French Lessons

French Lessons: Funny Words

by Jackie D on March 17, 2017

Today’s lesson is brief: I keep a note in my phone of all the little funny French words I’ve come across so far. I see them on signs or hear them in passing, or discover them while Google-translating a coworker’s e-mail. They all make me smile.

La poubelle: trash (I still think it’s so funny that the word for trash is straight-up gorgeous)

Pourboire: a tip (literally translates to: “for drinking,” because I guess in France people are honest about what tips are used for)

Trombone: paperclip (because paperclips look like little trombones)

Avocat: lawyer/avocado (these are the same word! what!)

Coucou: this is a greeting/term of endearment that my coworkers often use in e-mails, and I find it absolutely adorable

Cauchemars: nightmares (I learned this word during a conversation with a coworker, and it came up during an exercise in French class and I was like, “oh! Nightmares!” and my teacher looked at me like, you have the reading level of a six year old but you know what the French word for nightmares is?)

Etoile de mer: starfish (literally: star of the sea)

Guimauve: marshmallow 

Depaysement: describes the feeling of being in another country (full disclosure: I saw this one on Instagram when I was having a bad day and straight up cried on the metro)

Bague (a ring) and vague (a wave): because I always mix them up. Constantly telling girls I like their waves

Rire: to laugh (my favorite word in any language)

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French Lessons: Time

by Jackie D on March 3, 2017

Talking about age: In French, when you talk about how old you are, you don’t say, I am 28 years old. You say, I have 28 years. J’ai 28 ans. The years are something you have.

Talking about years: In French, there are two versions of the word year: an (masculine) and annee (feminine). But you don’t determine the use based on whether you need a masculine word or a feminine word. You use an if you are talking about a specific year or date, and you use annee if you are talking about everything that filled a year — if you want to say, it was a good year, you’d say c’etait une bonne annee, because you are talking about everything that filled the year and made it a good one. I think of it as: it describes a whole experience, not just a point in time, and so you need those extra e‘s to hold the weight.

It’s the same thing with a day — un jour is a day, straight and simple, but when you wish someone a bonne journee, you’re referring to everything that fills it.

I visited Paris for the first time on July 17, when I was 16 (when I had 16 years). I studied in the south of France for two months when I was 20. I’ve passed through on countless layovers; I used almost all of my meager vacation days to come here for a week by myself when I was 26.

Exactly a year ago, on March 3, I moved to Paris for three months on a tourist visa. At the time, I’d thought that maybe that was what all my other visits had been leading up to: three months living in Paris, probably the best I was ever going to get.

On November 13, I moved here permanently, and on March 15, I’ll finally receive my official resident visa.

Time speeds up in places you love, so I am trying to slow down and consciously appreciate everything about my life here. It seems unreal to me that I’ve only been here permanently for four months when I think about everything that has occurred in those four months: I moved here with three suitcases and no apartment; now I have an almost-fully furnished apartment, a regular grocery store, a regular bar, a regular commute, a few friends, a library membership, a regular volunteering position at said library, and a few weekend trips planned.

Ce sera une bonne annee.

More French Lessons:
Dejeuner
How Much

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French Lessons: Déjeuner

by Jackie D on February 24, 2017

The French word for lunch is déjeuner. This word is both noun and verb. You can say that you have lunch (je prends le déjeuner) but you can also just say I lunch (je déjeune), which is the way most French people phrase it.

I guess this is the same in English, but it seems more common to hear “I had lunch” over “I lunched.”

In English, lunch is more noun than verb. Lunch is the thing on your plate. In French, it is the opposite: lunch is the whole action, it is the eating and drinking and talking and enjoying and everything all at once. It’s leaving your work at your desk and actually sitting at a restaurant. It’s getting a coffee and (for many) having a cigarette after the meal. Lunch is something you do, not just something you consume.

It’s not just a difference in part of speech; it’s a difference in lifestyle. I lunch, you lunch, we all lunch (je déjeune, vous déjeunez, nous déjeunons).

I’m still working on this — sometimes my American guilt still makes me feel like I should be at my desk with a sandwich while answering emails — but I’ve definitely mastered the breakfast portion of France life. French people don’t seem to be big on breakfast, but when they do eat it, they fully embrace pastries over savory foods, and I’ve had absolutely zero problems adapting to this.

Breakfast is also a sort of communal affair at the office — people will find any reason to bring a bag of pastries to share with everyone: a birthday, an anniversary, Tuesday, existence. An email goes out to everyone letting us know where we can find the pastries, and then for the next hour you’ll hear people delightedly munching on croissants at their desks, and it puts everyone in the best mood for the rest of the day. It’s so generous and lovely. I plan to bring a little treat of my own once I receive my permanent visa! In the meantime, I will be taste-testing as many different pains au chocolat as possible, for science.

More French Lessons:
Bad Days
How Much

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