Posts Tagged 'faux pas'

Faux Pas Friday Guest Post: Newcomer’s Follies

Greetings from snowy Vermont! I hope you all are having a lovely holiday season. I’m just starting the intense residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts (if anyone wants to follow along with just how intense, here’s the daily schedule.)

As I won’t have a lot of time to update the blog, I’m delighted to have a guest today. You may remember I interviewed Aurelia d’Andrea when her Moon Living Abroad in France guidebook was published. When I noticed Aurelia making funny comments on Facebook about her faux pas one day I said, tiens! Why don’t I invite her to contribute to Faux Pas Friday? I’m glad she accepted the invitation! And so, without further ado…

“Newcomer’s Follies” by Aurelia d’Andrea

triumph statueIf faux pas were an Olympic sport, I would be a gold medalist. The main difference between me and a true Olympian, though, is that I don’t have to train for my sport. Being a Socially Inept Expat just comes naturally, without even the slightest modicum of effort.

Since moving to Paris two-and-a-half years ago, this innate “gift” has flowered like an out-of-control weed. France, it seems, offers nearly ideal conditions for social awkwardness to flourish. I would’ve liked to have nipped this problem in the bud, but it’s too late for that now, and how do you nip when you don’t even know where to begin?

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Faux Pas Friday: Misunderstanding on the Metro (or Save the Children)

Mid-afternoon, mid-week. Dark and wet like many a December day in the City of Light. I descend into metro Colonel Fabien and try to shake off the cold.

When the train arrives, I spy through the window the one free seat. It will be mine. The man behind me has the same idea. He rushes past me as soon as the doors open, nearly sprinting to get to the seat. He plops down and puts on that blank city face: I don’t see you even though you’re right in front of me.

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Faux Pas Friday: Furry Feet/Free Swedish Gym

It’s been awhile since a Faux Pas Friday. No, I haven’t suddenly gained more finesse. I simply haven’t been going out enough to get myself into a fix. But never fear. Spring is near, and increased outings will surely offer me new ways to look the fool.

Here’s one:

I’ve been meaning to go to this free exercise class since mid-January (yes, I know it’s now mid-March). You’ve already figured out that I’ll do a lot of things for a good story; have I mentioned the great lengths I’ll go to for just about anything free?

“Gym suedoise.” Swedish gym. Ok, I have no idea what that means, but I decide that Swedes are usually in very good shape, so I will trust them with a fine workout routine. (Remind me to write another post about my former Swedish fetish).

I finally decide, spur of the moment (as I do many things) that tonight is the night.

Continue reading ‘Faux Pas Friday: Furry Feet/Free Swedish Gym’

Faux Pas Friday: Beauty Blunders

Warning: The following post risks TMI. Still here? Great!

Last week I treated myself to a hammam. Actually, friends treated me as I received a “Bien-Etre Smartbox” as a birthday gift (great idea!)

The “Smartbox” contains a catalogue of “well-being” activities from which to choose – a massage, a Qi-Gong class, a hair-styling session (really?), entry into a hammam, etc, etc. Any of the listed partners accept the Smartbox card as a gift certificate.

If you’re googling “hammam” right now, I’ll save you time: it’s the Turkish word for steam bath and a bit of a thing in Paris. Why getting naked, sweating, and having someone scrub me down was my idea of fun, I’m not sure, but this was the option I selected. (Oh wait, I guess that actually does sound fun, in a racy sort of way).

Saletta Hammam allestita per uno dei trattamenti più esclusivi del centro Benessere
(This is not the hammam I went to, but you get the idea).

I’d only been to a hammam once before, but never to La Sultane de Saba. I was so excited for my little adventure, I wasn’t thinking straight when I left the house.

Halfway to the spa, I noticed the Smartbox’s advice: “prevoir un maillot de bain.” Bring a bathing suit.

Oh. Yeah. Duh. A bathing suit.

(Crap). I didn’t have a bathing suit with me.

