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’ve made my share of silly mistakes in French. I’ve progressed a lot in the last few years, but (much to my chagrin), I’m still not perfect. Sometimes just accidentally adding a single consonant to a word leaves les français giggling at my expense. (The word for down jacket is “doudoune” not “doune-doune,” in case you were wondering.)
Usually, my slip-ups just leave me subject to ridicule, but sometimes they get me in trouble. Here are two ways to accidentally offend your French copain or copine.
Really quick – what is this called?
A pie chart, right?
Now guess what it’s called in French.
Do you know how to count down to a big day in French? I learned this shortly after I moved to Paris from Chicago. I was teaching in a language school near Saint Lazare, and I had an adorable student about the same age as me. She was planning her wedding.
One day, while telling me about her upcoming nuptials, she mentioned “D-Day.” Wait, hold on. D-day? You’re calling your wedding day “D-Day?”
I love languages because you can always, always learn new things, whether it’s your native language or your second or third (or fourth or fifth, or sixteenth, you show-off).
I ponder words constantly. French makes me laugh. English makes me laugh. I’m frustrating to French speakers, because I always want to know why. Why is “start-up” feminine? (Yes, “start-up” in French is “la start-up.”) Why is the feminine of “rigolo” “rigolote”? Sometimes I get cut off from asking questions. “Non, chérie! Tu poses trop de questions!” You ask too many questions! No more for the rest of the day!
Here’s something I learned tonight that I’ll be pondering for awhile. Christmas Island is “l’Ile Christmas” in French. But Easter Island is “l’Ile de Pâques.” Why?! Why translate Easter (Pâques) but not Christmas (Noël)?! It’s illogical!
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”!