ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Author Firoozeh Dumas was born in Iran and grew up in California. Her book "Funny in Farsi" is a collection of amusing anecdotes about what it was like to come to the U.S. when she was in the second grade and tried to fit in.
For our series My Guilty Pleasure, in which authors talk about a book they're embarrassed to love, Dumas picked a book so guilty we can't mention the name of it on the radio.
Ms. FIROOZEH DUMAS (Author): When we moved to America in 1972, we expected my father to translate for us. He had taught English in our hometown of Abadan, Iran. He knew how to conjugate verbs and to use adjectives correctly. He even knew the presidents in order. But once we arrived here, we discovered that my father could not actually speak to any Americans. According to him, Americans did not speak English.
Spoken English is bootylicious; it's chill; it's sick; it's phat; it's a whole other creature.
In English classrooms across the globe, we are taught to say: Hello. How are you? not, hey, how ya doin'? or yo, wazzup? In one of his many failed attempts to make American friends, my father described the streets of Tehran as being full of horny drivers. How was he supposed to know that horny does not mean uses the horn a lot? My father asked me recently if knocked up is the same thing as knocked down.
By marrying a Frenchman, I became my father that person who can read books in another language. But when I'm in France, I cannot understand anyone under the age of 30 or anyone involved in the music scene. Yes, given the opportunity, I would be able to hold my own with Maurice Chevalier, but I want to be able to eavesdrop in the metro stations. I want to learn gritty French, the French spoken by those guys who burn cars.
This is how I crossed paths with a pleasure so guilty that even the author Genevieve does not use her last name. This is the sequel to her first book, which means beep in English. These books purport to teach you the real French you were never taught in school.
A while back, Carla Bruni made headlines by calling her husband, President Sarkozy, my cabbage, mon chou. There's a whole chapter in the book on the use of food in French idioms. My cabbage just means my honey in English which, by the way, in Persian would be my liver, jiggareh man.
The book is not limited to spoken French; there's also an entire chapter on hand gestures. You may not want to use them, but it's good to know what the Parisian taxi driver was trying to tell you when you cross the street right in front of him.
Genevieve, who lives in Switzerland, is clearly annoyed with the French. She gives her two centimes worth of why the French are selfish, macho drivers who tailgate, and why the rooster, that vain, strutting, loudmouthed, ridiculous creature, is the national symbol. My French husband finds this book hilarious. My French in-laws, however, have never seen it. That's because I keep it in the back of the bookshelf, behind the books by Balzac and Baudelaire.
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SIEGEL: Firoozeh Dumas is the author of "Funny in Farsi" and "Laughing Without an Accent."
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