Parlez vous Pizza

Sept 2006.

I’ve been feeling better and better about my French to the point that we had a dinner last week with some friends in the village, all in French . Lots of mistakes and wrong verb tenses but I made myself understood. However once more I find my Spanish accent when using French and inability to distinguish different sounds getting me into trouble.


Last night upon returning home at dinner hour from a wonderful weekend in Carcassone where the oldest and best preserved medieval city still stands I decided to order a pizza for dinner while Zoe-Pascale finished her homework. Nothing in the refrigerator and being a late hour it was the fastest method of eating a decent meal, if you call Pizza a decent meal. Walking down the street to our neighborhood pizza parlor I walked up to the counter ready to order. Forgetting to bring my reading glasses it was impossible to read the menu and name a pizza off the menu as most people do, but instead I was going to have to explain to the man behind the counter what type of pizza I wanted. The difficulty is with Zoé she always wants her pizza plain with just cheese while Jean and I want lots of different toppings.

My answer was to ask for a quarter of the pizza to be made with cheese only and the other three quarters to have assorted toppings. Something that is very un-French, but necessary never the less. Stepping up to the counter I had the young boy draw a circle to represent the pizza and pointed to the quarter piece and proudly said,

“Seulement Fromage” (“Only Cheese”) en autre 3/4s to include; champignons, poivrons, onions, et jambon.

He looked at me and repeated what I thought he said

“Seulement fromage.” “Oui” I answered, “Oui.”

I wasn’t quite sure how he was going to charge me with one-quarter plain and the rest with toppings; I mean after all surely he wouldn’t charge for an entire pizza with toppings on all four quarters. Since I couldn't read the menu without glasses, I didn't know how much a whole pizza would cost with my specific toppings so I wasn’t in a place to negotiate. After paying 8 Euro which I thought was fair we agreed they would deliver the pizza to the house in ten minutes and said au revoir.

Using our new pizza cutter that was given to us as a present, I cut the pizza in quarters and eigths noticing the pieces that were plain cheese. A few minutes later Zoé and Jean joined me at the table and took the first bites of their pizza

“Eckkk,” Zoé said spitting out the bite of pizza. “It tastes like fish.”

“Impossible.” I said. “I ordered just cheese. Try this other piece.”

“Eckk. There is fish in it.”

Jean said. “Let me try.”

“She’s right, it tastes like fish.”

“Impossible, Let me taste.” I said.

“Ohh. You are right, it does taste like fish. Do you think they got a piece of fish mixed in from another pizza?”

“Honey,” Jean said. “Didn’t this happen before where they gave us salmon in the pizza? What did you order?”

“I ordered seulement fromage.”

“Salmon Fromage.” Zoé and Jean yelled out together hysterically laughing at the same time.

“You said salmon not seulement. You pronounce the le heavily otherwise it might sound like salmon pronounced the French way.” Did you really say it the way you are saying it now?” The boy behind the counter must have thought you were crazy asking for a quarter of the pizza with salmon in it.”

After I got done laughing and wanting to crawl under the table I looked at Zoé and said.

“I’m so sorry honey. I’m so sorry. “

Maman, “Next time just say que du fromage. Using the word seulement should be forbidden for you. Interdit.

For the next 10 minutes we discussed the pronunciation and use of the word seulement versus que du and when and how to use it.

“I’d never heard that was how you ask for cheese only.” I said. “Meanwhile, what would like to eat, a Panini que du fromage?”

Next time I go to the pizza place I will have to tell them the story and draw my little picture and say properly,

“Je voudrais que du fromage sur une quatrième.” And then I will wait and see if the price goes down without salmon.

The next day I told this story to an English friend who speaks what I thought was excellent French. We laughed and then she said you think that is bad.

“On the way home from America two summers ago, I got off the plane in Marseilles walked outside and looked up into the bright blue sky and commented on how bright the sun was and then sniffed the air. Turning to our French friends who were picking us up, I thought I said in French “ Santé  le pin." Smell the wonderful pines. “ After seeing their eyebrows raise I knew I made a prononunciation mistake of the worse kind. I evidently said, “ Santé le penis." "Smell the wonderful penises.”

Knowing I could make the same mistake I thought, thank God Zoé didn’t like pine nuts on her pizza I could just see me ordering penises on the pizza!

Suzanne Saxe-Roux