Most teachers know what it feels like to buried under a pile of marking (or what I call “grading”). Once I spent the entire week of Toussaint vacation grading exams, and it took more time than an actual week of teaching. The only bright spot was finding hilarious mistranslations and other mirth-inducing wranglings of the English language.
I have lots of little stories about the French words and expressions and nowhere to put them. Okay with you if I micro-blog them?
There’s this funny expression in French – manger l’heure des poules. It means to eat dinner really early – like “Les américains mangent à l’heure des poules.” (Literally, it means “to eat at the hour of the chickens.” Haha.)
One time we were Skyping with Hugo’s family, including his little two-and-a-half year old nephew. Hugo was telling them that we eat “à l’heure des poules” here and his nephew perked up and said in his tiny little toddler voice, “Elles sont où les poules?!” (Where are the chickens?!) It was pretty cute.(You have to picture a little voice like this.) He seemed disappointed when we explained that it’s just an expression.
(The same nephew taught me the French words for wrench and the little paper top you peel off the yogurt. He’s a smart cookie.)
There are so many ways to embarrass yourself in French. And goodness knows I do.
You’ve probably heard that préservatif does NOT mean preservative in French, nor does it have anything to do with jam. It means condom. I still consciously remind myself not to accidentally talk about condoms when I want to discuss preservatives. But even if you successfully remember not to bring up préservatifs, there are so many other ways to get yourself in trouble.
One evening, I was at the dinner table with my beau-père. We were staying with Hugo’s parents, and for some reason, his dad and I were the only ones at home for dinner that evening. After dinner, he asked if I would like I yogurt or an applesauce for dessert. Sure, I said, an applesauce would be nice.
Except that’s not what I said. I said, “Je prendrai une capote.”
“Une compote” is an applesauce. “Une capote” is slang for condom. Whoops!
I crossed my fingers that he wouldn’t notice, or that he would chalk it up to my accent. But now I’m always verrry careful to pronounce the “om” in “compote”!
When I moved to France and started spending more and more time with French people, I rapidly picked up a new vocabulary that I hadn’t learned in school. Things that people use all the time in conversation that I hadn’t run across reading Flaubert (unless Flaubert talked about kiffing his meuf, and if he did, oh dear lord please tell me where.)
One word I heard over and over was “piquer”which previous I had only known as in a ballet move I was super awesome at (on the right leg, anyway). Literally, it means to prick or sting, but it’s often used to mean borrow or steal. As in, “Je peux te piquer la cuillère?” “Can I grab that spoon from you?” and “Hé, je t’ai piqué tes chaussures pour la fête hier soir.” “Hey, I borrowed your shoes for the party last night.” Or if you’re in Paris, “Ce connard m’a piqué mon portefeuille dans le métro!” “That jackass stole my wallet in the metro.”
Anyway, one weekend I was staying with my BFF and her French roommates, and their two cats. One of the cats took a liking to me and was my personal cuddle bug all weekend. She even sat on my belly while I was sleeping, requiring me to lie perfectly still on my back all night. (Imprisonment of this sort is a sign of the deepest affection in cats, if you didn’t know.*)
At the end of the weekend when I said goodbye to the cat’s owner, I wanted to thank her for letting me borrow her cat all weekend, so I said, “Merci de m’avoir laissé piquer ton chat.” She looked at me oddly, then gently explained, “Actually, when we say ‘piquer un animal’ it means to kill it with a shot, to put it down.”
Oh! Not exactly what I was going for.
So if you want to borrow someone’s pet without getting your kitty privileges revoked, stick with “emprunter” – to borrow. Much safer!