When I started to learn French it was not long before another student mentioned L'Académie Française. It was as if the shadow of a huge bird of prey had come to hover over my life. If you made a mistake a great claw of grammaire would lift you from the Earth and deposit you before some solemn court for punishment. Now, generally I do not criticise my wonderful supportive concitoyens. However, I believe that one of the reasons why English has colonised the world is because it belongs totally to who ever is speaking it. I also think that the absence of gender in nouns makes English more quickly available. AND YOU AIN'T GONNA BE TERRIFIED OF MAKIN' A MISTAKE - KNOW WHAT I MEAN LIKE".
Although many French folk would have little time for L'Académie, if you are going to speak French you must be prepared to be corrected, perfected, punctuated and humiliated in the most friendly of terms and fairly often. Recently at the beach I said to a child "Have you caught UNE crabbe?" The child looked back in stupefied horror as if I had revealed that Father Christmas ate children."Oh - NON! - I have caught UN crabbe." came the horrified response. Once again the shadow of the great claw swept along the beach. I shuddered as it passed over. Further down la plage someone had missed a subjunctive.
There is a wonderful quote by Pierre Daninos which illustrates a very critical difference between Brits and Francs, with Americans somewhere in between. My poor South London translation would be " In France where you shine by your words, a man who keeps quiet commits social suicide. In England, where the art of conversation consists of knowing when to stay quiet, a man shines by his dullness." Imagine a barbecue in your middle English garden. Your neighbour Tom, downs a can of Stella, comments that you look like you're putting on a bit of weight, chews his blackened sausage, moans about the striking street cleaners and goes home. Now imagine Tom Le Voisin. "My friends - and my dearest fellow citizens - allow me first to thank the beautiful and charming hosts who have so tenderly brought une telle saucisse to our comradely table, and not to forget the farmers and sausage-makers of France........" Several others then agree about sausage and citizenship issues. Then it's my turn. I slug another glass of Bordeaux. A shadow passes across the sky and a claw flexes in readiness.