January 20, 2011

Notes To Self

Olonzac Market Day

The expression "I almost had to give up my firstborn child" does not translate into French. Use it and they'll think you're certifiable.

Your neighbors and your hairdresser will never stop commenting on your weight gain or loss.

There's a reason behind la priorité à droite. You will just never understand it.

The type of bra you prefer is a balconnet, not a banquette*.

As soon as they learn that you're American, they'll assume that you're rolling in dough. The expression "rolling in dough" doesn't translate either.

Stop trying to order your steak à point*. It will always arrive bleu*, no matter what.

That sweet looking, little old lady standing uncomfortably close to you in line at the boulangerie is trying to cut in front of you. Stand your ground.

It is de l'eau* or un verre d'eau*. Get that through your head already.

The day that you're running late for an appointment in town is the day that all the streets on your route will be shut down for a manifestation.

You will never be able to pronounce the words grenouille* or moelleux*. Stop embarrassing yourself by trying to.

You will continue to have those incredible "oh my god I live in France" moments. Savor them.

As soon as you get comfortable and think you've got this whole living in France thing all figured out, remember that you really haven't.
And remember to breathe.

*banquette - seat
*à point - medium
*bleu - rare
*de l'eau - some water
*un verre d'eau - a glass of water
*grenouille - frog
*moelleux - soft or mellow Pin It


Anonymous said...

very funny...yea don't let the little old lady get in - i remember that very well.

deedee said...

I've got an image of a banquette as a balconet in my head now, lol. I gave up and just eat really red meat, now, as à point is always really red anyway and if you ask for bien cuite, you end up with charred meat.

Brenna said...

No matter how many times my french friends tell me "tu as une belle accent" I just won't accept it! I need to let loose and start to love my strange pronunciation of the word frog. Because it's never going to happen. Love this post!

Unknown said...

I agree with just about everything except for the a point thing. I order it that way all the time and it's just right not bleu at all n_n

spacedlaw said...

Try ordering "bien cuit" next time. Although they might go the other way and burn it to a crisp for you.

Urbancrete said...

Have just recently stumbled upon your blog....... it's fantastic. My family and I live in the Dordogne, have been here for just over a year and I too have started a blog about our work and experiences. I can so relate to many of your posts! I did laugh out loud about the d'eau as ever since the leaving the US 5 years ago...I've had a complex about asking for water. We were in the UK before coming to France where of course they properly pronounce it water and in the US it is much more like wader. I therefore stick to ordering the wine!

Diane said...

Grenouille is the bain of my life, my neighbours think I am hilarious :)

I love my steak bleu so I have no problems there but they always give me a questioning look as L'anglais do not like bleu!!!

Naughty eyes also does not translate as we know it. I got myself in a right muddle till I came up with sexy eyes instead, that brought a smile and a real sexy look to the face in question LOL. Diane

Mardi Michels said...

Grenouille, moelleux and nouille - three of my students' favourite words to learn!!

When I lived in France and when I go back, I will often order my steak "plutôt bien cuit" and it will come out medium, LOL!

Very jealous of your "oh my god I live in France" moments. I hope I get to experience that again sometime...

Jean said...

Marvellous !!

Our attempts at mastering the language keep our neighbour Mme André entertained. She is so patient and corrects us so tactfully but sometimes she finds it all too much and has a good laugh.

Brass Frog said...

Thanks for the link to "la priorité à droite". I never understood it before, but now I do, ...er, maybe...

Chuck the Brassfrog

Diane H. said...

This is great! Especially love the little-old-lady thing. Too, too true.

My first month here I tried to tell my hostess "don't open a bottle of wine just for me" when she offered me a refill after dinner. She did finally understand my words once the bilingual husband stepped in to help, but it turned out that was a concept that did not translate. Of course they'd simply drink the rest the next day!

Anonymous said...

very good. that "eau" thing took me years.

A French friend of mine told me "l'americain" is french slang for a rich person. Imagine me w/dual Swiss/American nationality--they thought I was loaded when I first came here.

Hardest word in french for me: fourrure. Luckily I don't wear it. How about heureux? Grenouille I find pretty easy: gren wee. heh.

