French-isms


I suppose it’s not much of a surprise that I love language. I love the sounds of words, and how they fit together. When I find a fun word here, I keep repeating it under my breath, smiling idiotically and prompting my classmates to think of me as the kind-of-crazy Canadian. Or so I assume.

For example, when someone sneezes, the English response is “God Bless you.” I read somewhere that that comes from the fact people once believed your brain was leaking out of your nose, so a benediction was in order.

Here, after one sneeze, you say “a tes souhaits,” or “to your dreams.” After the second, it’s “a tes amours,” or “to your loves.” Isn’t that nicer?

When you miss someone or something, it’s expressed by saying that they’re missing you. So, if you miss your brother, it’s “il me manque.” It takes a while to wrap your head around, but I like to think of it as whatever you’re missing is actually incomplete without you.

Love at first sight translates to “un coupe de foudre,” from being hit by lightning. Incidentally, I cannot for the life of me pronounce foudre. I tend to overemphasize the e at the end, or so I’m told. When I try, it results in a discussion with my French teacher in which she says “foudre,” and I repeat “foudre,” and she says, “no, foudre,” and I say “foudre.” To me, it all seems like exactly the same word. At least it’s probably a phrase I’ll never need to know to cover Canadian federal politics.

I took the metro a few stops with a Parisien girl who came to my French discussion group earlier this week. She was telling me about how her “copain” (read: live-in or serious boyfriend, or so I thought) was American but wanted to fully integrate into Paris life and forget his roots. And then she told me her “copain” was willing to move to New York with her. I asked her how that worked and she said “Oh, right. One is my friend, one my boyfriend. We use the same word for both concepts, so how were you to know?” She then ran off at her stop before I could ask how in the world anyone whose native language was French could have known.

These little examples of just how beautiful (and confusing) French can be pop up several times a day; I’ll try to note them down here so I can keep them in mind for when I come home. It never hurts to know how to say “love a first sight,” even if slightly mispronounced …

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