Posts Tagged 'french'

Faux Pas Friday: La Bise, Part Deux

Boy, oh boy, did the bise ever go over big. Thanks everyone for the comments – the most ever on any post!

:: Flying kiss  ::

Kissing is obviously a hot topic, and we all have a lot to say. Merci, Partager Paris for backing me up with a similar (crude) baiser mistake. In an elevator with a good-looking French man, she announced she wanted to baiser the elevator, not lower it (baisser). “But Madame, I have not gotten to know you yet!” the cute Frenchman replied.

Many pointed out another bise pitfall: how many to give? Paris is mainly 2-kiss territory, but with my in-laws it’s more. If I complained about the round of bises before, don’t get me started when everyone gets four!

General agreement about possible mishaps depending on which way you start. I tend to veer right (kissing, not politically!), but it’s good to get a sense of which side your partner is headed. If not, an awkward lip-lock lies ahead. (Or maybe that’s what you’re after. Thanks, Adam, for sharing your brother’s story of an old woman taking things into her own hands: grabbed the face and laid a big one on him. You go, old lady! That may be me someday).

Karin requests a pronunciation guide with this Friday series, but I’m afraid phonetics is my failing. I can’t even pronounce my own husband’s name (pesky French ‘r’ in the middle!) But there’s no doubt that wrong pronunciation causes many a faux pas.

Like Rachelle saying “ass” (cul) when really she meant “cool”.

Or Montpellier Miss’ several slip-ups, though I think they’re just sweet. Like ordering “un pain aux raison (bread with reason) instead of raisins (raisins) at the boulangerie.”

Isn’t the bread in France wonderful? How much more awesome would it be if it also had reason!

Have a great weekend y’all. If it be not faux-pas less, at least let it be fun.

Faux Pas Friday: Beware the Bise!

Honey, ‘come take me in your arms’! Oh, just give me a ‘hug’!


I was horrified to learn in my first French course that there existed no word for “hug.”
“But embrasser?” we naively asked. “Surely that must mean to embrace?”

“No,” our kind teacher informed us, “embrasser means to kiss.”

“So this,” we said, wrapping our arms around ourselves. “What do you call this?”
Surely a simple demonstration would quickly clear up the matter.

“Prendre quelqu’un dans les bras”, Madame Julie said.

“Come on,” we snorted. “You must have a word for ‘taking someone in your arms.’” French is supposed to be lyrical – what’s with this unwieldy phrase?

Calin, she offered, but I have since gotten wise to that, too. A calin is a cuddle, and a cuddle does not a hug make or vice versa (though both are nice).

This should have served as (one of) my warning(s) about France – what kind of place doesn’t have a word for hug?

The missing word is not the only cause for concern. It’s missing the hugs, period. I grew up on big bear hugs. Hugs are used as greeting, comfort, congratulations, and more where I’m from. Getting used to la bise was a whole other story.

Ah yes, la bise. After 3 1/2 years I still find la bise awkward: Do I touch your cheek or don’t I? Must I make a kissing noise to accompany the air kiss? I’ve moved in too close, my face is too far. No matter how many times I do it, I never get it right.

Readers Shannon and Piglet in France also did not get something right: one kissed a banker, the other a priest.

I feel their pain. In a country where you can kiss even your colleagues, and every entrance and exit you make is a half hour marathon of giving la bise, one’s natural tendency might be to give everyone a kiss. Apparently even your financial and religious advisors.

I guess you’re not supposed to do that.

As always, I am here to make them feel better by sharing my own big bise faux pas.

There might be no word for hug, but there are many for kiss. In addition to embrasser, a bisous is a kiss. Un baiser is a kiss. But beware the latter – danger lurks!

After our first three dates, Jerome had still not made a move. Shy and sweet, he was the perfect gentleman – by that point, I was ready for him to take a step towards not being one.

Hours into date three, we’re listening to Nina Simone, drinking sweet white wine. I – eyelashes batting – finally ask, coy as can be, “so, don’t you want to kiss me?”

Only, my formulation was woefully wrong. If un baiser is a kiss, I had reasoned, baiser must mean to kiss (whoa! big leap! whatever gave me that idea?)

Well, friends, it was the wrong conclusion. Baiser means to f***.

My coy question turned instantly into a crude proposition. Reserved Jerome, however, did not let on.

“Yes, I want to kiss you,” he said correcting me (though I didn’t notice the correction). Because he did kiss me. And I melted.

Only months later did Jerome tell me what I had actually asked him. Americans really are direct, he must have thought. No doubt about it.

Shout-outs this week also to Adam for sharing how his romantic tete a tete turned into a table of 10 (deux and dix can sound awfully similar depending on whose pronouncing the words) and French teacher Marie for clearing up excite and chaude. It’s great feeling excited, but in French you better be ready to mean ‘sexually aroused.’ Now Jerome tells me I should still feel free to say excitee, but I won’t take his word for it. He’s just a little too good at keeping a straight face.

Poll: Are you more a hug person or a kiss person?
Plus: Funny faux pas always welcome. The best examples always get free shout-outs.

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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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