Penny said...

Bravo! This is the perfect post on life in France!!

Cowgirl Chef said...

Si vrai -- those little old ladies are dangerous. They are small, they carry wicker baskets, and they like to push and shove to get what they want. Take this!

Jennifer said...

it's so true! lol

I totally embarrassed myself by asking a saleswoman to see a bra "banquette" the other day.

I hear that a lot too. I guess we need to continue enjoying having un accent charmant.

Jennifer said...

Really? That never seems to happen to me. I've pretty much given up.

I've tried that too but end up, just like you say, with overcooked meat.

Mrs M
Thanks for commenting!
I'm guilty of pronouncing it "wader." I think sticking to wine is the smart option. :)

Jennifer said...

Yes, grenouille is the worst!

I think I am pronouncing nouille correctly, but I might find out one day that I'm not. :)

Learning the subtleties of the French language seems like a never ending challenge, doesn't it?

Jennifer said...

Brass Frog
That is one of the strangest laws ever! I'll never get it.

It's funny how everyone living in France can relate to the line-cutting little old lady. lol

le coin d'art
The "eau" thing continues to baffle me. Just when I think I've got it, I say it wrong. zut!
People thought we were loaded when we first came here too. And they couldn't understand why we would want to live here. Funny, huh?
I'll try your pronunciation of grenouille, thanks!

Jennifer said...

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

cowgirl chef
They are dangerous! And ballsy. Does that mean we can be that way when we get to that age? :)

Anonymous said...

When I studied in Besancon I couldn't believe how the French couldn't, wouldn't form a line and would cut in front of you constantly. Finally I learned to keep my elbows out and I would use them to block them or jab them whatever was necessary. Otherwise I would have been in line at la poste or the boulangerie until it closed. It was really hard for me but it was a necessity to become rather aggressive. It never felt very comfortable.

PS....I am a French teacher and have the most difficult time pronouncing "feuille".

Veronica said...

So funny and true! And I learned something about priorité à droite. I never knew what those red and white posts signified.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the verre d'eau. I used to have particular trouble with this one in nightclubs when I was younger. :)

Douille is another tough one (it means pastry tip, so I come across it a lot).

aimee said...

delightful post!

Ken Broadhurst said...

The ending -ille is pronounced as [yuh]. So it's gruh-NOO-yuh. The syllable in all caps is stressed. Douille is DOO-yuh. Feuille is FEUH-yuh. If you can say travail or travaille — trah-VAH-yuh — you can say grenouille.

If you are having this much trouble with the pronunciation of French words, you really should study pronuncation with a good teacher. Take a phonetics class.

I've learned to shove those little old ladies right out of the way. And to glare at them so they know I'm serious!

Give up on the well-done meat and just eat it rare the way it ought to be eaten...

Emm said...

Funny post! "La priorité à droite" sounds sensible to me, and as if it has some relationship to navigation rules with starboard having right of way. No idea why it should have evolved that way, though.

Jennifer said...

I have a hard time being assertive in lines and not letting others cut in front of me too, especially when they're cute little old ladies. I'm slowly learning!

We looked up that sign soon after moving here and almost being killed in Narbonne on certain streets that have priorité à droite. I'm so careful now!

Better just to avoid asking for water at all costs. :)
Thanks for teaching me a new word.

Jennifer said...

Merci! Glad you enjoyed it.

I have given up on the well done meat! If I order it, which is rare (no pun intended), I just accept the bright pink/red center and enjoy it for what it is. With frites. :)
There really are only a few words I struggle with. Also, the accent here is so different. We're told a word is pronounced a certain way by friends and neighbors from the south and then when we hang out with our friends from the north they correct our pronunciation too. Everywhere I turn someone is correcting the way I say grenouille! So I've stopped saying it.

In theory I think priorité à droite can work.
The problem is this: You're driving down a main thoroughfare, going the speed limit and surrounded by traffic, when all of a sudden a car will come zipping on to the main street from a little side street, not even looking to see if you or anyone else is already halfway through that intersection, because they have priority. Our brakes get a lot of use.

Tanya said...

