Lost in Translation: Bunnies, Bells and Easter
The year is 1995. I am twelve years old, half way through my second year in secondary school. I’m sporting a very fashionable Take That inspired bowl hair cut and brown Doc Martens my parents finally agreed to buy. It is my first day back at school after the Easter holidays and I am about to have one of the most confusing conversations in my life.
For the last few months, we have been learning English with Jenny, our English assistant. She spent most of the holidays in England and came back with a bag full of chocolate eggs the likes of which we had never seen before. Jenny starts the class by asking me a seemingly simple question:
What did the Easter bunny bring you Matthew?
Me, not certain what she means exactly but pretty sure bunny means rabbit: Sure Jenny, I love rabbit. My mum makes a mean rabbit stew, thank you very much.
Jenny, now a little confused herself: Did the Easter bunny bring you any chocolate?
Me, thinking Jenny might need some culinary tip: No, Jenny. You are not supposed to eat rabbit with chocolate. That’s a little weird. Just garlic and parsley really. The rest of the class nods in agreement.
Jenny, getting a little bit annoyed, draws the picture of a rabbit on the blackboard and writes Easter in capital letters: The Easter Bunny!
Me, frankly a little frustrated with Jenny’s insistence: No Jenny, here in France, we eat lamb for Easter but if you really want to eat rabbit, it’s alright.
And so the conversation went on for a while before Jenny asked us in French “Qu’est-ce que le lapin vous a apporté?
What me and my classmates had to explain to Jenny is that the idea that a rabbit could bring you chocolate was utter nonsense to us as we were always told that bells bring Easter eggs. Yes, bells. Church bells to be more specific. What happens is church bells travel to Rome for Lent and come back on Easter bringing eggs with them for children which obviously just makes much more sense.
And so the English class turned into a French culture class for Jenny.
That day she learned that, as well as chocolate eggs, a lot of us had received chocolate hens sitting on nests filled with sugar eggs sometimes called œufs en sucre.
We informed Jenny that the meal of choice for Easter usually is gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb) with a side of flageolets , a type of small white beans mainly consumed in France and hated by French children just as much as Brussels sprouts are by Irish kids.
At the end of the class, Jenny took out the strange chocolate eggs she had shown us at the beginning. They turned out to be Cadbury’s Cream Eggs. None of us had ever seen them before and we were all very excited to try them. That day though, Jenny learned a very valuable lesson: France was not and probably will never be ready for Cream Eggs. Not a single one of us could finish our eggs and Jenny got to learn some very colourful ways to say “disgusting” in French.
Matthieu has two Masters Degrees from Université Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux III and taught in the linguistic Department in Bordeaux III. He later relocated to Denmark where he taught English and French in a Danish Folkeskole. He moved to Cork in 2007, and joined the team at Alliance Française de Cork as a French tutor, teaching second level, adults, children and training French teachers. Matthieu also works with Cork French Film Festival team during the week of CFFF, introducing films, interpreting and helping with Education Packs.
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