Thursday, October 19, 2006

Gros mots

Most people know how to curse their computers, but I am part of that elite group of computer professionals who have turned it into an art form. I'm a software developer, and from the moment I started learning to program I started perfecting a certain colorful form of self expression. I used to frighten my roommate back in college, who probably expected me to throw myself on the floor in hysterics so violent were my fits of frustration.

It wasn't so much the vocabulary, which varied from rude to just silly, but the intensity and volume of my outbursts. I would scream and sob and sometimes came close to throwing a keyboard across the room. Luckily, I've become a better programmer since I was in school, and I'm better able to calm myself and reason problems out rationally, but this doesn't prevent me from expressing myself loudly and sometimes colorfully at work.

I think that, in moderation at least, this is a good thing. It helps me manage stress, avoid high blood pressure later in life, and generally be in a more pleasant mood when I come home at night. Since I moved abroad, however, it presents some new problems.

This is because swearing in a foreign language is a delicate matter. To me, most non-native speakers who swear in English end up sounding both crass and silly at the same time. There's nothing worse than "mo-zehr fawk-ehr" with a bad French accent, and when "peas of sheet" is exclaimed, no matter how forcefully, how can anyone take it seriously? I've reproached my husband time and again for his bad habits in English, to which he replies he learned it all "on the streets of Storrs" while a graduate student at the University of Connecticut. (For the record, I think Storrs, Connecticut only has two streets, although one of them does have a bar.)

I've realized lately that I must sound just as ridiculous in French. I've noticed my boss tends to chuckle when I say merde. "Say sheet," he tells me, "It's more discreet." When I yell out, "Merde, ça me fait chier, cette piece of crap!" passionately mixing three synonyms for excrement in two languages, my colleagues smirk and people in the hallway stop to stare. So I try to limit myself to English. The fact that I'm a woman makes it all the more unbecoming, so I do my best to avoid the worst words, or gros mots, in all situations, even at home.

Alas, despite my best efforts, I started too late and merde is firmly entrenched in my vocabulary. I mutter it when I can't find my keys, or when I miss the métro by a few seconds, and of course, I still say it to my computer. More and more often, however, I just throw up my hands and gesticulate, and groan something completely unintelligible in either English or French. Loudly.

1 comment:

Reena said...

Darling Emily,

I have many memories of your intense programming modes back in the day but how you still managed to get 8 hours of sleep was what had me in awe. ;) - R