Sunday, August 24, 2008

Frustration with french numbers

I'm going to admit right off the bat that this is a fairly petty gripe, but it's a genuine one.

In my day job, I occasionally take credit card orders over the phone from people across the country. This includes francophones.

While I'm conversant in French, it takes me a great deal of effort to precisely record a name and address spoken to me in the language.

But when it comes to taking the credit card numbers, I feel like I'm running to catch a bus that has already left the stop.

When I take credit card numbers in English, people typically pause after each set of four numbers (sometimes every two!) until I repeat the numbers or otherwise indicate that I'm ready for the next set. I don't know if they do this because I'm subconsciously giving them cues to do so, or if it's just convention in English, but they almost always pause.

In French, the person quickly reads out the numbers with a slight pause, but continues without waiting for a confirmation from me. But the part that makes it worse is that it is apparently the convention to read each set of four numbers like a pair of two-digit numbers. That is, in English, "1234" would be "one two three four", whereas in French it is "douze trente-quatre" [twelve thirty-four].

And the nineties are the worst (and every card in French seems to have at least one pair in the 70s or 90s). While I'd like to write down numbers as fast as they give them to me, I can't because of the blasted nineties.


Okay, four...


Scratch that, eighty...

"et seize."

Er, ninety six.

Even worse is when I get a combination like 3096, which reads "trente, quatre-vingt et seize." While it is understandable that it isn't "trente-quatre, vingt, et seize", it takes a bit of processing time to figure this out--time that's required to listen to the next four numbers!

It's times like this, when I'm reminded at how fluent at French I am not, that I slightly regret having moved from Montreal at age three (my parents' decision, of course) and leaving French immersion after grade one. Oh, well; those times aren't too often.

- RG>


Julien Lamarche said...


Being fluently bilingual I don't notice the difference between the two. Its fun to read other people's observation about the language.

Great post! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thant's a good one - gave me a chuckle. Pilgrim

Anonymous said...

French is one complicated language. I like languages and speak 2 really well and 2 sort of and I gotta say French is the most difficult. Every time you think you have a handle on it, something new swoops out of left field to totally confuse you -- usually a verb conjugation.

piromaniaco said...

French numbers are a torure. I have just started to lear French and mi third class was about numbers,what would come later?
Now I want to give up.