French Language Faux Pas

Written by on January 22, 2014 in Learn French, My French Life

French language faux pas

I have something to confess – I am still learning to speak real French!

I do speak French, a very proper sort of French. Some people tell me I sound a bit Parisian. I take this as a compliment since I spent some time in Paris in my youth. I do though know that the language I use is fairly formal and so I have started to learn “real” French online with various companies – most of them are free!

This week’s lesson was about French language faux pas. Specifically phrases which expats say which sound like they are correct but which to French ears have completely different meanings and connotations. Well, I have another confession to make. I have used every single one of those faux pas phrases at some point in my life in France. The one I have used most is “Je suis Chaud”. As soon as I saw what it actually means to French people I was mortified. I have said this to Pierre the farmer, Jean-Pierre my neighbour , Bruno the wood man, Monsieur le Poste… everyone in the village probably.  The thing is that they pretty much always look quizzical when I say anything so I never really take much notice with then laugh and pull faces of utter amazement.

Here in my part of France my neighbours speak Ch’ti – a patois. They have very strong accents.  The sound “s” is swapped for a “sch” sound. Words like “pharmacie” where the” c” is pronounced “s” (as in pharmacy) becomes “pharmaschie”. There are different words for things – for instance chair in French is “chaise” but in Ch’ti is it “cayelle”.

As you can imagine to an expat this is highly confusing. To my neighbours, I just thought my formal, proper French is very entertaining. Therefore when they smile at some of the things I say I have just become immune to it and think it is because of my accent or because I’m funny!

If you have reached this stage of my update and wonder just why they are amused by my announcement that “je suis chaud” – it is because, as Geraldine informs me, in French this means “I am hot” (as in hot babe). I thought I was saying “I am hot” as in “Zut alors! The sun is shining strong today as I toil in the garden and I am hot”. It also means “I am horny” – believe me I don’t even want to think about this any more. I am the only English woman in the village and I am telling everyone this… Sacré Gertrude! (A term I have been taught by my neighbout J-P, though neither he or any of my French friends know who Gertrude is).

Geraldine at Comme Une Francaise tells me “it is okay to make mistakes, celebrate them, laugh at them, we all make mistakes”. I can tell you one thing though, the next time I am hot toiling in the garden I will get the words right “j’ai chaud” – I just hope I don’t disappoint them all!

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