Ma tehya eez reesh
Where is Bryan? Is he in the bathroom? Perhaps he’s in the kitchen. Maybe he has gone to see my tailor. I hope not, because Bryan is poor and my tailor is rich.
For hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of French speakers, the above absurd text contains two instantaneously recognisable English phrases, and probably provoked an immediate groan, grimace, sigh or smile.
Like the first time we made love or our first car accident, these banal phrases have been scarily imprinted into the memory banks of many would-be English speakers.
They are neither the simplest, nor the most practical phrases to slip into a conversation, despite being lesson one, exercise one of two popular English learning methods developed for French speakers.
Likewise, English speakers learning French are armed with equally brilliant first-lesson phrases such as le singe est sur la branche (the monkey is on the branch), le chat est sur la chaise (the cat is on the chair), and la souris est en dessous de la table (the mouse is under the table).
These are challenging phrases for garrulous English tourists. There’s not a lot of jungle in France and monkeys are thin on the ground, as UK stand-up comedian, executive transvestite (travesti executif) and my favourite funny man Eddie Izzard explains (some swearing).
Which brings us back to Bryan and that famous existentialist question that has traumatised hundreds of thousands of French people: Where is Bryan? French comic and actor Gad Elmaleh talks about his fractured relationship with Bryan.
My tailor is rich, (but my English is poor) was in lesson one of the Assimil method of L’anglais sans Peine, (English without Toil) first published in 1929. It was also the very first spoken phrase in the first Assimil L’anglais sans Peine vinyl record released in the 1960s.
Other first lesson book phrases were:
Our doctor is good
Our doctor is not good.
Your cigarette is finished
Your cigarette is not finished.
Your flowers are beautiful.
Your flowers are not beautiful.
Is she beautiful? - She is not beautiful, but she is interesting.
The phrase ‘ma tehya eez reesh’‘ (my tailor is rich) even appears in the French–dubbed version of the horror film The Exorcist (NB: not for the weak-hearted) as well as the Astérix chez les Bretons comic book. It is also the name of a musical group and the name of an album released by the Belgian group The Vogues.
It became a household term thanks to French slapstick comedian Louis De Funès in the film Le Gendarme à New York released in 1965.
The programme Karambolage on Arte Television made this linguistic homage to my tailor is rich in 2010.
groan - a long deep sound from the throat because you are annoyed, upset or in pain, or with pleasure
sigh - to take and then let out a long deep breath that can be heard, to show that you are disappointed, sad or tired
garrulous - talking a lot
thin on the ground - rare, not many
household term - a term that is very well known