Wednesday, 13 January 2010

A Bike called Cheese

Having committed a considerable amount of time and effort to the often thankless task of convincing West London teenagers that learning French can be a beautiful, life-enriching and - whilst often doubting this myself - useful endeavour (oh to teach Food Technology aka cooking or ICT..), it comes as a relief and comfort to see the affection in which the Japanese hold all things Gallic. Or, at least, all things superficially Gallic.

Even some of my most able and proficient students at The Heathland School, Hounslow, had their moments when they queried the subject's place in the modern day curriculum. Comments such as "What's the point"? or even - more recently of course - "why can't WE learn Japanese?" became increasingly common towards the end of my three-plus years there. This slow-burning movement seemingly reached its democratic apogee when student delegates took a request to the School Council asking for a wider, sexier range of languages to be offered up to and beyond GCSE. Spanish, now fashionably associated in the minds of students with sun, sea and maybe soccer following a number of high-profile non-academic sports trips, headed their shopping list. The plea was politely snubbed but the message was clear: "if we have to learn languages at all, can't it be a cool [sorry - sick?] one?"

It is a pleasure to see no such credibility or sophistication deficit exists here in Japan. Worn as a badge, anything French screams "I'll cost you more .. but [or because?] I'm worth it". Even if it serves no meaningful communicative function.

I need only look beyond my doorstep to see one example of this: my elegantly named second-hand bike sits chained to the railings of my 'villa'. The brand is called "CBA le velociste" and the model's logo reads "chez Marc". (Even though it had only one working brake when I first visited, the bike spoke to me, like when choosing a pet kitten, Malawi orphan or oompa loompa.)

Ma petite reine now has a new neighbour though, from the same family too. Yes, another 'CBA velociste'. Its name?

'Le fromage'. See, if the name's French, it will do. However cheesy. However sh*t.

This is only the tip of a hollow iceberg. 'Le fromage' is also the name of the nearest bakery. Perhaps they sell red herrings too. And the bread I bought - at the supermarket - is called 'la qualite", with the English-language slogan: "it is the bread that makes the table happy".(More seriously, these names come as no surprise when one considers that that the Japanese for bakery is 'pan-ya'. And, reassuringly, railway station chain bakeries invariably have accurate French names.)
All of this, in the land which popularised the denshi-jisho or electronic dictionary. There really must be gaps in the market... Shop makeovers? Private tuition? Selling 'le Piat D'or'? If it moves, Frenchify it. Language students of the world unite: if the home of manga, Nintendo and tamagochi says 'oui', who are you to disagree?

And if you want to be ueber-cool, there's always German.

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