My Favourite French Lessons

Two weeks in Paris, one week in Burgundy. I’ve never gone a holiday that inspires such envy. Just saying ‘Paris’ elicits wistful looks and thoughts of shopping, eating and drinking.

It’s also one of the easiest trips I have planned. I had a chat to a friendly FlightCentre guy, then booked a couple of apartments directly from the owners. I also started re-reading Les Miserables a couple of weeks ago, to get me in the right mood.

After that, it’s pretty much turn up, buy a map and go for it. OK, I will admit to some use of the Lonely Planet – but my point is, it’s not really the difficult or wildly expensive trip people seem to imagine.

Well, it certainly would have been cheaper had I not decided to buy a new Macbook Air before I left, expressly for blogging purposes. There’s a school of thought that would suggest a cheap netbook would fulfill that function, but I don’t go to that school. Well, my husband doesn’t, and he’s head of IT in our house.

So now that I’m here and armed with a laptop, I had best turn in a blog post to justify myself. So after four days of observation, here are some things I am learning from the French:

  • Having a go. I learnt French at school and university – both of which are a long time ago. My French is limited and rusty, but that doesn’t seem to worry people – they respond warmly to my attempts and for the most part, don’t answer in English. I think they appreciate that I’ve taken the time to learn their language, rather than worrying whether my verbs are conjugated correctly. Sometimes it’s not about perfection – it’s about putting in a good effort.
  • Kicking back. I’m sure there are stressed out people in Paris – I just haven’t seen them. Every day, the cafes and bars are filled with people taking a moment to enjoy a coffee, gossip with friends or share a beer. There seems to be a commitment to this kind of social connection – although it’s also perfectly acceptable to sit on your own and watch the world go by. I love how the chairs and tables are set out that way – you don’t face each other, you face the street: no shame in voyeurism here.
  • Making an effort. Parisians don’t do daggy. Well, strangely enough, they have embraced Ugg boots (the proper, expensive Australian ones). But in general, everyone leaves the house looking smart and put-together. It makes me appreciate spending an extra 5 minutes to do my hair properly, or put on a coat of mascara. I don’t think it’s a matter of obssessing over your appearance, but simply feeling good about yourself. OK maybe I sound like a magazine columnist now, but there is definitely something to be said for fashion a la Francais, and the self-respect it seems to both create and reflect.
  • There’s no French word for ‘snack’. Well, it’s actually just ‘le snacking’. That’s because people here don’t really do it – they sit down and eat a meal. Then wait til the next one. I know there are hundreds of theories as to why French people don’t get fat (and it’s true – the fat people are all map-toting tourists), but I think it’s partly the fact that eating is an event, not a way to pass the time or do on the run.

Perhaps I am falling for the cliches, but it seems to me that the best things about France are also the best things in life: talking, hanging out, getting dressed up and having long lunches. No wonder I love it here!

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    • Dee Jensen
    • August 31st, 2011

    It’s a pity that more Aussies don’t take the french approach to grooming, ie paying attention to personal hygeine and less scruffiness!

    • Kristie Okely
    • August 31st, 2011

    I wish I was talking, hanging out, getting dressed up and having long lunches with you both too, Oh well back to work.

    Here’s some cool French from my class last week, I have focussed on the French slang related to food, as this seems to be your current pastime

    (* = familiar, ** = very familiar, *** = vulgar, v = Verlan (back-slang), Lit. = literally)

    Je mangerais un bœuf (*) 
The equivalent of the English expression “I could eat a horse”, except in French it’s a bull. For some reason, this expression is not so much in fashion these days. 

    J’ai la dalle (*) Lit. I’ve got the paving-stone.
To understand this expression, you have to be hungry, really hungry, and have hunger pangs – to the point where you feel you have a paving-stone in your stomach.

    Le petit déj (*) Short for petit déjeuner, breakfast. Actually pronounced p’ti dèj. 

    Une bouffe (**) A meal. An old French slang word.

    On se fait une bouffe ? (**) Shall we go for a meal? 

    Un casse-dalle (**) Lit. a paving-stone breaker.
When you have a paving-stone in your stomach, you have to break it. Logical, isn’t it? This word applies to anything that will relieve your hunger, it can be a snack, a sandwich, a quick meal.


    La bouffe (*) Food.
Quite logically, the verb bouffer means to eat.
    J’adore la bouffe (*) I love food.

    La graille (**) Another old slang word for food.
Just like its equivalent la bouffe, it can become a verb, grailler. 
La graillave (**) 
The ending -ave gives the word graille a sort of Bohemian feel. Mainly used by suburban youngsters. 
On va grailler We’re going to eat. 

    La barbaque (**) Bad meat.
Old slang word, the origins of which are uncertain. Anyway, whatever the exact origins of this word, nowadays it means meat of very poor quality. 

    La bidoche (**) Equivalent to la barbaque.
Comes from the word bidet, which says a lot.

    Tasty or not tasty

    Super (*) Just add before an adjective for extra dramatic effect. Bon Good, tasty. 

    Super bon (*)Super good. 

    Dégueulasse, dégueu, super dégueu (*) Disgusting. 

    Je m’en lèche les doigts I’m licking my fingers.
Obviously recommended for a tasty, finger-licking dish. A nice compliment to make to the chef.

    Ça arrache la gueule (**) Lit. It tears your mouth off.
It completely takes the roof off your mouth. Gives an idea of the damage spicy food can cause to a French mouth. 

    Ça emporte la gueule (**) Lit. It takes your mouth away.
It takes the roof off your mouth. Not as strong as the previous one, though. 

    Ça déménage Lit. It removes. 
Obviously, a dish that manages to take the roof off your mouth has to be strong.

  1. I think it’s also about Parisiennes just taking time – not grabbing a takeaway coffee and running, but sitting down at the pavement tables where the chairs all face outwards, looking out, and enjoying both the coffee and the passing parade.

  2. Paris AND a MacBook Air? Mas oui!

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