Il examinait la petite sculpture, pour se faire une contenance.
ee leg-zah-mee-nay lah pteet skewl-TEWR, poor sfair ewn kaw-tNAHSS. Click below to hear this.
He was examining the little sculpture, to give himself something to do.
First of all, note that the p in sculpture is silent, which actually makes the whole word easier to say: you can just make your lower lip pout for the two u sounds, without having to change positions for a /p/ between them.
But the expression that’s fun, today, is the other part of the sentence: pour se faire une contenance. Literally, to make a countenance for himself.
Haven’t you ever been in an awkward situation where you wished you had something to do, to cover your embarrassment? If you have papers in your hand, you might suddenly become very interested in them. If you have keys in your pocket, you develop a sudden need to jingle them. You look for a lost contact lens, check the sole of your shoe for gum, dive into your purse for the cell phone you thought you heard ringing.
And all that is because you don’t know what to do with yourself. You don’t even know how to arrange your face! Should you look alarmed? Unconcerned? Absent-minded? Busy? Compassionate? Whatever is going on beside you is hard to witness, but you’re stuck there.
So, petite sculpture to the rescue. By pretending to be totally absorbed by it, you can tune out (or eavesdrop) without offending anyone. Then when they speak to you, you can feign surprise and say, “Oh, excusez-moi, j’étais complètement absorbé par cette petite sculpture. Elle est chinoise, je pense ?”
And the contenance you give yourself is one of pure innocence.
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