Love this post!

Oddly enough, grenouille and feuille are no problem for me. My 'problem' word is orgueilleux.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Loulou, the word moelleux has two pronunciations. The older one is [mwah-LEUH]. It's based on the word moelle, pronounced [MWAHL]. This is the pronunciation you'll see in the dictionaries.

Nowaday, people more and more pronounce it [mweh-LEUH]. That's because they know how it is written. Other similar words — moelle [MWAHL] and poêle [PWAHL] — are still pronounced with the [AH] vowel.

Sorry to be such a pronunciation nerd. I used to teach French phonetics. I'm a firm believer in learning the phonetic system of a foreign language as a way to break out of thinking about how different letter combinations are pronounced in the native language, English in this case.

Veronica said...

Priorité à droite might have been a good idea once, but it isn't now, with so much traffic, travelling so fast. The introduction of roundabouts struck it a serious blow, as well as causing a certain amount of confusion since they are effectively priorité à gauche.

There's one roundabout in Lézignan that we call "rondpoint Papy" because the first few years we were here, some elderly man with a flat cap and a 4L would invariably chug out in front of you, ignoring the fact that he no longer had priority because he was on your right! Then there's "le carrefour de la politesse", where whatever direction we're coming from, we always seem to have priority :)

Michel said...

A very cute and true post about French language pitfalls. Not all chefs will even agree to cook beef "bien cuit"; we were with friends in a Paris bistro and we were told "non".

Food Lover Kathy said...

How funny, I was laughing out loud with each note! What is up with the cutting in line? I will never understand -- little old men, too. Even if the line is only one person long, it's some sort of game, I think. I lived in Paris for a while, no longer, and can relate to many of your notes, obviously the line cutting, and also the pronunciation. Basically anything with 2 or more vowels strung together I can forget about EVER saying correctly. Initially, I had the opposite problem with meat. I would order sagnant or rose and get a point...or worse, bien cuit!

Betty Carlson said...

The word I don't dare say is "bouilloire..."

Hey, is that banner photo from our visit to the Abbey of something or other?

Jennifer said...

Thanks for commenting and nice to meet you!
Yes, I agree that orgueilleux is a tough one.

That's the other word that I never seem to say correctly. I say it one way and am told it is the other way. Then the opposite.

"rondpoint Papy." I love it.

I've seen people in restaurants in the States being refused when they've tried to order filet mignon well done.

I'm not sure why they cut in line but it is perplexing!
Glad you enjoyed the post. :)

Yes that photo is the Abbaye de Fontfroide and you were with me when I took it. That was almost a year ago! When are you coming back?

Mlle Paradis said...

so. it was like that, this last week?

some weeks are like that i guess, wherever you are.

note to self: eat steak at home!

Jennifer said...

Mlle Paradis
There were a couple of moments last week, but these are all things I need to remember every time I leave the house. :)

Zachary said...

The guide to "La priorité à droite" is priceless. Can't tell you how confused I've been over that particular point.

emiglia said...

I can't pronounce moelleux either! Grenouille is ok, but tilleuil is horrid.

Jennifer said...

It is a very confusing law!

I forgot about tilleuil! Can't really pronounce that one either.

Janet said...

Excellent post and comments !
By the way, "grenouille" is much easier to pronounce than "strawberry" : I am French...
As for the dreadfully sweet little old ladies who "push and shove to get what they want", all you have to do is stretch one leg before them : they are so scared they could break their neck if they were to stumble that they will shrug their shoulders, mumble -oh ! ces Américains- and stay in line.
And probably add : " ils se croient tout permis parce qu'ils sont pleins aux as".
Translation ?

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the advice re: the line cutters. Not sure what that phrase translates to exactly...
Help, please? :)

Janet said...

suggested translations :

"ils se croient tout permis" = they thjnk they are kings of the world

"pleins aux as" = rolling in dough...

mais il y a sans doute mieux !

Jennifer said...


martina said...

I'd probably just ask for agua and confuse the waitstaff even more. Great pronounciation advice Ken.

Jennifer said...

When I go to Italy I unconsciously say the French word if I don't know the Italian word for something.