Monday, July 30, 2007

Le Bon Mot

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Especially when living in a country where you think you know the language. And especially when you think you know the local argot.

Ensconced in the beautician's chair, listening as my cheery young coiffeuse regales me with stories of her sleep-deprived evening, initially I am mildly taken aback. I am not so sure that I want a woman who is functioning on double-espressos and three hours' sleep to be making major decisions about the length and long-term sculptural quality of my hair. But I can live with that. Valerie is so talented.

Lithe and exposing just a hint of tattoo on her flat midrift (which is right at my eye level), she prances around the swivel chair, laughing as she launches in on the reasons for her lack of sleep. "My husband and I got home from a dinner at midnight and started to papoter, papoter papoter, and the next thing we knew it was 5 am and we hadn't had a wink of sleep."

Hmmm. Papoter. Under my furrowing brow, my brain races through my mental French glossary. This is a relatively new word. Not one I learned in French class decades ago. I conjure up the mildest acceptable definition: to tap or strum lightly. I've read it in cosmetics information: e.g. to tap the face with your fingers. But it doesn't seem to fit - they tapped each other lightly with their fingers all night? Don't think so...

Then I scrape the recesses of my "I've- heard-this-somewhere" contextual language memory and come up with a similar sounding word, but I think it means, er, to caress erotically.

I nod and chuckle amicalement. She is a bit of a wild character, that Valerie, but I love her. Always le bon mot. The stand-up comic of the salon. But would she really be confiding in me that she and her husband were in the midst of conjugal groping all night and that's why she's so exhausted? I wonder, I fret, I ignore, I give a little Americo-Gallic shrug and keep smiling.

Haircut gloriously finished, generous tip to Valerie plunked down, I wend my way home.

I head straight to the bookshelf to look up the answer in Le Petit Robert. Whew. Papoter means to chat. They were up gabbing all night!

Tapoter means to tap. Se tripoter means...yeah, that.

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