Molettes

Conversations with Laurine never fail to entertain. As Colin commented after my lesson last week, “I never hear you laugh as much as when you’re on the phone with Laurine.” I’d like to say this is because Laurine and I exchange witty bilingual repartee, but in reality we’re usually laughing because we’re struggling to have adult conversations with kindergarten vocabularies.

Take, for example, our discussion of les molettes.

It all started during the English portion of our discussion when I used the idiom “tune into,” to ask Laurine if she ever tunes into English-language podcasts.

“Tune into? What does it mean?” she asked.

I explained that the phrase had to do with tuning a radio dial to find a station. “Like, in the olden days, when people had to turn a knob on the radio to tune it to a particular station.”

Laurine is about five years younger than me, so she was struggling both with the concept of physically tuning a radio and also with the English words. She asked what a “knob” was.

I looked around, hoping to find one to show her. Alas, knobs must truly be a thing of the past because I couldn’t find any. Until – aha! – I found an old microscope of Colin’s (he likes collecting old scientific equipment). I brought it over and pointed out the tuning knobs.

Laurine understood and told me the word was “une roulette” en français, which made sense. We moved on.

Then, a few days later, she sent me a message (in French; long as always): “Hey Claire!!! I was telling my family about our laughing about roulettes and it turns out that a roulette is actually an instrument used by a dentist!! The correct word is molette.”

So we laughed again about how I am not only teaching her English, but also French. And then I suggested that, to engrain the word in my vocabulary, and because I was becoming a bit bored in quarantine, I was going to go on a molette hunt in my apartment. (Hopefully I would not find any roulettes.)

The following week, I sent her a photo of what I’d found: three devices with molettes—a combination lock, Colin’s watch, and my camera.

So anyway, that’s how I learned the words roulette and molette. I’d rather know useful things, like how to say “Two orders of crème brulée for delivery please; it’s been a hard day, and yes, both are for me,” but instead I now know that if I’m sitting in a chair and someone says they’ll be right back after adjusting a molette, it’s probably fine and I should smile for the camera. On the other hand, if they say they need to go adjust their roulette, I should keep my mouth firmly shut and run.

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