My Top French Language Faux Pas
Article By Diane, OuiInFrance
Photo Taken by Lindsey Kent, Pictours Paris
Ahhh, French… the language of love, passion and je ne sais quoi that makes it so alluring to tourists, students and the casual language learner. But what does French become when you’re forced to speak it as an expat living in France? Well, friends, French becomes a language of hate, humor and embarrassment. Every. Single. Day.
But let me clarify. That’s not a bad thing. The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it and that’s what I did. Everyone has to learn, and with learning comes mistakes. And trust me when I tell you there were many. Even now, I still botch my husband’s native tongue which leaves whomever I’m speaking with chuckling or completely baffled.
Want proof? Here are three of my top French language faux pas in no particular order:
At Dagny’s dog school classes as we were arriving, an employee wanted to know who was our group’s instructor. I wasn’t sure of our instructor’s first name, and the best option seemed to be to refer to him as the bald gentleman. In French the word for bald is chauve.
Une chauve-souris is a bat. It’s simple really; souris is a mouse. So bald mouse. That makes sense, right? Well, brilliant me! I basically said to the guy “Our instructor is that bat man.” Instead of going with the one correct word – chauve, which would have done the job, instead I came out with chauve-souris. Why? No idea. The guy that I said it to was polite so he didn’t correct me.
Learn from me folks. Early on when I first met Tom’s family, I didn’t have a huge vocabulary, so I surely wasn’t familiar with the French word for beets. We were eating beets one night as a side dish when I wanted to explain that they’re not something I eat often in America. Well, being the genius that I am, I didn’t realize that bite in French (pronounced nearly the same as the English word beet) means cock. Awesome. So at dinner, I told Tom in English all about the BEETS in the U.S. and how I never eat BEETS. All his parents heard was “Language I don’t understand COCK more gibberish COCK.” Great first impression, let me tell you. In case you’re wondering, a beet in French is une beterrave.
Don’t ever confuse baisser and baiser. The first means “to lower” as in lower the volume or lower something onto the ground. The second is vulgar and means something that starts with “f” and rhymes with buck. The “s” sound in baisser is pronounced like an “s,” but in baiser, the single “s” is pronounced like a “z.” Don’t forget that.
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Diane is a freelance writer who writes the blog Oui In France: Musings on life in France, my dog and everything else. She’s a New Jersey native living outside of Angers, France with her French husband and Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Dagny.