Working in this strange mix of French and English as we "negotiate" the script for the Killing Room with French film producers has really forced us to refine our linguistic abilities.
I've been going through our writing with a "fine-toothed comb" taking out phrases like "fine-toothed comb" and other colloquialisms that could throw a foreigner off track! Can't risk the hero having his "nose out of joint" (what happened to his nose?) or having anyone "smelling a rat" (how do rats smell?).
During the book tour in the US recently, we had a script conference by telephone. The producers were asking how things were and we said "very hot" as we were in Arizona at the time. Then they asked if there were a lot of fans. To which we replied, yes, they're on the ceiling of every room. "On the ceiling?" asked the producers, with a strangely uncomprehending tone. "Yes, we said, although we have air-conditioning everywhere, too." At which point they revealed that they had been talking about "fans" of Le Chef's books... Now if only we had been speaking in French...
Our French though is less than perfect, we recently mixed up Navet (turnip) and Navette (Shuttle), and enquired of the hotel receptionist when the next turnip for the airport would leave.
But even when you think you know the French words, sometimes you don't fully appreciate how they are used. At a book event in Lyon, Le Chef was delivering his spiel and at one point began to talk about having visited the Beijing homicide squad's HQ at Section One in Beijing - the department which deals with serious crimes, which he described as "les crimes serieux", because he had no doubt about the vocabulary:
- crimes = crimes
- serieux = serious.
No problem there one would think.
Except that the French interviewer on stage paused for a moment, looked at him with a puzzled expression, and then asked (in French, of course)... "Serious crimes? And is there a department for amusing crimes?"
At which point we both realised we were well acquainted with another word for serious... "grave", which we use all the time in the form of "c'est pas grave" meaning "it's no problem", or "it's not important", "or "it's not serious"...
What we hadn't realised up till that point was the subtle difference in French between the two forms of serious:
- serieux = serious as in 'not funny' or 'not amusing'
- grave = serious as in 'extreme or important'
and ne'er the twain shall meet!
I think it's a good idea, though, to have a department for funny crimes. You could send cops to work there when they get worn down and depressed by all the less than amusing stuff they normally have to deal with.