Wearing shorts and T-shirts on a hot summer day, my family and I are seated around our picnic table. Nearby, rows and rows of leafy grapevines flutter in the breeze… usually, this is a restful scene to enjoy while eating. But instead of a relaxing lunch, the kids, Jean-Marc and I are working up a sweat, swatting and swearing at uninvited guests!
I wonder, just what are these wasps after? No merguez sausages today (strange how wasps love sausages), just a pan-fried omelette aux courgettes! It soon becomes impossible to eat as more wasps arrive to feast. Waving our arms and hissing “Allez! Dégagez!”, we try shooing away the invaders, who only become more agitated.
“Tiens,” our teenager offers. “I know an old trick, une astuce de grand-mère. Hold your mouth like this.”
We watch Jackie push her tongue between her upper and lower front teeth and bite down. Nodding her head, our daughter invites us to do the same. Easily led souls that we are, Max, Jean-Marc, and I follow suit, biting down on our own tongues.
“Comme thahs?” my son slurs, struggling to speak through clenched teeth.
“Yeth, commethah,” Jackie slurs back, in a mixture of English and French.
Tongues pinched between our teeth, we wait anxiously for the outcome. If Jackie’s trick works the wasps will fly off on arrival! Supposedly, the tongue-between-teeth position creates an offensive, high-pitched vibration. Undetected by the human oreille, the sound waves are piercing to the wasp’s ear. (Hang on a minute. Do wasps have ears? Bon, bref…)
In the seconds that follow, Max, Jackie, their father and I sit still – eyes darting, tongues protruding. Finally, Max voices our collective thoughts:
“On n’a pas l’air un peu con comme thah?” (“Don’t we look a little dumb like this?”)
Our golden retrievers – who are lying on the flower bed, crushing the fragrant belles-de-nuit – look up, hoping to see something out of the ordinary; hélas, nothing unusual about the motley crew with whom they share this gig (really a vineyard – one teaming with wasps!). When a wasp-less moment passes, a light goes on in one of our brains:
“Thah marth!” Max declares.
“Thah marth!” we slur back. Only we’ve spoken too soon, and the yellow-bellied bandits are back! Oh, que c’est dommage! Our daughter’s astuce de grand-mère appears to be no more than an old wives’ tale.
Kristin Espinasse writes the French Word-A-Day blog, which she began in 2002. Author of the books Words in a French Life and Blossoming in Provence, she lives on a wine and olive farm near Bandol.
From France Today magazine