We spent the festive period in France again this year. It always feels a little less, well, Christmas-y when we stay here (no pantomimes, no Noddy Holden screaming “It’s Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmas” over the tannoys in Woolies…oh crikey, no more Woolies!). Members of my family braved the germs and randomness of air travel to make the journey down to be with us. Family gatherings were planned, and we braced ourselves for the inevitable linguistic fun…
Here’s the basic recipe: Take a Christmas get-together, add a generous amount of his family and a handful of mine. Throw in some nibbles, some drinks. Then watch as the mixture separates like oil and water – the English speakers on one side of the room, the French on the other. No matter how much you mix, stir and shake (and some valiant efforts were made on both sides), it doesn't take.
But I have found the key to successful bilingual entertaining, which I am prepared to divulge. The two keys actually. My secret weapons are…wait for it…Jenga and Uno. Jenga is a game of bricks that have to be removed and replaced on the top of the pile, without knocking said pile down in the process. Uno is a card game based on recognising colours and symbols. Both of them have been around for a while. I came across Jenga while still living in the UK, but Uno was discovered on a French terrasse, whiling away a long summer evening, night and into the early hours.
So I doubt that these games were invented for families such as ours, but it’s as good as. Regardless of age, language and degree of inebriation, anyone can take part and genuinely have a good time. The rules are straightforward and we all get caught up in the infectious fun that simple games can create.
My favourite bit in these evenings? When you hear people saying simultaneously “Une seule main!!” and “You’re only allowed to use one hand” or “You didn’t say Uno!!” and “T’as pas dit Uno!!”, without understanding that they’re saying the same thing. Because they already know that they are.