Les numéros

by jemma margaret

Politics aside, for a mathematically inclined individual it’s awfully nice to see Americans being aware of percentages these days. Now I only wish margin of error might enter the discussion.

To be generous, I am now an advanced beginning French speaker (although better to say French reader, writer, and listener since my speaking is mostly confined to monosyllables and edibles). As an auditing student in French last year, I was able to skip ahead the first two semesters, which was mostly a very good move except that I didn’t learn the alphabet or how to count.

Unsurprisingly, these are both very useful skills.

For one, the French and especially the French academics L-O-V-E acronyms. So I need to keep my achez and double vays straight. (How’s that for phonetics?)

Secondly, everything is numbered. From your arrondissement that might change from one side of the street to the other to your door code that must be known before a guest can ring the bell to your wifi password that will not be less than 20 characters.

I would wager that French school children take a bit more time when learning how to count to 100, but that once they do they are not too encumbered in learning basic addition and multiplication. While in English counting only consists of adding 1 through 9, in French one must know how to multiply 20 by 4 and add all the way up to 19. C’est un peu compliqué.

My strong lack of fluency means that often I judge what someone is saying by the tone of their voice, the look on their face, or the length of the noises emanating from their mouth. When buying things back home a longer number usually implies a bigger amount.

Fifty cents (3 syllables)

Two dollars and 50 cents (7 syllables)

Two thousand five hundred twenty nine dollars and 50 cents (15 syllables)


Here upon hearing, un euro et quatre-vingt dix-huit centimes (11 syllables) s’il-vous-plait, I hand over the largest piece of colorful paper in my wallet only to receive many many coins worth of change.

If I successfully manage to open a bank account here, not only will I be able to pay my rent without visiting the ATM four days in a row, but also I will have the sublime peace of mind in nonchalantly handing over my credit card in response to any number thrown at me.

Forty-seven percent?

Put it on my bill.