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Posts tagged ‘mistakes in French’

No. 358: Lost in Translation

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.

Au restaurant:

  • 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.


À l’hôtel:

  • 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.


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