Faux Pas Friday: Nice Boules!

Shout-outs to Janet, Erica, Lydia, and Melanie for sending in some great faux pas. I’ll save my own stories for another time and give the spotlight over to them.

I feel a strange affinity for reader Lydia because we started blogging at the same time and she’s working on a novel, too. (Although, she actually seems to be working on hers, while I just imagine writing mine).

In any case, she’s deep in rural France where I’m sure faux pas become part of the local lore. People have long memories in small towns.

Picture her at a children’s birthday party, a large one, the entire village seems to be in attendance. Sugar rush, open lawns, the noise grows unbearable. Deciding it’s time for a “quiet game,” she wants to tell the children to lie down to begin a game called “sleeping lions.”

Only…”The trouble was, I couldn’t remember how to say ‘lie down.’ Unfortunately, in the tiny pocket dictionary I had on me, the word ‘lie’ was next to the word ‘lick.’ You can imagine the looks I got from all the assembled parents as I merrily shouted to all the children to ‘lick themselves.’ …Their amused faces and the fact that none of the children lay down as instructed, told me that something was very wrong…” Lydia

Well, Lydia still seems to be living in the same place, so I guess she wasn’t run out of town.

XMas Balls
Next we have Janet, who reminds me that as difficult as it is to learn France French, at least I have only one version to learn. While she’s currently in Belgium with one kind of French, she’s married to a French Canadian speaking a whole other kind.

One innocent Christmas vacation at her in-laws’ house, Janet decided to try out her French skills by commenting on the lovely decorations, especially the eye-catching Christmas balls hanging on the tree. Only boules is also slang for “boobs” in those parts – not exactly what she meant to say. (I’ll remember this for the next holiday).

Now this brings up an interesting point, as I’m pretty sure boules in French France is also slang for, well, you know, balls.

My husband will also sometimes exclaim, “oh les boules,” when something is wrong, or has caused shame, or is sad. (You’ve picked up the pitfalls of learning through immersion – since he can’t give me the English equivalent, I just kind of make “an educated guess” about a word or phrases’ true meaning).

Basically, unless I’m playing basketball or petanque or some other game involving balls, I’m just going to avoid using the word balls.

And finally Erica. Oh Erica. I think she might have a winner, but her story makes me blush too much to actually recount it. Let’s just say it’s a story involving farm animals that quickly goes astray.

What should give us courage is that this particular faux pas was made by a Francophone, trying to translate a French idiom into English. Pesky idioms. Those are definitely the hardest. The French make these mistakes, too! You’ll have to read the comments in the first post to find out the faux pas, as she really sets it up best.

Fancy art in here

After all that, I feel I must note that I have attended two readings, an art show, and finished an incredible book this week (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay). It’s been a bit risque lately, what with lingerie sightings and library lust, and now these faux pas, but I can assure you, I’ve been cultivating my mind as well.

(Only, faux pas are faux pas because they’re inappropriate, right? So what can you expect? Keep sending them in. They’re so fun to read!”)

Next post, I’ll try to come up with something more highbrow…though who knows what will happen!

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10 Responses to “Faux Pas Friday: Nice Boules!”


  1. 1 pariskarin March 12, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    “Next post, I’ll try to come up with something more highbrow…” Nooooooo!! I like it just the way it is. :)

    Those are some great stories. My favorite is still the last one. I had a super-busy week, too, and it makes it hard to write about everything, yet the living is so grand and the experiences so good that I would not trade it for anything! Therein lies the blogger’s bane: having time to write means you’re not really *doing* much else and having to stretch for material; not having time to write means you’re actually out doing stuff that would be cool to write about, but you can’t because you’re too busy doing it all. :)

    Five years I’ve been doing it (blogging) in one form or another and I have yet to figure out how to fine a fine balance, lol.

    • 2 parisimperfect March 13, 2010 at 12:38 pm

      Ok, so stick with the lowbrow? Duly noted :)

      I know what you mean. I’m having so much fun with this blog that I’m writing a whole lot. But I might need to cut back just a wee bit – you know, and *do* some other stuff. Though really, look at the week I’ve had already! Pretty funny things happen, even as I’m minding my own business :)

  2. 3 RGC March 13, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Hey have bookmarked your blog!

    Love it. and since I am writing a novel myself, it should be fun inspiration!
    :)

  3. 5 lupinssupins March 13, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Sion,
    Heureusement, the faux pas stories I have were not of my doing. Mais, malheureusment, they can’t beat your previous winners. Forgive the length of this note, but teachers do tend to be didactic.

    The first, of which you probably know, is a standard in textbooks from which I’ve taught French, on the importance of knowing differences in customs. The prime example always seems to be about the common courtesy of guests bringing flowers to their hostesses. Students are warned that at festive events, one should NOT cheerfully present their French host(ess) with chrysenthums, a Fall favorite in the U.S., because in Europe, mums are a flower of mourning!

    The next 3 can cause a laugh among friends or red faced awkwardness or worse between “just mets.” Luckily I learned these before that could happen to me, but I did see classmates in my Middlebury MA year abroad fall into these pièges —

    In English, it would not be unusual for someone to say, “This is so exciting!” or “I’m excited to finally meet you.” But in French [and, an Italian friend told me (while ROFL at my story of the hapless kid I heard use in Paris)in Italian & Spanish as well], “excité(e)” and “excitant” are commonly used to refer to arousal. A male student new to France would certainly not want to casually say this to, say, the mother of a host family and a girl could get into even more trouble w/potential dragueurs.

    So, you try to play it safe by talking about the weather. Beginning French students learn that in certain expressions where English uses “TO BE,” French instead uses “TO MAKE,” that is, “FAIRE” [Il fait chaud = It's hot (weather)]or “TO HAVE,” i.e.,”AVOIR” –[J'ai froid/chaud= I am cold/hot]. But what U.S. textbooks are too prudish to warn is that if one tries to say she FEELS hot (& not in the appearance sense, but simply b/c “Il fait chaud,”) she must NOT translate literally from “I AM hot” to “Je SUIS chaud”! This can be slang for being, um, “excitée, and risks making one’s male interlocuteur himself becoming “excité” at his apparent good fortune.

    The 3rd blush inducer may at last have become dated w/ the arrival of no-smoking laws in les cafés. One of my roommates saw the French boyfriend of the other roommate take out a cigarette, and tried to ask him if he wanted a light. But she phrased it, “Tu veux que je t’allume?” I think I’ll have you ask your husband if that still means what it did in 1978.

    Marie

    • 6 parisimperfect March 13, 2010 at 5:22 pm

      Hi Marie,

      Great examples! I did know about the excitee and ‘je suis chaude’ examples – I made these mistakes early on with my husband, though he didn’t seem to mind :)

      I don’t know about that last phrase, so I’ll try it out and report back. Jerome’s a good testing ground :)

      Thanks for stopping by – I’m sure I’ll be sharing your examples in a post sometime!

      -Sion

  4. 7 Lydia March 13, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    HI Sion
    ‘Faux Pas Friday’ is SUCH a great idea, I bet there will be loads of contributions and it is always fun reading other peoples faux pas!
    btw – low brow is great, especially at the end of a long day. Thank you for the mention on your post and your comments on my blog – I really appreciate you – fellow blogger and one day novelist!
    Lydia

  5. 9 Elisa @ Globetrotting in Heels March 19, 2010 at 10:32 am

    Loved the faux pas stories!! A great post to read on my first visit to your blog :-) Hi from another expat!! (though not in France, but neighboring Switzerland)


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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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