Why False Friends?

I blame it on my father:  my love of all things French began in my teens when he would drive me, my mother and sisters across France every summer. I remember little auberges with croissants and coffee for petit déjeuner and onion soup for supper; huge rolling well-kept fields, and long straight roads shaded by never-ending lines of poplars.

At a château in the Loire valley my father cornered the guide to ask in his halting French: “Monsieur, why did Marie Antoinette keep her fish (poisson) in that cupboard?” “But my dear monsieur,” came the reply: “it was not her fish (poisson) but her poison (poison)”.

Passing through Paris we would stay with friends whom we still know today. Nodding off over the supper table, we three girls would listen to the adults discussing customs, current affairs, politics: “De Gaulle dit non !” still rings in my ears.  My would-be-rebel of a father scrawled ‘Vive la grève !’ (‘Long live the strike’) on the communal notice-board. We were too young, or at least too ignorant, to know whether to praise or scold him.

Later, in London, working for one evening a week in an ‘arty’ West End cinema, I was surrounded by many nationalities. There was Dino, the Italian, Carlos, the Spaniard, and Jean-Pierre, the French contingent. (Names have been changed to keep off the lawyers). During the week I worked in a university library, the shelves of which are  crammed with European fiction.  I  would borrow Italian, Spanish, French novels, and devour them with the help of dictionaries. It soon became clear to me, however, that it would always be French that would be closest to my heart.

Having become saddled with another mortgage a few years ago, I cast around for money-spinning ideas (hysterical laughter). Having cast aside the idea of solving prize-winning crosswords as a delightful but non profit-making pastime, I decided to put my major hobby to the test. Jean-Pierre had promised, many years before, to lend me a book on “False Friends” – those intriguing foreign words which sound like one thing but mean something entirely different. For instance: ‘attendre’  is not ‘to attend’  but ‘to wait’. And wait I did; the book I craved was taken back to France, and escaped my clutches. Not to be daunted, I resolved, albeit a long time later, to write my own.

Over the past year, since “False Friends: Faux Amis: Book One” came out (Book Two is due out around July 2011), I have taken on board some readers’ suggestions. Mainly, I should have put an index at the back; originally I told myself that all language students have dictionaries at home. But now I have to admit that these are not all as massive as my own  beautiful (now battered) Collins-Robert. If I get around to Book Three (and there are roomfuls of filled notebooks  waiting  to be put to use) a detailed index will definitely be included.

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