“Caca vroom-vroom!” My son shouts his favorite word to Grandma, across an ocean, over the interwebs, as we Facetime from our tiny apartment in Paris to my mom's St. Louis home. It's our Saturday afternoon ritual, a time for grandma and grandson to bond. Well, assuming they understand each other.
“What’s he saying?” my mom asks, surprised at my 2-year-old son’s language. “What are you teaching that boy?”
“Don’t worry, Mom,” I say. “It’s his word for garbage truck.”
See, in French “caca” means, well, “caca” but for some reason it sounds better in my French-American son’s accent. “Vroom-vroom” is his word for car or truck, since that’s the sound it makes. Pretty logical, actually.
The kid is obsessed with garbage trucks, so it’s “caca vroom-vroom” 24/7 around our house. Our apartment overlooks a busy street and we have the good fortune of watching the garbage men come by EVERY day. My son never misses it. For someone who doesn’t ever seem to hear me when I say “No!”, he sure can ear the distinct sound of the garbage truck pulling up in front of our building.
It doesn’t end there. If we’re out running an errand and see the garbage men, we have to pull the stroller over (not an easy feat among piles of dog poop and hordes of harried pedestrians) so he can admire his favorite workers doing his favorite job. You get a new appreciation for these dedicated employees once you’ve spent 10 minutes whiffing trash-truck air.
Yet my son is oblivious to the embarrassment, the stench; he couldn’t be happier as the odor of rotten bananas and dirty diapers smacks him in his smiling face. We’ve done this so often the garbage men know us, waving as they pass.
“Grandma! Look at my camion poubelle!” The smelly days have blurred into one another and before I know it, my son is now calling the garbage truck by its correct name. Side note: How can the French make something so gross sound so beautiful?
“Be careful, honey,” my mom says to me on Facetime, as my son waves his toy garbage truck in front of the screen. “He’ll be better at French than you before long.”
“I think he already is!”
I’ve lived in France for nearly 10 years and my son could probably hold a more coherent business meeting than me. Well, as long as the meeting was at the Annual Garbage Truck Convention.
“Why don't we put the garbage truck away and read a book, sweetie?” I suggest to my son.
“Let’s show Grandma all your new words.” As we read a book about baby animals, I’m reminded of an embarrassing slip-up I made when I first started dating my now-husband.
“Je t’aime, ma puce,” he had said. I love you, my flea, is what it meant. Surprisingly, this is a common term of endearment in the French language.
“Je t’aime aussi, mon puceau,” I replied. I love you too, my little flea. Or, that’s what I’d thought I’d said. You see, many baby animals’ names in French are simply the adult’s name (e.g. girafe) with an “eau” added to the end (e.g. girafeau). So I’d added the “eau” sound, thinking I’d called him a baby flea. Hey, it’s no weirder than a big flea!
He burst out laughing. “Honey, that means ‘virgin’ not ‘baby flea’.”
“And what’s a baby seal called?” Grandma asked my son from the iPad screen.
I cringed as I waited for the response. “Seal” was the unfortunately-pronounced “foque,” so I could only imagine what a baby seal was called. Foqueau? I really hoped my son didn’t say FU to my mom.
“Blanchon!” he shouted.
Whew. That was way better than I’d thought it would be.
One day, probably well after my son does, I’ll learn the French words for all the baby animals. In the meantime, I’ll giggle about the ones I do know.