Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fun with French, part I

Shortly after we arrived in Paris, back in 2004, John developed a serious sinus infection. In the States, John never got sick. But how Paris has affected our health is another story. Anyways, he went to see the doctor, armed with a limited French vocabulary and an even more limited knowledge of pronunciation. To the practitioner's amusement, John calmly told her that a little monkey (instead of a little bit of blood) was coming out of his nose. He had inadvertently said "un petit singe" instead of "un peu de sang."

The other night, a friend informed us of how another subtle difference in pronunciation can twist your meaning a hundred-eighty degrees. In a restaurant, when new expats (and veterans) aren't able to catch the specials of the day careening off the tongue of their French waiter, they ask him to repeat himself. “Répétez, s’il vous plait.” But if you say “repétez” instead of “répétez” (note the differences in accents), pronouncing the first syllable like “ruh” instead of “ray” will result in asking the waiter to release some gas from his rear, again.

The French like to borrow American words. The most obvious are the ones with an “ing” ending, such as “parking” and “marketing.” Those are used correctly, but what about “shampooing”? “Shampooing” is not the act of washing your hair but the actual cleaning product – the shampoo. Even less creative is “apres-shampooing” (literally “after shampoo”) which is conditioner.

Would anyone else like to share some interesting French lingual tidbits?


Samantha said...

My personal favorite is "relooking" (or make-over) - it's not even a real word in English, they just completely made up their own word!

Caroline Jou Armitage said...

I didn't know that one. It's good -- it doesn't even make any sense!

Sarah said...

My most embarassing French faux pas came when I was complimenting a hostess on her lovely meal, exclaiming over how fresh the vegetables seemed, how flavorful the cheeses were. "Ce n'est pas comme ca aux Etats-Unis?" she asked, shocked. "Mais non!" I confirmed, telling her of all our freezer meals, prepackaged foods, and so on. "La nourriture en France n'a pas de preservatifs comme chez moi!"

Yep. I had just told her that our food is full of condoms ("preservatifs").

Running a close second is the time while describing a typical American Thanksgiving dinner, I mentioned "la sauce aux aiselles" and wondered why my French friends were making such horrible faces at the thought of cranberry sauce. Well, it's because I actually told them that we serve "armpit sauce" (airelle vs. aiselle).

Maybe this is why my French friends never come visit!

Caroline Jou Armitage said...

That is laugh-out-loud funny! Awesome!