How to speak French (Southeast Asia, 2017 Edition)


Illustration by Jill Arteche

How to Speak French (Southeast Asia, 2017 Edition)

By: Catherine D. Tan


Common phrases and basic expressions 

Upon closer proximity to a Gaullic airport officer in Item Inspection who is thrice one’s size, gesture toward your four large suitcases and say aidez-moi, s’il vous plaît! with dramatic flair in mimicry of Greta Garbo. When he winces and says he does not like Greta Garbo she’s Polish, explain en français of course (!) your 2-year sojourn as a Southeast Asian student in France. You’re thinking: hey, this is A+ for showing commitment to studying a language not your own! A+ for forming a full sentence w/o fillers! A+! When he says “still not my job” and you catch him struggling to escape this miniature social contract, say “c’est raciste” and w/ those two words invoke a universe of asymmetric postcolonial relations. C’est raciste! and find him coming back, helping your four suitcases up into the conveyor belt.

Smile smugly.


Online etiquette

On the heels of having just stormed out from your Airbnb hosted by a French familyman who kicked you out, post a review:

If I had been white would he really let me pay an additional 100 euros for ‘letting bugs in by leaving the windows open at night,’ and ‘for having fun pouring hot water all over the room’ depriving his family of hot water…and also for wasting electricity by keeping lights on at night’?

If I had been white, would he have endeavoured to make his English a tad more precise by clarifying that steaming the room is not equal to pouring hot water – the latter, a more aggressive semiotic combination, I might add. If I had been white, would he have noted our stark difference in timeline and noted that a 3AM en France is 9AM in my residence in Manila.

Screw your pedagogic dinner rants to your fam about the illiberal West…You, Airbnb Host, are the true Vladimir Putain.


Nonverbal communication

In line for boarding in a French domestic airport, sneer at the amount of effort a woman expends in tilting her head to catch a glimpse of your passport cover – undoubtedly to make sense of your chinky eyes, tan skin, yet expensively lightened, texturized hair. As if pinning your heritage down to a geographical location made your physical make and model more viscerally legible.

And make it a real sneer. Robust, collated, composed. Make it manifest in your eyes and in the angular tilt of your jawbone. 

Sneer at yourself when she comes up to say avec un bon sourir: “Sorry I saw your boarding pass peeking from between your passport pages, and you’re in the wrong line. This line is heading towards Seville. That line is heading to Lyon. I didn’t want you to get into the wrong gate!”

Thank her profusely and with all the hospitality your home is known for.

Rewrite, learn your lesson, publish for a 2018 edition.