I am a bit stressed tonight, and could use a laugh. Maybe you could too with Monday looming large? This short, and by no means exhaustive, sampling of ridiculous and cringe-worthy things we have said in French over the past few years should make you smile.
Out with an international French-speaking crowd one evening, and after finishing both my starter and main, and desperate to make polite conversation, I turned to the Swiss woman next to me and whispered, “Je n’ai plus femme.” (I no longer have a wife), rather than, “Je n’ai plus faim” (I’m not hungry any more). It would have been better to say, “J’ai bien mangé.”
Coming down the stairs from the loo at another resto, a young French gal asked me where the bathroom was. I told her to “Montez l’escalier et roulez à doite,” (go up the stairs and roll to the right), instead of “tournez à droite”. At least it made her smile.
Constantly struggling with pronunciation and distinguishing between words that sound alike (to me) in French, I have asked for “connard” (the mother of all swear words) instead of “canard” (duck) when ordering my plat principal more times than I care to remember.
Staying at our first French bed and breakfast in the Loire Valley, the adorable elderly owner came by to ask if we enjoyed our breakfast and if we wanted more to eat, Superman confidently told him, “Je suis pleine”. The proprietor was stunned to learn that Superman was pregnant.
Hastily leaving our hotel room to catch a train, I grabbed a bag of rubbish to throw in a bigger bin in the lobby. The cleaning staff was in the hallway, so I handed it to them and said, “C’est pour la pourboire.” (It’s for the tip), instead of saying “poubelle” (trash can). I’m guessing it is the worst tip they have ever received.
Faire des courses
When buying cheese for a dinner party one afternoon, Superman asked the formager if it was possible to sleep (coucher) with the cheese, instead of cut/slice (couper) the cheese. He must have wondered just what us Americans get up to at home.
Getting ready for Superman’s 50th birthday party I ran to the corner wine shop and asked the vendeur if I could have “three chilled bottles of champignons” (mushrooms) instead of champagne. Thankfully they were out of fungus that night.
Button and friends were out looking for a gag gift for an 18th birthday party and decided on a flask. Not knowing the word for flask, they checked Google translate and came up with “ballon”. They went from Tabac to Tabac asking cranky old Frenchmen, “Vous-avez des ballons?” (Do you have balls?)
Picking up a few items for dinner at the local Franprix one day, the cashier asked me if I needed a bag, I politely told her, “Non merci, je suis un sac.” (No thank you, I am a bag.) It was a bad hair day.
Trying to exchange an expensive item at the hardware store that was the wrong size, Superman was asked why he wanted to exchange it. The French words just weren’t coming, so rather than telling the salesman, “J’ai changé d’avis.” (I changed my mind), he told the salesman, “J’ai changé mon cerveau.” (I changed my brain.) Don’t you wish you could do that sometimes?
Avec le chien:
When walking Taz we are always asked, “Is he a boy or a girl.” When we first arrived in Paris, Superman often responded gaily, “Je suis un garcon!” (I am a boy!) As if it wasn’t obvious.
And last but not least, the first time we went on vacation without Taz, I diligently wrote the French family detailed instructions on how to care for the little guy. This of course included a recommendation that every morning when they take him out to carry with them “deux sacs de merde” (two bags of shit), instead of two “poop” bags. Curse you Google Translate!!!
If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t trying, n’est pas? I hope you had a good chuckle.
Here is what I know about the American military’s Ready to Eat Meals or MREs: the military chefs strive to make meals that “don’t just taste good… but last … for three years stored at 80 degrees F (26 degrees C), are capable of withstanding chemical or biological attacks, and (can) survive a 10-story free fall (when packed in a crate of 12).”
American MRE: noodles in butter flavored sauce and toaster pastries
American MRE: chili macaroni
I am assuming that the French Ration de Combat Individuelle Rechauffable (Reheatable Individual Combat Rations) or RCIRs, which a friend of mine in Paris let me take a peak at, have to follow the same rigorous guidelines, as they are NATO approved.
