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No. 46: Faux Amis

There are so many things I love about learning French. One of my favorite is the chance to collect the funny stories or ridiculous things foreigners say as we plod along in our language classes. It can get particularly silly in French.

Donc, over the past three weeks, I have been compiling a list of faux amis, or false friends, that my classmates and I have incorrectly used in our attempt to communicate with our prof. These are the words that look the same (or nearly the same) in French and English, which foreigners desperately throw into their conversations in hopes of being understood.

Although there are thousands of words that are true cognates or vrai amis in French, I’ve found that sometimes it’s better not to simply throw in the English word, and avoid feeling like un imbécile.

For example, it’s best not to ask an owner of a fruit orchard if she puts préservatifs in her jam, as I’m quite sure she hasn’t been adding condoms to her confiture. Better to say: conservateurs or agent de conservation.

When someone asks you to bring your baskets, don’t go looking for some nice wooden ones, better to head to the closet and pick up your tennis shoes/trainers.

If you are a single male at a bar, you might not want to start the conversation by notifying the ladies that you are un bachelier, unless you want to impress upon them that you did indeed pass the bac (the French equivalent of a high school degree.) Try célibataire instead.

Shopping for some lingerie or undergarments, please don’t ask where the bras are, or you could end up in the storage room with the spare mannequin arms.   Ask for the soutien-gorge instead.

When you go to vote, don’t expect to get un ballot, unless you want to hang out with the nitwits or nerds. If you want to make sure your vote is counted, see if they will rustle you up a un bulletin de vote.

Don’t ever ask someone if you can pet le chien, unless you want them to call the animal welfare agency to ticket you for thumping, beating, or passing gas on their furry friend. You’ll be better off if you simply ask if you can câliner or caresser the little guy.

When you come down with the inevitable autumn cold, don’t tell your prof that you can’t speak because you avoir la flemme, unless you are trying to tell him, “you really can’t be bothered” or you are “just plain lazy”. Rather explain to him that you have la mucosité in your throat.

If you are so sick that you have to go to the doctor, please don’t tell him that you have un pain in your throat, or he might spend the next 30 minutes rooting around for last night’s baguette. (Instead explain that you are mal à la gorge.)

And finally, when you are eating in a restau or café, it’s better not to ask the waiter for more napkins, unless you really need a couple of sanitary pads. Best to ask for une serviette.

So, what are some of the funny Franglais conversations you’ve had with the French? Please send in your comments, I can always use a few more chuckles in my life.


avoir la flemme: can’t be bothered with

baskets: tennis shoes/trainers

bras: arms

câliner: to pet, pat

caresser: to caress, pet

célibataire: (to be) single

confiture: jam

conservateurs, agent de conservation: preservatives

faux amis: false friends

la mucosité: phlegm, mucus

le chien: male dog

mal à la gorge: to have a sore throat

napkins: sanitary pads

pain: bread

pet (péter): to thump, beat, pass gas, fart

préservatifs: condoms

soutien-gorge: bra

un bachelier: someone who has passed the bac (high school degree)

un ballot: a nitwit, nerd

un bulletin de vote: a ballot

un restau: cool way to say restaurant

une serviette: a napkin

vrai amis: real friends


3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sarah Larson #

    I love these…a great list! Preservatif and serviette are especially good…those would be really embarrassing to misuse!

    November 12, 2013
    • Yes. I have several British friends who misused preservatif with their prospective French mother-in-laws. Their stories still get told at family gatherings 20+ years later.

      November 12, 2013

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  1. Confusing Pairs: Habiter/Vivre, Célébrer/Fêter, Tant/Autant |

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