A ragondin, of course!
Last night I went over to a friend's for drinks with her neighbour and a girl she met on a training course whom she'd invited specifically because "SHE'S SINGLE, YOU'RE SINGLE, YOU MUST GO OUT TOGETHER!" Turns out, as well as being single (rare among Frenchies), she's pretty cool. We have already talked about how we must get drunk and sing karaoke together and also get dressed up all fancy and go to the opera (different evenings, presumably). And she works at the markets and has offered to get me sweet deals on cheese. May be developing a girl crush.
Anyway, the point of this blog post is about the joys of cross-linguistic/cultural communication, or, how I learned what a ragondin is. Communication can sometimes be difficult, but it can also provide different ways of seeing things (or bizarre ways of learning new information). Sometimes it's like your whole life is a game of Taboo, where you can say anything except the name of the thing you're describing. And then sometimes it's more like charades!
We were, for some reason, talking about the botanic gardens at Tours and she mentioned that there were ragondins there. When I asked what a ragondin was, my friend Liz said that it was an animal that "didn't exist" in England and it looked like a big rat. Charlie the Frenchie defended the honour of the "cute" ragondin, and chose to describe it as a cross between a rat (pronounced "rah" in French) and "a big stick that you hit people with" – that confused me, but turns out she meant "rondin" – a log. How rat + rondin = ragondin, or how exactly rat + log is a sensible way of describing an animal, I don't know. This is, after all, a country that decides the most notable difference between a mouse and a bat is that the bat is bald (a bat is a "chauve-souris" – a bald mouse). Also, a log is a "big stick to hit people with" - this may be a worrying sign of violent tendencies chez New Droog.
I was also amused by her description that ragondins love dirty water and eat everything. If you have a dirty stream – why, get yourself a ragondin, pop it in, and it will eat up all the sewage tout de suite. But – attention ! A ragondin will eat anything, so if it runs out of sewage (apparently its meal of choice) it will start eating plants and fishes. So you must monitor your ragondin, and take him out of the stream once he's done his job. Presumably you then pat your ragondin on the head and take him to another dirty stream to feast on more delicious sewage.
If, by any chance (and I don't see how it's possible) you still don't know what your friendly neighbourhood ragondin is – apparently it's a coypu, and they don't get a very good rap in Wikipedia.
Oh and I also learned that in French "Little Women" is "The four daughters of Dr. March". Come on, France - he's not even in the book. Yeah, "Little Women" is pretty patronising, but how man-centric can you get?