Mlle. Waldinger says…

by Margaret McAvoy

If you are of just a certain demographic, then you may know Mademoiselle Waldinger.  Après moi:  vahl-dahn-zjay.  She taught high school French and as she was my first and only French teacher during those years, I remember her well, and fondly.  There was a smartness about her appearance, and indeed her presence.  She was always neatly coiffed, always neatly outfitted in a dress or skirt with her clip earrings and red lipstick, always neatly organized with her lesson.  She was crisp, yet kind, in her demeanor and elocution, and expected the same of us.  She embodied all that I ever adored about all things françaises, mostly due to the fact that I will forever picture Paris as the 1950’s gem that it was, à la “Funny Face”, despite having been there long after.  And yes, the same is true for Rome and “Roman Holiday”, but I’ll pursue that in a subsequent post.  Being the teenage Francophile that I was, I was eager to please, and adopted a mild frustration with those in class who, I felt, did not warrant such a delightful teacher.  But Mlle. Waldinger, of an era that was ever gracious, and with experience that saw this time and again, could engage them in her own lovely manner, and with disrespect from neither them, nor her.  As like other foreign language classes, we were allowed to select a French name, by which to be called during class for the semester.  Naturellement, I would choose “Françoise”, in honor of the first wife of Oscar de la Renta, whose perfume I still wear devotedly and quite happily to this day.

“And you may call me Mademoiselle Waldinger.”

But surely, I thought, in my infinite wisdom, she is of an age to be married.  So, being the entirely uncouth Francophile that I was, I broached the unthinkable, and quite stupidly inquired, “Madame?…Waldinger.”

“Non,” came the direct, but understanding, response …”Mademoiselle“.

I will forever wince at my impudence with this exchange, and in my feeble way to make amends, have decided to initiate a regular post entitled, “Mlle. Waldinger says…”.  The design industry has a long and rich heritage of French history and creation, and no small part of a designer’s daily vocabulary is French, or of French origin.  I thought that these posts might be of interest to any on-looker of the design industry, those who live vicarious lives of decorators through the shelter magazines, or those in the trade who need a brushing up on pronunciation and enunciation.  Or simply those who slaughter the correct way to say “Hermès”.  Hint: not all accents are equal…there is an accent “grave”, which is shown here, and indicates that it’s a short e vowel, not a long a vowel, and there is an accent “aigu”, which is shown in the word étudients, and indicates the long a sound.  If you are one of the many who unwittingly has made this error, not to fret.  Mademoiselle Waldinger will serve you well!  Should you have any specific request, please do let me know, and I will respond in a subsequent post.

Until then, au revoir mes étudients!

Top image, Nouveau dictionnaire de la langue française, 1856, Pierre La Rousse, Librarie La Rousse et Boyer, Paris, kindly via Musée virtuel des dictionnaires

Bottom image, Hermès, “L’Art d’Écrire” silk scarf, Maurice Tranchant, original design, 1957, kindly via