Today on the blog I am interviewing Claire Schiltz, the owner of the Petite Poule website, which sells a range of t-shirts with French themes. Claire tells us a bit about her love for French language, what phrases work well on a T, and gives us some top information about French crime writers!
Hello Claire and welcome! When did your love of the French language start?
Oh, it goes way back. I went to France on a family holiday when I was about 9 or 10. None of us had ever been to France before and I recall that my dad even took night classes to brush up on his schoolboy French in preparation for the trip! In an endeavour to share his new-found knowledge with me I vividly remember him forcing me to ask for four croissants in a boulangerie somewhere in the middle of Brittany. I was terrified but managed to make myself understood and returned triumphant with our breakfast! I think it was that holiday that certainly sparked my interest in the French way of life and an intrigue about the language.
How has it deepened over the years?
Like most people I studied French at high school. In about fourth year I was lucky to take part in a pen pal exchange with a school in La Baule, which is twinned with Inverness where I’m from. The French students visited us first and then we all went to La Baule to stay with our pen pals for two weeks and go to school there. It was a brilliant experience, and it was then that I started to feel the frustration of not being able to fully take part in their conversations. I had a fantastic teacher for Higher French, Miss Gordon, who I think told me her sister had taken a year out to travel before going to University. In any case, this planted an idea and at 18 I finished school and found myself an au pair job with a lovely family just outside Paris for a year. I took French lessons while I was there and watched a lot of French TV! I came home to study French and business at Uni and ended up moving to Paris after I graduated, where I lived for seven years. I worked in the French branch of a global PR firm and spoke French all day, eventually starting to dream in French too, which was quite a revelation. I’m now back home in Scotland, I’m married to a Frenchman and we have a son who we’re trying to raise as bilingual. Thanks to that spark of interest in French culture all those years ago, the French language and way of life has become a huge part of how I live now.
Tell us about your new venture as a ‘language entrepreneur.’
I’ve always wanted to have a little business of my own, it’s something I’ve thought about since a very young age. As a fan of slogan tees and sweatshirt, and all things French, I love clothes with French words printed on them. However, I found it hard to find anything very imaginative in the high street shops. Also, like many of us, I’m working at home just now and seem to spend my life in sweatshirts and jeans. So, I used the spare time in lockdown to search for a partner and at the end of October set up Petite Poule. I sell sustainably-sourced, printed-on-demand, sweatshirts and tees with French words and phrases on them. People seem to like them, and I’ve had positive feedback so far.
How do you choose which French phrases to use?
I started out with simple words or phrases that I liked. In the office where I worked in Paris, we’d call each other poule (the equivalent of hen I supposed in Scotland!) - so ça va ma poule was one of the first ones I came up with. I’ve since started to look for phrases with a bit of a story behind them. A recent one is ‘En voiture Simone’ - which means ‘let’s get going’. This saying actually goes way back to the 40’s and was inspired by one of the first French female racing drivers, Simone de Forest. In any case, the list is endless. French is such a rich language full of interesting and quirky phrases.
Do you have any recommendations of French authors, particularly crime authors, we should seek out?
One of my favourite French authors is Anna Gavalda. Her collection of short stories: ‘Je voudrais que quelqu’un m’attende quelque part’ and ‘Je l’aimais’ are my favourites.
On the crime front I have to admit I had to ask for my father-in-law’s advice on this one. He reads a lot (including Iain Rankin - in French). His recommendations are:
My husband’s favourite is Jean-Patrick Manchette.
As a nation we are pretty rubbish at learning other languages. If you were Queen of the World, what one thing would you do to promote learning a second language?
From my experience, the real drive for learning a language is firstly falling in love with a country’s culture and way of life. So, if I was Queen of the world (reine du monde - there’s maybe a t-shirt in that!) I’d give all children a free trip to another country of their choice before the end of their high school years.
You can find out more about Petite Poule here: https://petite-poule.com/