French RCIR: slightly more gourmand…
Whatever the circumstances, you’ve got to love the French’s dedication to meal planning. I don’t know what the rest of the brave soldiers serving their countries are eating tonight, but somewhere in the world, some French soldiers are eating rillettes de saumon préparé en Bretagne (salmon pâté from Brittany).
rillettes de saumon préparé en Bretagne, along with some other very French eats…
SALMON RILLETTES : Food and Wine Magazine – Anna Zepaltas
ACTIVE: 30 MIN
TOTAL TIME: 1 HR 45 MIN
SERVINGS: MAKES 2 CUPS
. 1/2 pound center-cut, skinless salmon fillet
. 1 tablespoon anise-flavored liqueur, such as Pernod
. Freshly ground white pepper
. 1 celery rib
. 1 leek, halved lengthwise
. 1 small onion, quartered lengthwise
. 1 bay leaf
. 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
. 1 cup dry white wine
. 4 cups water
. 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
. 1 large shallot, minced (1/4 cup)
. 1/2 tablespoon sour cream
. 1/4 pound skinless hot-smoked salmon, flaked
. 2 tablespoons snipped chives
. 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
. 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
. 1/4 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
. Toasted baguette slices, for serving
On a plate, sprinkle the salmon with the anise liqueur and season with salt and white pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, bring the celery, leek, onion, bay leaf, peppercorns, wine and water to a boil. Simmer for 25 minutes.
Add the salmon to the pan, cover and remove from the heat; let stand for 10 minutes. Remove the salmon, picking off any peppercorns, and refrigerate until chilled, about 45 minutes. Flake the salmon.
In a skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat until softened. Let cool.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter until smooth. Whisk in the sour cream. Add the cooled shallot, along with the poached and smoked salmon, chives, lemon juice, olive oil and paprika and stir until combined. Season the rillettes with salt and white pepper. Serve with toasted baguette slices.
The rillettes can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Pack into a crock and press a sheet of plastic wrap onto the surface. Pour melted butter over the top to seal in freshness.
I think I am getting my comeuppance for posting so much about our long and warm fall and our early and bright spring.
We have definitely hit a rainy spell in France……and by rain, I mean “cats and dogs” type of rain. Which of course got me to thinking about the equally vivid, but much less random French phrase, il pleut des cordes, or it is raining cords, as in, there is so much rain, the drops have joined together like long thin ropes dangling between the heavens and earth.
Which is much more poetic than “cats and dogs”, especially now that I’ve researched the genesis of that not-so-whimsical-to-me-anymore phrase. There are of course many different theories about the origins of our four-footed friends tumbling from the skies. They most fanciful being that in the olden-days thatched roofs couldn’t support perched animals in the rain and they literally fell through your roof when it rained. The phrase more likely originates from inferior seventeenth century drainage systems, where heavy rains washed dead and decaying cats, dogs, rats, and birds stuck in the gutters onto the streets.
A less grim and more agreeable explanation (and one that will please francophiles) is that the phrase “cats and dogs” is merely a mispronunciation of an old French word: “catadupe” which meant “waterfall”. And raining waterfalls makes a heck of a lot more sense, and conjures a much more pleasant image than cats and dogs plummeting to the ground.
David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day is a must read for any expat in France, especially those of us who have taken too many French classes to count, and are still longing to “talk pretty” one day. In this particular excerpt, Sedaris and his global classmates are asked to explain the religious significance of Easter to an Islamic student who has never heard of the holiday. Without having the vocabulary for “cross” or “resurrection” let alone, “He gave His only begotten Son”, the conversation, and I use that term very loosely, quickly degenerates to trying to explain the Easter Bunny, and understand how and why the French Easter Bells fly in from Rome.
Take a listen (or read the transcript below).
It is a dead on and excruciatingly accurate (and hilarious) portrayal of those cringe worthy moments in French class when your dismal vocabulary and tenuous grasp on grammar leads you to say things like:
“He call his self Jesus, and then he be die one day on two . . . morsels of . . . lumber.”
Jesus Shaves by David Sedaris
“And what does one do on the fourteenth of July? Does one celebrate Bastille Day?”
It was my second month of French class, and the teacher was leading us in an exercise designed to promote the use of one, our latest personal pronoun. “Might one sing on Bastille Day?” she asked. “Might one dance in the street? Somebody give me an answer.”
Printed in our textbooks was a list of major holidays alongside a scattered arrangement of photos depicting French people in the act of celebration. The object was to match the holiday with the corresponding picture. It was simple enough but seemed an exercise better suited to the use of the word they. I didn’t know about the rest of the class, but when Bastille Day eventually rolled around, I planned to stay home and clean my oven. Normally, when working from the book, it was my habit to tune out my fellow students and scout ahead, concentrating on the question I’d calculated might fall to me, but this afternoon, we were veering from the usual format. Questions were answered on a volunteer basis, and I was able to sit back, confident that the same few students would do the talking.
