Ballet in the Boudoir Bidet
or “English swamped by French”
A silly short story by Philip Tagg

This story is dedicated to Francophones who fear that the English language will overrun the linguistic territory of French. I challenge any Francophone to come up with a text in correct French which contains the same proportion of English words as there are French words used appropriately in the story below. Aux francophones politico-linguistiquement paranoïdes je recommande cette petite histoire de la langue galloise (Welsh).

Etymological colour coding

YELLOW = ACTUAL FRENCH, PRONOUNCED À LA FRANÇAISE
(actual French, pronounced à la française)
GREENISH = FROM NORMAN, ANGLO- or OLD FRENCH,
PRONOUNCED À L'ANGLAISE

(from Norman French, Anglo-French or Old French, pronounced à l'anglaise)
PINKISH = OF OTHER NON-GERMANIC ORIGIN
(of other
non-Germanic origin)


Ballet in the Boudoir Bidet

Marie Archer, née Lecarré, was the blonde petit-bourgeois au pair who, although petite and, incidentally, previously brunette, was a member of the diplomatic corps. After years of service as chargée d'affaires, however, she became the corps' enfant terrible and, eventually, its bête noire. Little did she know that her lover, Norman Dumaurier (Surgeon General and lieutenant in the Household Cavalry), had been planted as an agent provocateur in the haut-bourgeois milieu of diplomats and entrepreneurs that Marie had to frequent.

Marie and Norman first met at a chic soirée he had organised at his pied-à-terre, actually a grandiose villa, whose décor was definitely bon goût and à la mode. The invitation was, Marie thought, de trop with its flowery "R.S.V.P." surrounded by silvery fleurs-de-lys. It was during apéritifs and the buffet, which included delicious vols-au-vent and other types of hors d'oeuvre, that they hit it off. Norman, she thought, was a gentleman of considerable esprit and savoir-faire. She discovered he wrote romans fleuves under a nom-de-plume. One of his chefs d'oeuvres had been turned into a film noir — or did its outré montage techniques make it one of those auteur-centric works of avant-garde cinéma vérité? Marie had never been an expert on film genres but she had read an interesting critique of the movie in some radical journal. The review questioned the raison d'être of the narrative, especially the rôle of the nouveau riche femme fatale vis-à-vis her affair with a duke, or was it a baron or a count or a viscount or even a prince? He was part of the crème-de-la-crème in any case.

The point is that Marie was impressed by Norman's repartée: "touchée!", she had yelled back at one point. She was also attracted by his joie-de-vivre and by the mellow timbre of his voice. She may have been en garde about his predilection for double-entendres but she liked the smell of his eau-de-cologne. He certainly thought Marie had that je ne sais quoi. Naturally, they fixed a rendezvous for a tête-à-tête after meeting each other by chance at a risqué après-ski party during which they exchanged glances and caught glimpses of each other's silhouettes au naturel in the massage parlour.

As you might expect, they decided to meet in a chic restaurant. The maître d' escorted them to their table. Table d'hôte or à la carte? That was the question. À la carte, of course. Neither of them being vegetarians, they meticulously studied the meat items on the menu: beef, pork, mutton, venison in all conceivable variants of dead cow, pig, sheep or deer. Norman salivated not so much over the imminent haute cuisine as over Marie while she inspected the wine list. Consciously influenced by the femme fatale in Norman's roman fleuve, she did not want to resemble a débutante with idées-fixes about haute couture. Instead she had opted sartorially for a little bit of rouge and a risqué décolletage; in terms of viniculture she went for a velvety Bordeaux whose bouquet proved to be exquisite, much better than a Cabernet-Sauvignon or pinot noir which would have given her an abominable migraine. Norman chose a classic boeuf bourgignon with sauté potatoes while Marie, as courageous as her attire, ordered flambé venison filet in a sauce of armagnac and crème fraîche with a soupçon of tomato purée, the restaurant's veritable pièce-de-résistance par excellence. After dessert, Marie stuck to her Perrier but Norman went on to consume an expensive cognac, a glass of calvados and, as an alcoholic tour de force, crème de menthe en masse.

After dinner they went to see the Bolshoi Ballet at the National Theatre but the combined effects of pirouettes, crème fraîche, pliés, an avant-garde mise-en-scène and pints of crème de menthe provoked symptoms of mal-de-mer rather than of the eroticism supposed to emanate from the relevés of an intimate pas-de-deux. Marie went to the toilet to refresh her toilette, Norman for prosaïc gastric reasons. “I should’ve stuck to quiche and Évian, to something more nouvelle cuisine”, he moaned between each wave of vomit. When they finally checked into the en suite they had reserved at a luxurious art-déco hotel, Norman was incapable of consumating anything: behaviour hardly apropos the rôle of the suave gigolo he pretended to be.

Devastated by his gauche faux-pas, Norman attempted to reform but his débâcle was already a fait accompli. When Marie dumped him it was a psychological coup-de-grâce: he was en route for the emotional abattoir, driven mercilessly toward the end of his intimate life's cul-de-sac. His billets-doux to the woman he saw as his protégée, even as his fiancée, were met with laissez-faire nonchalance.

During detox Norman's rôle as agent provocateur was revealed and Marie was subjected to investigation by the Bureau in connection with a coup d'état. She faced the challenge of what seemed like a force majeure with sang froid. Nevertheless, she seems to have indulged in some nostalgia, attending a matinée performance of Norman's film noir, whose finale features the femme fatale emptying the contents of her handbag into the bidet of her boudoir. Marie always kept a miniature papier maché bust of Norman, two of his numerous billets doux and an unused French letter in her attaché case. Had she kept them as souvenirs or as aide-mémoires warning her never to fall for such an idiot again, if, indeed, "idiot" is the mot juste? We shall never know. Cherchez la femme! C’est la vie.


still to add: adieu, art nouveau, attaché, cérise (colour), chaise longue, crème brûlée, crème caramel, crêpe, déjà vu, demimonde, démodé, encore, fin-de-siècle, garage, papier mâché, petit-four (cake), sans serif, transvestite, turquoise