I quickly ran through my options:

1) Show up with nothing. Enter the hammam completely naked or in my raggedy underwear. Risk eternal embarrassment.

Or, 2) Go back home, grab a bathing suit and hope I’m not yelled at for being late.

Continue reading ‘Faux Pas Friday: Beauty Blunders’

Living in Leisurewear

A few times in recent weeks I have stopped just shy of committing an almost unforgiveable act: leaving the apartment in my bathrobe. Thankfully I realized each time at just the last moment, and said to myself: I can’t go out in this. I’m in Paris.

Rough Day.

Is that sad? It’s the fact that I’m in Paris that stopped me from stepping out in sleepwear? (As if somewhere else it would be acceptable?)

Now, let me explain a few points.

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Trick or Treat

Thanks, everyone, for your supportive comments and amusing stories. An extra special shout-out to fellow blogger/writer and faithful reader Lydia who shared one of the funniest faux pas I’ve heard in awhile. Enjoy!


“It was Halloween. An English lady (near here) decided to decorate a pumpkin. She cut it out and lit tea lights inside it; it glowed and looked lovely. Very soon the doorbell rang and a small group of village children stood on the doorstep calling for a trick or treat.

She opened the door.

‘Ahh, les enfants, viens voir ma *poitrine*’ she cried.

The children backed off, confusion on their little faces.

‘Mais viens, ma poitrine, elle est tres belle, elle est tres grande!’ she insisted, beckoning them in, holding out a basket of sweets as a further incentive.

The children turned and fled.”

Can’t blame them, now can you? For those who need a little translation assistance:

Poitrine=chest (breasts)

Easy to see how she mixed them up, but boy, does it make a difference!

“Come little children and look at my boobs! But come on, my breasts are very beautiful, and very big!”

Trick or treat indeed. As Lydia, said, “can’t imagine what the village parents thought when their children came home that night.”

Keep the faux pas coming, folks. Bon weekend!

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Feeling vs Smelling

Friends, I’ll be honest: I’ve hit a rocky patch recently. I prefer to keep the happy public face because it’s more fun for you and certainly better for me. I can’t tell you how much I love getting your comments; they brighten even bad days.

One upside to my personal struggles is that I’ve found my way back to a more conventional “Faux Pas” to share with you this Friday.

Hard times call for long conversations (at least in my book). So I’ve been doing a lot of emoting of late. You know, talking about feelings.

Only since this talk is in French, it’s inevitably garbled.

Sentir means both to smell and to feel. I confess I have no idea if there’s a correct way to structure sentences to make the difference clear. I’m pretty sure there’s been some confusion in some of my conversations. I thought the difference might lie in that one was reflexive and the other not, but even that hasn’t seemed to help.

So [insert deep discussion], then: “But what do you smell?” I insist.
[Questioning look].

“I mean, what do you feel?”

An actual bar in the 20th. Looks like I am not the only one having trouble with the word feel!

This faux pas series has helped me transform my once humiliating errors into something pretty humorous. Why, I almost look forward to making mistakes now! The only thing is, I realize I’m not the best guide for you. I mean, I know when I’ve said something off (or I find out years later!), but my form of French is so…um, let’s say, interesting….that the correct explanation often eludes me.

I learned French in guerrilla fashion, remember. Heavy on the “sink or swim” model, light on actual grammar classes. Grammar pointers from you experts out there are always welcome!

So, hope you’re smelling the roses and feeling great. If someone wants to translate that into French, go right ahead. (You know I’d screw it up). Bon weekend! (And please excuse me if I need to take a little blog break, though I’ll try not to!)

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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Faux Pas Fridays

We’ve been talking a lot this week about language skills (or lack thereof). So I thought it would be fun (though it might simply prove traumatic) to share some of our more egregious mistakes in French. Let’s call it ‘Faux Pas Fridays” (though my ‘false steps’ happen every day of the week).
Twitter 365 Project - Day 122
When I first moved to France, instead of going the common route of teaching English, I decided to teach Pilates. You might remember that I had a brief (failed) stint dancing in New York. One valuable skill I picked up along the way (aside from mimicking statues in postmodern movement pieces) was Pilates.

