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Excerpt from Sex, Cheese and French Fries

Chapter Six

What Did You Say?

Illustration by Jeannie Winston

When it comes to the matter of expressing ourselves in our respective tongues, a double standard definitely reigns supreme in our household. My inability to curse convincingly in French is met with pity and mockery by Pierre and his compatriots. Yet his frequent — not to say often incomprehensible — mangling of the English language has the exact opposite effect: people find it amusing and charming. Life isn't fair. Herewith, the defense offers into evidence Exhibit A — a transcript of actual conversations in which linguistic Bonsoirno-isms abound. You be the judge. (For those baffled by the meaning of some of these bons mots, a glossary of attempted translations has been thoughtfully footnoted throughout this chapter.)

Pierre and our German friend, Heinrich, a gentle but serious type prone to doom and gloom predictions, are sitting around our living room, which this month features dazzling sequined and beaded Haitian Vodou wall hangings and metal sculptures, making it feel mysterious and stimulating. They are shooting the breeze, taking in the aroma of Jasmine-blooming season wafting in through the open front door when our Brazilian buddy, Leandro, stops by. The three of them have lived in the States for over 15 years, yet still distort the English language to perfection.

"Ciao!" says Leandro, his sparkly white smile clashing with sleepy, marijuana-red eyes and honey brown skin. "I don't know if you get my massidge [message] that I might come by."

"I heard that remar," [remark] Pierre says jovially. "Come on in, man. You know Heinrich, right?

"Hi," Heinrich says. Are you the person who does drumming?"

"Yes. There is going to be a hot jam session tonight downtown at my friend, Felipe's place. You guys should come."

"What time?" Pierre says.

"It's starting early, around 6:30, because two of us have gigs later on."

"Downtown at 6:30? That jam traffic [traffic jam] is going to be terribly bad," Pierre says.

"That is the real shit hell," Heinrich adds, his bushy eyebrows furrowed for effect.

"Aw, come on, I'm filled up [fed up] with everyone always winning [whining] about traffic in this city."

"Hey, it is not joke out there!" Heinrich says. "And it only get worse. The other day, I run so late to meet my big client because of the hell on the 101, I was sitting like oil sardines and I felt like I was in front of dying."

"What did he say?" Leandro asks Pierre.

"He means he wanted to kill himself," Bonsoirno explains.

"Ay, caramba," Leandro says, shaking his dreadlocked head. "I don't want you dying, man...."

• • • • •

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