Humor of Genders in French is adapted from Me Talk Pretty One Day, a humorous book partly about struggling to learn French, by David Sedaris.
Here are excerpts from the chapter Make That A Double in the book Me Talk Pretty One Day:
MALE AND FEMALE GENDERS IN FRENCH
"Of all the stumbling blocks inherent in learning this [French] language, the greatest for me is the principle that each noun has a corresponding sex that affects both its articles and its adjectives.
Because it is a female and lays eggs, a chicken is masculine.
Vagina is masculine as well,
while the word masculinity is feminine.
I spent months searching for some secret code before I realized that common sense has nothing to do with it.
I have no problem learning the words themselves, it’s the sexes that trip me up and refuse to stick.
What’s the trick to remembering that a sandwich is masculine? What qualities does it share with anyone in possession of a penis?
Nothing in France is free from sexual assignment. I noticed that the French had prescribed genders for the various land masses and natural wonders we Americans had always thought of as sexless,
Niagara Falls is feminine and, against all reason, the Grand Canyon is masculine.
I wonder whose job it was to assign these sexes in the first place.
Hoping I might learn through repetition, I tried using gender in my everyday English.
'Hi, guys,' I’d say, opening a new box of paper clips. 'Hey, have you seen my belt? I can’t find her anywhere.'
There are times when you can swallow the article and others when it must be clearly pronounced, as the word has two different meanings, one masculine and the other feminine.
My confidence hit a new low when my friend Adeline told me that French children often make mistakes, but never with the sex of their nouns. 'It’s just something we grow up with,' she said. 'We hear the gender once, and then think of it as part of the word. There’s nothing to it.'
It’s a pretty grim world when I can’t even feel superior to a toddler.
Tired of embarrassing myself in front of two-year-olds, I’ve started referring to everything in the plural, which can get expensive but has solved a lot of my problems.
In saying ‘a melon’, you need to use the masculine article. In saying ‘the melons’, you use the plural article, which does not reflect gender and is the same for both the masculine and the feminine. Ask for two or ten or three hundred melons, and the number lets you off the hook by replacing the article altogether.
A masculine kilo of feminine tomatoes presents a sexual problem easily solved by asking for two kilos of tomatoes.
I’ve started using the plural while shopping,
and Hugh has started using it in our cramped kitchen, where he stands huddled in the corner, shouting, ‘What do we need with four pounds of tomatoes?’
I answer that I’m sure we can use them for something. The only hard part is finding some place to put them.
They won’t fit in the refrigerator, as I filled the last remaining shelf with the two chickens I bought,
forgetting that we were still working our way through a pair of pork roasts.
‘We could put them next to the radios,’ I say,
‘or grind them for sauce in one of the blenders.’
Hugh tells me that the market is off-limits until my French improves.
He’s pretty steamed, but I think he’ll get over it when he sees the CD players I got him for his birthday.”