Do it yourself

Our neighbor is 80 and to celebrate, she had a birthday party. Actually, that’s not correct. She had 2 parties, 1 for friends and 1 for family, and she gave both of them herself in what she says is true French tradition. I’m not sure that everyone here has 2 parties but it definitely is true that if you use the word “invite” it’s your responsibility to pay. It might be out for drinks, to a restaurant for dinner, to the movies or a concert. In this case, the festivities were at her home just across the street but still there was a caterer to book, the wines to order, the flowers and other decorations to arrange, and the clean up after we all left. Oh yes, and a special dessert to pick up.

The accompanying photos will give you an idea of the variety of finger foods that were available. In keeping with that theme the dessert was a pièce montée that we’d only ever seen served before at weddings. For visualization purposes, think of a pyramid or tree of donut holes. These bite-size pieces are actually individual choux pastry puffs filled with pastry cream and held to each other with spun sugar.

To avoid that confusion about using the word “invite” I saw suggestions that instead you could say, “Let’s go for a drink” or ask, “We’re going out to dinner. Do you want to go too?” That led me to look for other times where we could be saying one thing but it comes across to our French listener as something else. While I didn’t find anything exactly like the “invite” example, I did discover plenty of embarrassing real-life situations that people found themselves in because of choosing the wrong word or simply mispronouncing the correct one. 

Most of these red-face moments are rather “adult” in nature (including my own, below) so I’ve made them a little more presentable to a general audience:

  • A male university student was living with a host family and the first night there while telling the mother goodnight, he hoped that he was saying “See you tomorrow” but it came out as “See you in a few minutes.”
  • This same student’s female classmate was at a bar attempting to order a beer called La Bête (The Beast) but pronounced it as “la beet” which has the same sound as the French slang for a portion of the male anatomy. Apparently the bartender was quite impressed with her vocabulary. 
  • Obviously, both male and female cats exist in France yet you almost only ever hear the male version “le chat” because other than perhaps in a veterinarian’s office, the female version is used as slang for a portion of the female anatomy. Medical supplies for pets are stocked at pharmacies and I read about one pharmacist’s surprise and then amusement when a woman asked him in French for “something to control the fleas on my (female) cat.”
  • We had French friends staying with us and the first morning at breakfast I asked them if they wanted a glass of orange juice. Unfortunately I didn’t say the word “juice” correctly in French so they heard it as an orange-flavored “climax of sexual excitement” as a dictionary might define it. I’ve still not lived that one down.
  • Some other easily confused words: a raisin is a grape while a grappe is a bunch of raisins; a prune is a plum; a librarie is a bookstore; your bras is your arm, and a douche is a shower.

We’ll be going to another birthday party this afternoon and I know there won’t be any confusion about orange juice because the featured beverage will be champagne. That happens to be the favorite drink of our friend who will be celebrating her 104th birthday today. Joyeux anniversaire!

7 thoughts on “Do it yourself

  1. When our daughter studied in Toulouse, she attended a large dinner party. She thought she was commenting that French food does not have a lot of preservatives, but instead she said “There are not a lot of condoms in French food.” That still makes me laugh!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah yes, the famous “préservatifs” mistake. When we make an error like that (and we certainly still do) our friends tilt their head to the side to contemplate what it was that we were trying to say and then usually burst out laughing. All you can do is laugh with them. 🤣


  2. Great stories Bob. It took me a long time to recover from entering a shop in Bordeaux and asking for owls instead of socks. Occasional humiliation is the price we pay for learning a language. Keep celebrating and kind regards, Gary

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Gary. You’re right, it’s all a part of learning and if we can laugh about it makes it even better.


  3. My wife and I have made gaffs life these in several languages. In a number of languages, trying to indicate that you feel the temperature is too high can result in a variation of “I’m horny”. Similarly, if you’ve not eaten in a while, you may wind up inadvertently saying “I have a sexual hunger.” Funny how so many of them become adult phrases. I guarantee I’ll be making many more of these mistakes in my future in France.
    On an unrelated note, I believe your 80 year old friend has achieved the only perfect two-party system!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Gaffs?? You mean that you shouldn’t say, “Je suis chaud” unless you really mean it? We cannot wait to see you two in person to see what else you come up with!


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