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?