It’s not every day you ask for ice-cream for your child’s foot.
Or book train tickets to travel to a pillow.
Such are the joys of practising schoolgirl French.
Grace and I are in New Caledonia, a baguette-like island 2½ hours’ flight from Brisbane.
Our guide, Franck, insists he enjoys my “franglish”. But Grace is mortified.
“Mum, your accent is terrible!” she exclaims, rolling her r’s perfectly.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t start learning French when I was four years old, like you, because I WAS LIVING IN A SHOE BOX IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD,” I explain, Pythonesque.
I decide to tell Franck about the time I called a farmer’s beloved dairy cows boeuf instead of vache. She thought I was going to eat them, whole.
“Oh, what a misteak!” Grace giggles. Now she’s showing off.
The taunting continues as we check in to the Sheraton Deva, a stunning new resort and spa an 1½ hours’ drive north of the international airport.
We wander around the two-bedroom apartment, pointing to the chaise, lit and television.
The best lessons come from the latter, with half a dozen kids’ shows in French.
Later, one of the carers in the Kids’ Club plays snakes and ladders (serpents et echelles) with Grace, insisting on no English.
This petit peu of immersion emboldens my shy daughter, who last year refused to speak a word of French during a fortnight in Paris.
It was during that trip, at Gare du Nord, where I asked for quatre billet to Orly train station.
The attendant doubled over with laughter, calling his colleagues to the counter, asking me to repeat the request.
“What have I said wrong?” I asked, embarrassed.
“You asked for four tickets to a pillow! Oreiller!” he snorted.
After that incident, I refused to speak French for a year.
But how can I encourage my daughter to practise if I refuse to do so?
Which is where Albert comes in. Turns out he’s one of those old-fashioned maitre d’s and every night at the hotel restaurant I cause his cochlear to burn by ordering in French.
He tells all the waiters: “Madam doesn’t want to speak in English.”
It all goes swimmingly, lubricated by vast amounts of vin rouge, until Grace is bitten by an ant and her foot blows up like a balloon. I remember how to say foot. And ice. And please.
But, somehow, the clumsy request for glace pour ma fille pied elicits this response: “Chocolat, fraise, or vanille?”
He wants to know what flavour ice-cream to put on her foot. Fortunately, I don’t know how to say “toe jam” in French. Otherwise, I might have made an inappropriate joke.
Sadly, I slip back into my native tongue. It is an emergency, after all.
There’s an old saying that a scalded cat fears water. (Chat échaudé craint l’eau froide.)
But, call me crazy: I’m gonna keep using my “franglish”; if only for comedy.
The writer travelled courtesy of New Caledonia Tourism, Aircalin and Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Resort and Spa.