Today’s discussion was dominated by an Italian nanny, two chatty Poles, and a pouty, plump Moroccan woman who had grown up speaking French and had enrolled in the class to improve her spelling. She’d covered these lessons back in the third grade and took every opportunity to demonstrate her superiority. A question would be asked and she’d give the answer, behaving as though this were a game show and, if quick enough, she might go home with a tropical vacation or a side-by-side refrigerator-freezer. By the end of her first day, she’d raised her hand so many times, her shoulder had given out. Now she just leaned back in her seat and shouted the answers, her bronzed arms folded across her chest like some great grammar genie.
We finished discussing Bastille Day, and the teacher moved on to Easter, which was represented in our textbook by a black-and-white photograph of a chocolate bell lying upon a bed of palm fronds. “And what does one do on Easter? Would anyone like to tell us?” The Italian nanny was attempting to answer the question when the Moroccan student interrupted, shouting, “Excuse me, but what’s an Easter?” Despite her having grown up in a Muslim country, it seemed she might have heard it mentioned once or twice, but no. “I mean it,” she said. “I have no idea what you people are talking about.”
The teacher then called upon the rest of us to explain. The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability.
“It is,” said one, “a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and . . . oh, shit.” She faltered, and her fellow countryman came to her aid. “He call his self Jesus, and then he be die one day on two . . . morsels of . . . lumber.”
The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.
“He die one day, and then he go above of my head to live with your father.”
“He weared the long hair, and after he died, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples.”
“He nice, the Jesus.”
“He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today.”
Part of the problem had to do with grammar. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as “To give of yourself your only begotten son.” Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.
“Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb,” the Italian nanny explained. “One, too, may eat of the chocolate.”
“And who brings the chocolate?” the teacher asked.
I knew the word, and so I raised my hand, saying, “The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate.”
My classmates reacted as though I’d attributed the delivery to the Antichrist. They were mortified.
“A rabbit?” The teacher, assuming I’d used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wiggling them as though they were ears. “You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?”
“Well, sure,” I said. “He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have the basket and foods.”
The teacher sadly shook her head, as if this explained everything that was wrong with my country.
“No, no,” she said. “Here in France the chocolate is brought by the big bell that flies in from Rome.”
I called for a time-out.
“But how do the bell know where you live?”
“Well,” she said, “how does a rabbit?”
It was a decent point, but at least a rabbit has eyes. That’s a start. Rabbits move from place to place, while most bells can only go back and forth–and they can’t even do that on their own power. On top of that, the Easter Bunny has character; he’s someone you’d like to meet and shake hands with. A bell has all the personality of a cast-iron skillet. It’s like saying that come Christmas, a magic dustpan flies in from the North Pole, led by eight flying cinder blocks.
Who wants to stay up all night so they can see a bell? And why fly one in from Rome when they’ve got more bells than they know what to do with right here in Paris? That’s the most implausible aspect of the whole story, as there’s no way the bells of France would allow a foreign worker to fly in and take their jobs. That Roman bell would be lucky to get work cleaning up after a French bell’s dog -and even then he’d need papers.
It just didn’t add up.
Nothing we said was of any help to the Moroccan student. A dead man with long hair supposedly living with her father, a leg of lamb served with palm fronds and chocolate. Confused and disgusted, she shrugged her massive shoulders and turned her attention back to the comic book she kept hidden beneath her binder.
I wondered then if, without the language barrier, my classmates and I could have done a better job making sense of Christianity, an idea that sounds pretty far-fetched to begin with. In communicating any religious belief, the operative word is faith, a concept illustrated by our very presence in that classroom. Why bother struggling with the grammar lessons of a six- year-old if each of us didn’t believe that, against all reason, we might eventually improve?
If I could hope to one day carry on a fluent conversation, it was a relatively short leap to believing that a rabbit might visit my home in the middle of the night, leaving behind a handful of chocolate kisses and a carton of menthol cigarettes. So why stop there? If I could believe in myself, why not give other improbabilities the benefit of the doubt? I accepted the idea that an omniscient God had cast me in his own image and that he watched over me and guided me from one place to the next. The virgin birth, the resurrection, and the countless miracles -my heart expanded to encompass all the wonders and possibilities of the universe.
Not that my dear friend Suzanne Heintz needs any more publicity. She and her unusual family have finally gone viral over the last few weeks. But as I get her daily updates of who is featuring her story moment by moment (currently our Latin friends at BBC MUNDO), I got to thinking that this might be a story my readers would like.
