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There are many obstacles to making yourself ?understood? in France. One of the important ones is your 'personal identity', which includes what you want to call yourself. The French will have many suggestions for you.

There are many obstacles to making yourself  'understood'  in France. One of the important ones is your 'personal identity', which includes what you want to call yourself.

The French will have many suggestions for you, for example they may call you 'Les Anglais', if they are being polite and if there are not too many 'English' speakers in the area.

But if there is more than one family of 'Les Anglais' you will need to refine your personal identification. A simple use of a name is not always sufficient because, to a French Postman in a small village, one English name is pretty much like another. This means that you may receive letters destined for other 'foreign named' people who live nearby. You need to meet them, because they will very likely receive your mail.

However there are times when your personal identification is more important, such as, when you book a reservation at a restaurant, over the telephone. What name will you give to identify yourself when you arrive?

If you have a name that is 'French' in origin, then you will not have a problem.

But if you have a name that begins with an 'H', you will have a very large problem.

This is because an 'H' at the beginning of a word in French is usually left out, unless there isn't one, in which case it is added with gusto. For example the statement "...He is as good as the other one..." will come out as 'E his has good has zer huther hwun' when spoken by a Francophone.

One example of a bad name to have in France is 'Higginson'. In fact, it is about the worst possible name to have in France.

When a 'Higginson' arrives at the appointed time at a restaurant, there will be no record of him ever having booked.

There may be a reservation for an Euiggenshon, or perhaps an Ijjensorn or maybe even an Inginon on the list.

'Mais Non,' the Maitre D will insist with his arms crossed like an impenetrable barrier, 'You must book in advance Monsieur. It is impossible for the chef to accept late bookings!'

And it doesn't help if you spell it over the phone, because in French I's become E's and E's become I's, and J's and G's swap pronunciations as well, and an 'H' becomes a 'Hash'.

I cheat occasionally and use my wife's family name, which is 'de la Fontaine'. That works and even impresses them occasionally, but it didn't impress anyone during the French Revolution when most of the 'de la' named people were either executed, skewered or scarpered.

But the fact remains that 'spoken' French is (to an English speaking person) a totally different language to the 'written' French. Not only that, because the French lop off the beginning and the end of words and then join the remaining sounds together in a glorious great 'phrase', where only a single mispronounced syllable will throw the whole meaning into confusion.

Telepathy and semaphore (arm waving) have been refined and used for communication in France for centuries, along with gargling.

The result of all this is that whenever we are required to give our name to any French person, we have to write it ourselves. When they read it, they are convinced that we have misspelled it and will 'cluck' with doubt.

It is not for nothing that the emblem of France is a cockerel!

So the question remains for me: what name should I use?

I could change my name by Deed of Poll but that would be the 'chicken' way out. In a small way my wife Marlene has taken the 'cockerel by its comb' and started a programme of education.

She has become an English teacher (an Intervenant) at various local village schools. This is a sort of 'Academy Approved Contributor' who is supposed to speak English to the children. The teachers take advantage of the situation by leaving her in charge of the class while they disappear to catch up on marking papers. She has 150 children at several schools and she knows them all individually.

To me they are a 'plague of pupils', but to her they are an extension of our family.

For this she gets paid the minimum wage, which does not even cover the fuel cost, so that proves how dedicated she is in trying to ensure that, in the future, English people who book at restaurants will be able to use their English names with a slight chance of  securing a table. Perhaps in about twenty years there will be some young receptionist at a restaurant somewhere who will be able to take a booking from someone with a name that begins with an 'Haitch'.

She has become so popular with the children that at one school where she refused to do two lessons a week because of the distance involved, that the parents started a syndicate to pay her to do after-hours lessons.

To try to sort out this problem with the 'H', she takes a candle to school. In front of the class, she lights the candle and then shouts 'Igginson' at it. The flame wavers not. Then she shouts 'Higginson' and out it goes. She repeats this with hot, hat and hand.

However when she uses the phrase "the cat and the dog" they recite, "zer chat hand zer dhog."

So they can say the "Haitch"? it is just a question of where they put it.

Thus, she is, in a small way, contributing the future 'appiness of visitors to France who 'ave names like 'Odgekins, 'Utchings, 'Astings or 'Odges.