The Noumea markets are four or five all weather pavilions clustered right beside the port, perfectly situated for our family of gourmands. My French vocabulary was stretched to breaking point in the brief interactions I had with multiple stall holders who invariably responded to my qu’est-ce que c’est? (what's that) with long complicated monologues about (I think) varieties, place of origin, pricing and ripeness. I did a lot of nodding and smiling.
But I gave as good as I got the day I confidently walked up to a woman and said, “Je cherche pour les oeufs.” Literally, I search for the eggs, or I am looking for the eggs. The woman looked utterly baffled. Turns out I had accidentally pronounced the final “f” in oeuf, which meant that I had announced that I was looking for The Egg. The One True Egg. Her bewilderment turned to alarm when I started miming a chicken, and it’s probably only because I had cute little earnest Sylve with me that she didn’t write me off as a foreign nutjob. “Oh, the eggs!” she said at last, helpfully providing me with the correct pronunciation of the plural for eggs.
The women at the marina office were lovely and commiserated with me on many occasions about how difficult French is to learn. “C’est tres complicee, madam,” they’d nod in sympathy as I staggered my way through another tortuous sentence. They were super keen to help clear up any questions I had: like the difference between encore (again) and autrefois (another time). (I’m still not totally clear on that one, as their answer (in French) lasted for about twenty minutes.)
Lunch quickly became our favourite meal: baguettes with some form of cheese, basil, tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, fresh cucumbers. Unfortunately we had to leave the markets behind when we left Noumea so we’re back in the land of cardboard-y gluten-free wraps and corn thins.
Miles leapt into the "8 Hours and You're fluent!" Michel Thomas French series, but only lasted twenty minutes, so he has one sentence which has been surprisngly useful:
"Ce n'est pas tres bon pour moi." It's not very good for me.
Hydraulic oil spills all over the raincatcher, it's not very good for me.
We run out of tomatoes, it's not very good for me.
The wind turns off shore, it's not very good for me.
Yes, it's slightly negative, but we're all trying to develop a Gallic acceptance of shite happening.