It’s a story of friendship, faith, fate and a lot of stick-to-it-ness, with just a little bit of inspiration thrown in from this beautiful city I call home.
I met Suzanne nearly 30 years ago when we were working at the circulation desk at Norlin Library at the University of Colorado, Boulder. With Jeanne and Mary, we were four best friends, creative and funny, with the absolute belief that we could do anything we set our minds to. Nothing could stop the Four Musketeers. To this day, I think if you asked any of us, we would tell you without batting an eye, that working at Norlin Library was the best job we ever had. Those were the days of the Beautiful People of America (our tongue-in-cheek anti-sorority club), practical jokes, major crushes on our dishy coworker, John Duane, and keypunch computer cards.
After graduating from CU with Robert Redford in 1988, we all headed our separate ways, and tried to hang on to our devil-may-care attitude. I went on to study in Germany and Washington, D.C., married Superman, lived in Indonesia, moved back to Colorado to raise our girls, and eventually landed in Paris. Mary went on to New York and became an Emmy and DGA award-winning television Director and wonderful maman. Jeanne headed to the Peace Corps first and then onto Chile with her husband and daughter and eventually became a professor and Director of Political Science, at the Universidad de Concepción. And Suzie, well she went on to work in television and media as a Designer and Art Director.
The Beautiful People of America…later known as Beautiful People International
We all had our outside passions and dreams, and for Suzie it was photography. After a straw-breaking confrontation with her mom about her continuing “spinsterhood”, she decided to combine her love affair with the camera with her outrage at being expected to conform to societal norms. For almost 14 years now, Suzanne has been “satirizing the idea of conforming to a universally accepted way of life, married life”, that is. As you can imagine, the energy of battling the “external pressures of culture, and the internal pressures” she put on herself “to fit into the expectations” of society, built up over time, and thus her defiant project: Life Once Removed wasborn.
This is not just a project photographing her mannequin family in comedic real life situations, this is a photography project and performance art piece with teeth and a valid point. Just take a look at her short, Playing House, recently screened at the Women’s Film Festival in Denver.
I have been lucky enough to dip in and out of this art project over the years. Sometimes helping her stage and photograph her fabulous family Christmas cards, sometimes brainstorming the next great shoot, and most recently hosting her (and her inflexible family) in Paris for the family vacation of a lifetime.
This vacation was a real labor of love and a true test of our friendship. Let’s just say mannequin wrangling is NOT for the faint of heart.
It was two weeks of constant dragging, assembling, dressing, re-dressing, salvaging broken digits, murmuring from my frightened guardienne, arguing with the gendarmerie, and stealing secret footage when they looked the other way. It was hours of holding heavy light kits, managing wardrobe malfunctions, retrieving lost batteries, applying bright red lipstick and too much hairspray, and dazzling smiles. Our nights were filled with foot massages, good wine, tears, aching shoulders, late night soul baring, and booming disagreements, followed by hours of laughter and lots of fine dance music.
My Paris girlfriends stepped up to help my outlandish and unknown friend. From chauffeuring to snapping shots and learning new skills, to translating and dealing with some stubborn French authoritarians, to recruiting family members to help out and standing for hours in the freezing June rain, to all of the above at once, I will always remember how this group of women came through in a pinch to help another women realize her dream. Chapeau! Chère Nicola, Emily, Julie and Catherine…and, bien sûr, Superman and my girlfriends’ hubbys too.
And now after almost a decade and a half of doing the creative work, and nine months since our unusual visitors departed Paris, Suzie is finally having her moment in the sun. Hallelujah! It is so wonderful to see.
Chin Chin to you Suz! Thanks for reminding me that our devil-may-care ways of old are still the key to happiness and success, and that art is both important and hard. But most importantly that it’s (also) kind of fun to do the impossible!*
Chapeau! Hats off! Congratulations! (and in my case, merci beaucoup mes amies!)
Chin Chin! Cheers!
guardienne: caretaker (usually of an apartment building)
* it’s kind of fun to do the impossible! – Walt Disney
The French have a very unique brand of humor. Sometimes it annoys the heck out of me, sometimes it makes me stop and say, “What the f**k?!”, but most of the time it makes me smile and be glad to be able to experience absurdity from a different cultural perspective.
Yesterday at the Corrida de Noël was no exception. Humour à la française was out in force.
The bûche de Noël, absolutely the most hilarious déguisement of the day.
French smiley face?
Yikes! I got flashed by Mrs. Clause.
Fish head Santas? WTF!
Òu est Charlie?
WTF? Still not quite sure what this was all about.