Wednesday, June 11, 2014

My Favorite French Words

Last night the girls and I were getting ice cream and there was a middle aged American couple behind us in line. I heard the lady say "I don't know what that is..." in reference to one of the flavors.  I turned around and said something like, "Oh, do you need help translating?" Her response? "Uh, no. I speak french fluently. Sorry." 

Well excusez-moi. I was just trying to help. Typically I never ask if people need help on the streets, mainly because I find it obnoxious. The few times I have, however, offered americans help on the metro or in the post office they have been exceedingly grateful and call me things like smart and adorable. It's always been a fairly positive experience. But not last night. By the way, her husband asked me about the flavor she didn't know and I gave them the translation. He thanked me. She did not. 

Excluding that lady and her sweet husband, many americans that come to France don't speak more french than merci and bonjour. Or if you're my mother mercy and bone- jour. I speak plenty of french, but most of the time when I start a conversation with a french person they will immediately respond to me in broken english. In order to prevent that, I've started using a limited amount of vocabulary to strangers; vocabulary that is informal, common, and easy to pronounce. Vocabulary that says I speak french fluently even if you don't. Here are some of my favorites:

c'est pas grave: (loosely translated to) don't worry about it. Say it when someone spills coffee on you, say it when someone says pardon, say it when someone says they don't have your size in those pants.

ouais: pronounced way, meaning yeah. So much less formal and more common than a strict oui

bien sûr: They use it as of course, but technically it's well sure. Use it when someone says can my grandfather have your seat on the metro, sir?

coucou: Hey. how cute is that?

ciao: Yes, this is italian. But it is used constantly in the french language. 

putain: Okay so fine, technically this is a swear word. A sexist swear word at that. And you really shouldn't use it directly to a french person you don't know (ahem, kind of offensive). But as much as I hate sexist swear words, if someone overhears you saying it correctly (stress the second syllable) they will think you are french. And that is quite the accomplishment. Also, according to this girl it's the only french word you need. 

biche: Used as a term of endearment between girlfriends. It means deer, but they say it because it sounds like bitch. For a less offensive version try bichette.

So if you travel to France, n'hesitez pas d'use any of the above words. Or maybe hesitate a little. Just factor in the context, okay?


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