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Posts from the ‘French’ Category

No. 150: Métro, Boulot, DoDo

I love my new French phrase: métro, boulot, dodo.

I’ll be using it a lot when winter break is over, and we’re back to keeping our noses to the grindstone.



…back to work for Taz in Paris...

…back to work for Taz in Paris…



La routine: commute, work and sleep; the rat race

No. 139: All Things French in English

Before moving to France I took for granted all the things we call “French” in English. Since I’ve lived here, I’ve become curious to find out exactly what those things are.

I mean French bread—loosely refers to a baguette, although much larger and wider in most grocery stores in America. A French braid, I’m very familiar with, as my girls have spent hours plaiting each other’s hair. We all know what a French kiss is, and as teenagers became familiar with “Frenching”, the verb. But what exactly are French lentils or French vanilla? What does French blue mean? And why do we refer to a disgusting mayo, ketchup and sweet relish dressing as “French”, when I’ve never, ever seen it in France?

Donc, whenever I have a long bus ride, or am bored, I’ve been looking up these curious items to figure out what is what. This is what I’ve come up with so far. Some are more obvious than other. As I’m on a diet, today’s post focuses on food, of course…corrections welcome, svp.


  • French beanle haricot vert—a long thin green bean that is eaten whole.
  • French endiveas far as I can tell, is just endive. I think some of us call it chicory.
  • French fryla (pomme de terre) fritefried potato sticks, originating in Belgium, thank you very much.
  • French lentilsles lentilles du Puy—lentils from the French town of Puy. Delicate, earthy, and peppery they hold their shape well, take a little longer to cook, but are perfect for salads.french-lentils-Paris
  • French dip sandwich—beef sandwich dipped into beef juice (au jus)—has anyone ever had one of these in France?
  • French dressingla vinaigrette – I think this is what the French would call French dressing; in the UK “French dressing” is usually vinaigrette, none of that nasty tomato-relish-mayo stuff.
  • French rollun petit pain –I think this is just a generic term for a small single serving roll; also refers to an updo.
  • French roast coffee—named because of the roasting style in France; a double roasted coffee; intense and smoky.
  • French vanilla ice creammade using an egg custard base and having a caramelized and slightly floral taste; also more yellow in color than regular vanilla ice cream.


  • French silk piea pie with a chocolate mousse or pudding filling and whipped cream topping; it appears to have originated in the American south. I have never seen it in France.


  • French toastle pain perdu—literally “lost bread”; it did not originate in France and soon will be a subject of another post.


Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to open my French door to use my French press after taking out my French twist before I have a lie down in my French bed under my French roof…

…to be continued…

No. 128: maman gâteau

maman gâteau:

femme très attentionnée, qui fait des cadeaux; a very caring/attentive woman who gives presents…

soft, indulgent mother/woman...

I’m not feeling too confident about my French today after yesterday’s post, but I came across this phrase yesterday when I was reading. Not quite sure exactly what it meant,  I went in search of a definition. The second definition: soft, indulgent mother/woman…made more sense in the context of what I was reading. If I’m on target, the phrase makes me smile, because the literal translation is “cake mom” or “mom of cake”…

Who wouldn’t want a cake mom?




maman gâteausoft, indulgent mother; but literally, cake mother

maman: mom; mother

No. 127: French Body Language

Lately I have been spending more time with a couple of French women. We try to speak French, but invariably we end up in English as they are far more fluent in my native tongue than I am in theirs. But it is still wonderful, and I feel like I am finally getting a small insiders view to what makes the French woman tick.

I have been secretly studying them, and trying to learn how to be a little more French, at least in my gestures, sounds and facial expressions. I find it very interesting because sometimes their gestures have completely different meanings from the same gesture in America, and sometimes they are gestures I’d never seen before moving to France.

Here are a few of my favorites that I am practicing en ce moment. I’m pretty sure most of these should only be used among friends.

*Ce n’est pas ma faute / Je n’en sais rien.

The French Shrug

These phrases usually accompanies the good old Gallic shrug—raised shoulders, raised eyebrows, lower lip thrust out, hands held up like you are being robbed. Meaning: It’s not my fault / I don’t know (how that happened).



C’est Nul!

thumbs downThis saying accompanies the American thumbs down gesture to indicate something is worthless, foolish or just plain bad.


Nul! This one might confuse Americans because for us it’s the A-OK gesture—as in making a circle with your index finger and thumb while your other three fingers stay up. In French body language this actually means zero, zip, nothing, and, I’m guessing, irrelevant.



J’ai du nez.*

Nose_TapThis is a saying I don’t hear very often, but I see this gesture a lot when French women are talking together. They tap their nose with their index finger and look mischievously in your eyes. This, I believe, means they are cunning and quick and have seen the truth faster than anyone else in the conversation. I adore this gesture. It always makes me smile.


Il a un verre dans le nez.

alcoholThis saying and gesture is for when someone you’re hanging out with has had a bit too much to drink. For comedic relief (or behind the drinkers back), you make a fist and hold it up in front of your nose, tilt your head and twist your hand. Try it out at your next party.



