What to say when.......?

We arrived here a few weeks ago for our first full summer in France and stopped to speak to our neighbour and asked him the usual "comment ca va?" and got a reply we weren't expecting. His chin quivvered and he said "Pas tres bien, ma femme a decide". Luckily my french was good enough not to ask what his wife had decided and I managed a clumsy. "Je suis desole d'apprenre ca, c'est tres triste". ... but what do you say to someone in France in that situation?

I'm keen to improve my french and it seems a lot of you on this site are having the same problem honing in the listening skills. It the seems the more you work on your pronunciation the faster and longert the replies get. I managed to successfully order "Bois de chauffage" by telephone and was very proud of myself. However, when the the marchand de bois knocked on the door unexpectedly to check on access for his lorry, it took me three attempts to understand his speach "face a face". His sentence came out as "Vousavezcommanderduboischauffage?" All one word but I did pick up the interogative inflection. With a little perseverence I managed to make myself understood and the wood arrived at the right time cut to the right length. It is hard work though!

Thanks for the help everyone.

This is off topic but you don't need special characters on the keyboard to make accents, you just need to hold down the ALT key and then press certain numbers on the keypad (not the numbers above the letters on your keyboard). eg: ½ is ALT 0189. Once you've used them a few times you will remember them easily. Here is a link which will help: http://www.ascii-code.com/ scroll down to where the first column is 128 or so, and then look at the symbol you want, check the corresponding number in the DEC column, put a zero in front and voilà!

The other way is to have a word doc open and 'insert' symbol, highlight the symbol you want, look at the character code (where it says 'from' you should select ASCII decimal) that gives you the number - put a zero at the front and remember to hold down the alt key while you type those in.

the formule I use most (MIL's mother, mate's Mum, brother etc - too many to mention unfortunately) is toutes mes condoléances. and yes - big difference between a decidé and est décédée :-O

Ian, those nasals exist down here, they're just a bit different to the standard French taught (ex-French teacher speaking) and as you say - don't forget to add a g ;-)

I was told this phrase to use when someone tells you someone close to them has died:

Je suis navré

Which is something like : Oh no - I'm so very sorry

I'm in the Perigord Vert (Varaignes) and the pain turns in to pang according to which boulanger you use! Even though I had not heard the the term "decedee" before I was able to tell what he said by his tone of voice. I found that quite encouraging.

Sorry...that was a typo. He definately said decedee. (I haven't found the accents on this UK laptop yet). I'm also a little hard of hearing but find our french voip phone very clear. Due to my hearing problems I can hear high pitched female voices clearer than deep masculine ones. The woodman spoke right down in his boots and was actually clearer on the phone.

Hi Colin,

That verb has some of those pesky accents; your neighbour probably said "elle est décédée" (décéder is in the "House of Etre".

In the fullness of time, your final words could be "je décède" - notice the grave accent and the different pronunciation - but I trust it will be a long time hence…

As regards "what to say" - here are a few sympathetic noises you can make.

My problem is all those nasal vowels that took so long to perfect - only to find that SW France doesn't use them, not today or "demang"!

My first thought is that your neighbour said 'ma femme est décédée' - did you find out if she only decided something or has she died?

On the phone I have the most trouble as I am hard of hearing (even English by phone is difficult) - people speak far too quickly, mumble and there is a slight echo with our VOIP. French on the phone is more difficult.

For the rest, I have found that being honest if you don't get something, is to say that you don't speak French very well but if they speak slowly you can understand. This has had a good effect and people do seem to appreciate your honesty and the fact that you are trying to do things in French. I'm sure you will find a phrase which works for you, I tend to use - excusez-moi, je ne parle pas très bien le francais, mais si vous parlez lentement c'est plus facile à comprendre.