for a smoke. When dining out he would never order an entrée and called it the main course. And forget driving down a boulevard.
I suppose he thought French was trying to dominate the alphabet by using up all the vowels.
I’m certain the obsession eliminated things from his life. Champagne, crepes suzette and Audrey Tautou. I would consider the later the biggest loss. He’d never be able to admire at the actresses’ beauty.
It cramped his hiring, no one could submit a resume. Even though it doesn’t have the little accent marks in English anymore, it was poison to his mind. As his assistant, I would screen promising applicants and tell them to remove the word from the top of their work history. I advised them not to commit a gaffe and say “résumé” as they handed the document to him. Some excellent people slipped up. It is so common now to submit a you know what.
We could go to the john or the head but not the toilet. He went to lunch at a beanery and never a café.
I had learned to watch my mouth and keep my job at the beverage distribution company. A year ago I made a mistake the very first week and told him a truck was en route.
In what? He asked me the question as he put down his glasses and stared at me.
On they way, I answered.
That’s better, he advised me, never use that language around me again or you’re fired. Even if it is not French, but only sounds like it, you’re gone. Got it?
He was gauche.
I’ve lasted a year, which is longer than anyone. I learned think before I spoke. How can you not go out to lunch at restaurant? Or describe a pretty brown-haired girl as a brunette?
One day he asked about the framed picture of my fiancé on my desk.
This is a photograph of my wife to be, I said to him
Lovely woman, he said. What does she do?
I had to answer carefully because she worked as marketing director for the City Ballet.
She promotes a dance company.
He shrugged and left my office satisfied with his attempt to be my faux amis. That was a close one but I succeeded with my façade.
The day came when he was confronted with the inevitable. The visitor was the coupe de gras to his career. A short man with a hook nose came to our offices. He was dressed in a suit and carried a brown leather attache case. He intruduced himself to me as Andre Pompadeau and that he must see my boss immediately. The French accent made me smile.
Was he expecting you?
I shall meet with the both of you.
The stiff English is common with people who learned it formally. I escorted him into my boss’office. He glanced up from his desk and bluntly asked, What?
Pompadeau intruduced him self and this made my boss cringe. It got worse for him, better for me.
I am from the Nestlé Corporation.
I liked the way he said corporation, with all the nasal twang on the last syllable.
So what? My boss looked him up and down with contempt.
We have purchased your distribution company and I am present to observe.
Observe what?
Le operation.
Got to love the sound of “o-per-a-shown”.
My boss rose from his chair and leaned over his desk and asked, You mean I have to work for you?
Is this a joke? He turned to me with a hateful stare and demanded, Did you put this clown up to this?
Let me assure you, Pompadeau said, the situation is serious.
All the weird, non-essential accents drove my boss over the edge. He screamed at Pompadeau and said he’d rather quit than work for the French.
As you wish.
My ex-boss grabbed his jacket and left the office cursing the entire way down the hall and out the warehouse door.
I turned to monsieur Pampadeau, extended my hand, bowed my head in appreciation and said, Merci beaucoup.