Turning up in Paris with no job leads, I advertised in English-speaking places (bookshops, expat forums, etc) offering private classes. I had a few clients (I have a few tales about them, too), but only three weeks into my stay, a French studio contacted me to see if I could teach at their studio.

I explained – in painfully broken French – that I didn’t actually speak French, so it might be difficult to teach in French. “Don’t be silly. You can show what you’re doing,” the owner kept insisting. “And your French isn’t that bad.”

Yes, she was hard up.

Having no other options, I decided to go for it. I had four days to prepare. Not only would I be teaching in French, but it would actually be my first time teaching. Ever. That’s right, I had a mat certification, but I had never actually taught before.

How can I possibly do this? I thought. I was going to have to memorize a full hour’s lesson, word for word.

For any of you who have taken Pilates (or yoga, for example), you know that these disciplines have a unique language all their own, never mind translating the lingo.

Besides a crash course in anatomy vocabulary (pelvis, glutes, ‘core muscles’), I also had to figure out how to say some pretty tricky phrases – and see if they actually meant anything.

“Pull your navel to your spine,” I tried out on Jerome.

“What?” he asked, staring at me blankly.

“It’s an image to help people with an exercise. Did I say that correctly?”

“Um, I guess those words are correct,” he said doubtfully. “But I really don’t know if people are going to understand.”

No kidding.

‘Relax’ was the name of the studio, but I was anything but relaxed when I turned up that first Monday. Exercise isn’t such a big thing in France, so the students in my class were not only, well French-speakers, but they also had no idea what Pilates was. I, with my sorry French skills and an oversaturated brain would have to introduce Pilates to them. Oh the poor darlings! They had no idea what was coming.

I’m pretty sure the students in that class got barely 10% of what I said. Or, let’s be real – it was not their fault – I probably made sense less than 1/10 of the time.

I had a cheat sheet of exercises scribbled on a sheet next to me. I knew I would be so rattled, that I would need some reminder of what to do next when panic set in.

Now we’re going to roll like a ball! I’d say, going into one of the most classic Pilates exercises. If you’ve never heard that before, I’m sure it sounds insane. (The students couldn’t decide whether it was because I couldn’t speak French – true – or because it really was what I wanted to say – also true).

An unconventional education, but learning French for me consisted of living with a boyfriend who didn’t speak my language and teaching Pilates to people who had no idea what I was saying. I learned to get by pretty quickly that way, but not correctly. If my French still seems bizarre (it is), blame it on those factors.

I could fill a book with examples of how ridiculous I sounded in those classes, but here are a few choice examples:

“Keep your hips still” (immobile). I was under the impression this is what I was saying for a few months. That is, until one of my regulars quietly pointed out – oh, after about the 100th time of repeating it – that I was actually saying something closer to immeuble (building). “Keep your hips building, people!”

Steph doing PilatesLa Défense

I also paid special attention to tell people to “lower” their leg (baisser), rather than (sorry! excuse my French!) “f***” their leg (baiser). A very, VERY dangerous similarity, especially for someone like me, a lost cause as far as French phonetics goes.

Some of those first students, bless their hearts, became regulars and stayed with me for a year. I’m sure it was for the entertainment value, as well as the exercise. (“Build your hips! Hump your leg!”) I can’t tell you how grateful I was for their kindness, though. Those lessons could have been the ruin of me – the shame, the humiliation too great to bear. Instead, they gave me confidence. Sure, I sounded like a fool, but I was leading a class and people were actually listening! (Who’s the fool now?)

When I get embarrassed about my French (often) I remember those as my daring days. If I could stand up and teach in French when I barely knew how to speak it, who am I to be so timid now?

How about you? What are some of your worst French faux pas? They can either be social blunders (the true meaning of the phrase faux pas) or language mistakes like I’ve offered. I’ll give a shout out on Fridays to some of the best examples!

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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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