The Flap Over Fifi

When it comes to speaking and writing French, a non-native journalist can never relax, not even if she’s trying to score a few comic points. The comments elicited by “The Frenchwoman Fraud: C’est Fini, Fifi” in the December 5, 2012, issue of The New York Times confirm what I have long feared: If you’re going to pipe up in French or about France, you’d better be sure your grammar is beyond reproach. Of the 21 comments posted, a dozen were ready to shoot Joyce Wadler on sight for such infractions as spelling errors, insensitivity to cultural nuance, and “a completely silly and fictitious notion of national identity (American vs. French), which doesn’t ever exist in reality.” The reader then went on to declare Wadler unworthy of employment at The New York Times.

Not everyone was hostile to the apparently playful intentions of the writer. Some readers understood that she was aiming to get some mileage out of American admiration for French women, their refusal to get fat or raise disrespectful children all the while maintaining an impeccable sense of style. Wadler is reported in Mediabistro to have accepted a buyout package from The New York Times to pursue her own work. It would be overkill to suggest a connection between her article and this bit of news, but it does make a chronic student of French resolve to work harder on l’orthographe.


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