Chut! / Silence!

Silence!When you want some one to shut up or fermez-la, you can hold up your index finger in the air (not in front of your lips), and give a severe look to the people disturbing you. French teachers use this gesture frequently.

Du fric!

too expensive!If you are out shopping with your French girlfriends or even talking about shopping or buying something, you will hear this expression. It accompanies the holding out of your hand and rubbing your thumb across you fingertips. This specifies that something is too expensive for you, or you need the money to buy it.

Et enfin…



Victoire!I never actually hear women say, “Victoire!”, but I see this symbol all the time. This, of course, in America is the “peace sign” or is used to signifies the number 2, when ordering something, but in France it means victory or success in accomplishing something.

* Please see the comment section for a reader’s different interpretation of some of these gestures. I am very grateful for all your feedback and corrections. French, it isn’t easy for me!


en ce moment: at the moment

Et enfin…And finally…

fermez-la: shut it, or shut up

Victoire! Victory!

No. 116: American Optimism

I haven’t posted for a while because, frankly, sometimes the French just get me down. And lately they’ve really been bringing me down.

Some days, some weeks, some months, it seems like nothing is possible in France. I hate to go down the road of crabby expat, but lately many things (from the smallest thing—trying to pay for a baguette with a 20€ note, to things on a grand scale—looking into applying for a work visa, have been branded by the French as: “Ce (n’est) pas possible!”


I was pushed to my last nerve this afternoon as I was biking to a birthday lunch. I was riding against traffic in a clearly marked bike lane, following all the rules of the road. (Bike lanes on streets in Paris are marked with a picture of a vélo and an arrow pointing in the direction you should be biking.) Twice, I found myself blocked by a car driving or stopped in the bike lane, leaving me absolutely no room to pass. There were three alternatives. Hastily hop off my bike and walk it on the sidewalk around parked cars and pedestrians; squeeze into the lane of oncoming traffic and pray the drivers would move over and let me pass rather than knock me over; or three, gingerly tap on the window and ask the driver if they would, “Please move.”

Being the polite (and stubborn) sort, I chose to tap on the window and ask (as if it wasn’t already obvious to them) to move their car, s’il vous plaît.

s'il vous plaît...

s’il vous plaît…

The first time I tried this, the woman just shook her head and muttered, “Ce pas possible.” Although there was a good five feet ahead of her to scoot into, she rolled up her window, refused to make any more eye contact, and laughed aloud like I was the most hilarious thing she had ever come across.

The second time I came fender to fender with another faultlessly coifed femme d’un certain âge, before I could even open my mouth, she told me defiantly, “Ce n’est pas possible!” Then she glowered and added, “Ce n’est pas ma faute.” Well friend, then who can I blame for you driving in the bike lane?

At this point, only 10 minutes into my 30-minute ride, I lost it, and went into my why-are-you-frickin’-Parisians-so-damn-mean-and-rude diatribe, en anglais, bien sûr, because, sadly, I can’t argue or swear in French. (Note to self: work on French “fighting words”.)

The result, of course, was nothing more than a tight-faced smirk from la femme and a feeling of helplessness from moi. When she did finally move, she made sure to hit me with her mirror, c’est normal!

Although my day, thanks in large part to an Anglophone/Italian birthday party held at a new Paris resto run by a native South Carolinian, only got better, I found myself thinking of those two encounters on and off. I felt sullen and defeated as I mounted my bike for the ride chez moi.

But then something small and wonderful happened when I came home and turned on the light in the kitchen. There spread across the rustic fruitwood table were six freshly planted window boxes waiting to be place on the sill…ready and willing, and against all the odds, planning to grow me some herbs.

window boxes

Now this might not seem remarkable, but remember, it is only January 21.

Donc, this Francophile was reminded of one of the great things about NOT being French. For all my countries faults and follies, I am grateful to have grown up in a country brimming with optimism. If Superman wants to try and grow an herb garden in the middle of winter, well then dang it all, give it a go! What have you got to lose? A couple of Euros spent on seeds, and some happy time spent dreaming.

You know what, my dear French amis and enemies, “C’est possible!”

Vive l’optimisme américain!



amis: friends

C’est normal. That’s normal; as usual

C’est possible! It’s possible!

Ce n’est pas ma faute. It’s not my fault.

Ce (n’est) pas possible! It’s not possible!

chez moi: (at) home

en anglais, bien sûr: in English, of course

femme d’un certain âge: literally, woman of a certain age, which in France implies a certain type of sexual prowess, or when it comes to bike riders vs. cars, radically rude women over 50.

la femme: the woman, lady, wife

moi: me

s’il vous plaît: please

Vive l’optimisme américain! Long live American optimism!

vélo: bicycle

No. 111: Learning to Laugh at Myself

I go through extreme ups and extreme downs when it comes to learning French. Some weeks I feel very confident and have great ego-boosting moments when I faire les courses, give proper directions to lost French tourists, or can have a solid conversation with my gardienne. But there are a lot of weeks, when I feel like a toddler trapped in a grown woman’s body just trying to be understood.

