Sep 22, 2014

Déjà-tu: U Capraltu


One of the first things any student of French learns is that there are two ways to say "you" -- "tu" and "vous". "Vous" is the "you" used both for plural and also for a more formal "you" -- the "you" who is older, higher in status, or less familiar. So you'll understand my confusion for the first couple years here, when I hear all the young elementary school children addressing their teachers as "tu".

Figuring that society has loosened up since I learned French, I "tutoie" (use the "tu" form, that is) all the teachers. This goes on for years until I finally learn that we adults are most certainly expected to "vousvoie" them. Oops! The great thing about being a foreigner is that I am forgiven such transgressions. I think they're all just happy I am successfully communicating. Adding to the confusion, I realize I should "vousvoie" the director, but frequently start my sentences with the "tu" form, realize I'm doing it wrong, and switch over. It makes for odd sentences.

Even now that I know better, I often can't help myself. I find it especially troublesome to "vousvoie" somebody I know and like. My friend's mother, for example, who I've met many times, is a lovely person. My children sometimes call her a pet grandma name, and she gives them candies along with her own grandchildren. Yet they come from an old, traditional French family, and even my friend "vousvoies" her own mother. This was not uncommon back in the day, though it's less common now. I finally just tell her mother explicitly that I can't go with "vous" because it seems cold to me, like I'm purposely putting a distance between us. So, instead, I "tutoie" her, and she "tutoies" me back, and there's no offense taken.
Since "vous" is also used for plurals, I sometimes say "vous" to close friends when referring to the couple or to the whole family. A few times, my friends have corrected my "vous" to a "tu", and I have to explain that I'm not suddenly showing utmost respect for them but rather thinking in plural.

It could be a minefield but, thankfully, society is softening a great deal when it comes to the "tu" and the "vous". And if you're a foreigner, you've pretty much got a free pass.
Not so for "we", which you would think would be easy. But no. The "we" we were taught in school --  "nous" -- is officially correct but virtually never used. Instead we use "on", meaning "one". It's as if we think we're the Queen of England. Let me rephrase that: It's as if one thinks one is the Queen of England. As in:
"Did your family have fun over the vacation?"
"Yes, one amused oneself a lot."
So for students of French, remember:
Yes to tu
Yes to vous,
Yes to on
But no to nous.

THE CHEESE: U Capraltu

U Capraltu is a raw goats' milk cheese from Corsica. Many of the best-known Corsican cheeses are sheeps' milk cheeses, and some are from goats, like this one. But they're not from cows; at least we're all agreed on that.

It doesn't look like much of a cheese -- not too scary, not black or orange or furry. Just a few little specks of greenish-blue mold on the fine white crust. And it comes in a delicate paper wrapper. So imagine my surprise when I open the wrapper and discover it's cellophaned within an inch of its life, and that's because it emits a smell of yeasty cheese so overpowering it seems to radiate rays like in a cartoon. If you want to reproduce this smell, simply proof a lot of yeast in a bowl and stick your face in it.

The taste, interestingly, is part hideous stink, part creamy deliciousness. We're not quite sure what to make of it, but we do know we either want to eat it immediately, throw it out (in a bin outside the apartment building), or freeze it. There will be no fridge time for this cheese.


U Capraltu has both the word "tu" right there in it, and the U, which is probably pronounced in Corsica differently than how I'm pronouncing it: "you". Given my other pronoun mistakes, that seems about fitting.


  1. Ce fromage est délicieux! j'espère que vous ne l'avez pas jeté! Il ne faut en manger qu'un tout petit morceau à la fois, sur un morceau de pain. En Corse, le "U" se prononce comme "OU" en français.

    1. Oui, en fait, on l'a mangé fur à mesure (trop forte pour manger vite!), et puis on l'a congelé, et recommencé quelques semaines après. Merci pour la leçon de pronunciation! Je me demandais justement comment le dire.


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