Monday, June 28, 2010

Transatlantic Parallel

My divine partner has returned from her travels. We're back together again and our collaboration will now recommence.

For those of you unfamiliar with our "Transatlantic Parallel," it is the once-a-week exchange between a French woman, the brilliant Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart creator of the stunning blog Through the French Eye of Design, married to an American and living outside New York City and moi. I'm the flip side of the equation, married to a French man, living outside Paris.

Every Monday we select a subject to examine in our adopted lands which because of our official status as les etrangéres, we may find funning, infuriating, frustrating or just plain odd. Then we share our experiences with you -- the good, the bad and the unfortunate -- as we daily cope with the cultural pleasures and pressures of living on opposite sides of the Atlantic. 

The other day Jeanne-Aelia said, "Let's do faux amis" (false friends as it applies to language). "Brilliant idea, mon amie," said I. 

These are -- one thinks -- the same words in French and English (though not always spelled exactly the same way), but to our great dismay, have entirely different meanings. The misuse of them I've discovered over the years can put one (me) in the following types of situations: all conversation stops while people stare in shock, a minor tiff can be ignited,  or as happened yesterday, right after the pause of disbelief, great gales of laughter ensue.

I couldn't believe it really. How could this happen? How timely. Wait until Jeanne-Aelia hears this. 

It developed innocently enough as so many faux pas often do. We were eight, having tea after a swim chez my friend Edith. One of the women had brought a bag of store bought -- important detail, not boulanger purchased -- mini pain au chocolats.  Quickly, as is often the case in France, the conversation turned to the ingredients of the apparently offensive delights, whereupon after close reading of the label, it was discovered they contained the killer palm oil. Someone remarked, "oh that keeps them fresh longer," while My-Reason-For-Living-In-France noted his doctor says palm oil is poison. 

OK, as always, one thing led to another and I said, "well at least they don't have have any preservatives." All conversation came abruptly to a halt. All eyes were upon me.  I thought, you've done it again, but what? As is my wont, I repeated the fact they have no preservatives, except slightly louder this time. (I thought perhaps everyone was deaf.) More silence, followed by stifled giggles that finally erupted into guffaws.

Preservatives are condoms in France(!!) Food has conservateurs. Not a day goes by when I don't learn something new. What an exciting, stimulating life I lead.

My experience is not an example of a faux amis, just another humiliating day-in-the life. . . It was one more faux pas to add to my ever-growing list.

Here are a few genuine faux amis that have made my life either complicated, funny or annoying: 

1.) Chance: a possibility. Chance: to have good luck.

2.) Circulation: movement in general. Circulation: traffic.

3.) College: higher education, after high school graduation. College: junior high school.

4.) To demand: to order with force. Demander: to ask.

5.) Education: instruction in school. Education: upbringing. 

6.) Evidence: proof. Evidence: something obvious.

7.) To ignore: to not pay attention to something. Ignorer: to not know something.

8.) Crayons: those fun wax colored things we loved as children. Crayon: a pencil.

9.) Miserable: sad, unhappy. Miserable: poor.

10.) Occasion: a special moment. Occasion: an opportunity, a bargain.

11.) Phrase: a group of words. Phrase: a sentence.

12.) Remark: to mention. Remarquer: to notice.

13.) Piece: a portion of something. Pièce: a coin or a room.

14.) Robe: the garment we wear in the house. Robe: a dress.

15.) Legume: beans, grains, etc. Legume: a vegetable. (Féculents are the equivalent to legumes in English, note picture above.)

16.) Etiquette: good manners. Etiquette: the label on a product.

17.) Souvenir: an object. Souvenir: a memory.

18.) Actually: in fact, etc.  Actuellement: at the moment, currently.

19.) Library: library (bibliothèque in French). Librairie: bookshop.

Now you must dash over to Jeanne-Aelia, she will definitely have a creative take on this eternal conundrum. And for those of you who have studied Latin, I'm sure you see why some of these words have evolved in one language and not in the other.

P.S.: Jeanne-Aelia, please tell me if I've made any errors here. Merci par avance.


LPC said...

So helpful. And reminding me very sweetly of searching for words, trying to speak French, and finding the wrong ones:).

Murphy said...

Thanks for the new vocabulary words! I'm studying French so I need all the help I can get.

Marsha said...

You may have saved me from several faux pas; merci! But I was interested to see you use "legume" to mean both beans and grain. I have only understood it to mean beans. Could this be a regional issue?

tish jett said...

Merci, Skye, I find the wrong words every day. It's one of the best things I do in French.

My pleasure, Murphy.

I know, Marsha, that's how I think of legumes, in fact that is what I had written. Then I set out to find pictures and discovered -- right or wrong, I'm not sure -- that the French seem to include other foods from the earth, i.e. potatoes, wheat, rice. I don't really understand. I should be a really good journalist and do more investigating.

Shelley said...

What hoot! My Grandparents referred to their eraser as a rubber and as a teenager I struggled to keep a straight face. And here all these years I thought Victor Hugo wrote a book about unhappy people; unhappy because they were poor, I understood, but not quite the same. Boy, you must have fun over there! I get into a bit of trouble now and then myself, mind; and I supposedly speak English!

Jadie said...

oh, i laughed! PLEASE, more of this! those in situ experiences are so effective at highlighting how language takes one on hilarious detours. many thanks for sharing this one, tish.

BigLittleWolf said...

I just had to smile. Tish, Tish, Tish. And then I smiled again.

I do seem to recall when spending my junior year in Paris, an American girl going into an épicerie in search of a particular comestible, and asking for préservatifs "fraises" thinking she would get strawberry preserves.

She got polite smiles, and told they didn't have any.

Verus said...

Thanks for this collection of differences between the 2 languages!
I have to use both languages everyday, even if none of them are my mother tongue. I have recently started to learn German, so these days, I have a chaos de Babel dans ma tete! :-) So, I find your post really interesting!

TwoMaisons said...

Oh thanks for the laugh! It seems the more comfortable we get with the language the less we really know....

Barbara said...

A German acquantaince of mine who had recently moved to Houston was in her backyard with a hose watering plants. When her neighbor came over to chat over the fence, she innocently waved the hose and asked him if he would like a "douche!" She cringes to this day....

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