Learning French has been one of my biggest stumbling blocks over the last 5 years. I’ve studied hard and taken many classes. I listen to French on my iPod everyday. I keep journals of new vocabulary. I do lots of grammar worksheets. I’m fine on paper when I read and write, and I’m fine on understanding spoken French. But often when I speak, I completely freeze. My mouth dries up, my tongue gets tied, and my brain seems to go on holiday. It is a pattern I can’t seem to break.

Spoken French is the monkey on my back.



I just wish he would climb off and head back to the tropics!

2014 has to be the year that I finally stick to my resolution to stop being afraid of making mistakes and learn to laugh at myself.

Having been trying to make that resolution my mantra for the last 2 weeks, it was quite fortuitous that this (from my new favorite online teacher, Géraldine of Comme une Française TV ) showed up today, just as I was beating myself up about a rough exchange with Air France over the telephone.

Géraldine is great at making me realize I am not alone in my foibles and always encourages her students to shrug it off, chuckle at yourself, and keep on trying.

Give her newest video a lookie-loo and smile!

Five (Very) Embarrassing Mistakes from Comme une Française TV

  1. Je te baise ≠ I give/send you a kiss; it does mean: I (want to) f*ck you. It’s much better to say: je t’embrasse.
  2. Je suis excité(e) ≠ I’m excited for/to; it does mean: I am aroused. It’s better to say: J’ai hâte de… or je suis impatient al’idée de…(I’m looking forward to…)
  3. Une amie m’a introduit ≠ a friend introduced me to; It does mean: A friend inserted themselves in me. Better to say: Une amie m’a parlé de
  4. Des préservatifs ≠ preservative; it does mean: condoms. Don’t ask your mother-in-law if there are préservatifs in her jam, better to say conservateurs.
  5. Je suis chaud ≠ I’m hot (temperature-wise); it does mean: I’m horny/I’m hot (for you) or very motivated. Remember to use: J’ai chaud instead.
 A great website for learning everyday French: source:

A great website for learning everyday French: source:


Comme une Française: Like a French (woman), as in speak like a French woman; also a brilliant website to learn very practical French taught by a thoughtful but silly française.

gardienne: caretaker, the person (often a Portuguese woman) who watches over your apartment building

faire les courses: do the shopping, run errands

I love this website: do take a look!

I love this website: do take a look!

Number 104: Being a Fake Tourist

I am the first to admit that living in a foreign country (even France—or maybe especially France) can be exhausting.

It’s very true in Paris that the Parisians can wear you down, from the careless cigarettes in your face on a crowded street, to the glaring games of chicken on the narrow sidewalks, to their indifference and superiority when you try to converse in French, it all gets kind of old after awhile…

…especially after you have spent 2 weeks in a much friendlier and relaxed part of France being bowled over by overtly pleasant French people.


But being a fulltime temporary residence of a strange land does have its benefits.  In addition to the obvious ones: getting to really know your new home, making personal connections, experiencing life the way the natives do, etc., there is one less obvious benefit that I like to take advantage of every now and then: being a fake tourist.

I don’t do this very often, but there are days in my beloved France when I just want the mental break from trying to be too French, or from stressing out about getting my grammar and pronunciation right. I give my feet a break from wearing uncomfortable, but beautiful, shoes. I give up on eating small acceptable portions, and instead, I allow my casual, optimistic American upbringing to take the lead.

source: the

source: the

On these rare days I consciously let myself go into tourist-mode and breathe a sigh of relief.

Okay, so I don’t go as far as slipping on my running shoes, white socks, workout clothes and baseball cap. I don’t strap on a fanny pack and wander cluelessly in the bike lanes. I don’t use my really loud outside voice to press on as if no one else in this entire country can follow my conversation or understand English. And I certainly don’t make grand exclamations about how things would be better if the French just did it the American way.

What I do do is generously allow myself to see this city and country as if I had never set one teeny tiny toe on the other side of the Atlantic. I open my eyes wide and pretend I am a complete newbie, and…ssshhhh….I don’t speak French, at all. (Don’t tell anyone.)

Oh, and sometimes I scandalize those moody, dark Parisians by wearing a pink coat!

IMG_0402 2

On fake-tourist-days, I allow myself to peruse the tourist trinkets and bargain with the North Africans selling black market handbags. I stand in other people’s way and take pictures of important monuments. If the weather is nice, I’ll take a cheap cruise on the Seine. When the spirit moves me, I might buy a slice of pizza or possibly a hotdog, or even an American candy bar in lieu of a salad Périgourdine or a 3€ maître-made piece of chocolate. I will smile at strangers and I’ve been known to inquire as to how they are feeling. It’s all so freeing.



Hmmm….when I see all this freedom in writing, it occurs to me that maybe I ought to play at being a fake tourist more often, except of course for the speaking French part…I’ll save that luxury for the days when I really need a break.


maître: master

salad Périgourdine: Perigord salad; a salad originating in the Perigord region of France and consisting of crisp lettuce, cooked or preserved duck giblets, bread cubes, chopped walnuts, walnut oil, and wine vinegar