Learning French Slang

By   June 13, 2008

If you really want to become fluent in French, and be able to communicate easily with anyone, you need to learn slang. You don’t necessarily have to use it, but you must be able to understand it. Before I arrived in France, I had never studied French slang. I had only studied textbook French – formal, “grammatically correct” French. But I quickly discovered that is not how people speak. I had a hard time understanding anything at first, but gradually I learned the slang words for standard words that I already knew. Barely anyone said travailler – all I heard was bosser. My books taught that laid meant ugly, but everyone said moche instead. Even my bedroom wasn’t ma chambre; it was ma piaule.

I became overwhelmed with the sheer number of slang words for everyday, ordinary things. I constantly wondered why no one ever thought it would be helpful to teach these words along with the standard words. Sure, slang changes with each generation, but any slang is better than no slang at all. I bought a few French slang books, such as David Burke’s Street French series and Pierre-Maurice Richard’s Le Français Familier et Argotique: Spoken French Foreigners Should Understand, but to keep up with the current, most used slang, the internet became my best learning resource. And thanks to the internet, I can share some astuces with you for learning slang.

I’ve been updating my Informal French & Slang page with more vocabulary and interactive exercises. Currently, there are 21 exercises for common slang vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.

Matching Exercises: Adjectives / Nouns 1 / Nouns 2 / Nouns 3 / Verbs 1 / Verbs 2 / Verbs 3 / School / Body Parts / Dating / Entertainment

Multiple Choice Exercises: Eating & Drinking / Work & Money / People / Emotions & Personality / Random Vocabulary

Gap-fill Exercises: Animal Idioms / Body Part Idioms / Colors & Numbers Idioms / Food Idioms / Other Idioms

Another great way to learn slang is by watching Friends in French, and then comparing the French & English transcripts to learn more vocabulary and how it’s used. (You can actually use any TV show or movie, but Friends transcripts are already available online in both languages at the Fan Club Français de Friends.)

Read blogs or forums in French as some people have a tendency to write very informally online. Blogging sites include: blogger.com, livejournal.com, fr.wordpress.com, over-blog.com, blog4ever.com, canalblog.com. And you can always search for blogs on blogsearch.google.fr or look in blog directories, such as blogues-quebec.com. Gossip magazines (Voici, Public, or Closer) also tend to use a lot of idiomatic language, if you like to keep up with les potins.

WordReference and The Free Dictionary seem to include a fair amount of slang words if you want to try to look up the meanings of words online. If you can’t find a word in a dictionary, try using google.fr to see how it’s used in context; or even images.google.fr if it’s a noun.

In addition to the exercises that I’ve made, here are a few others you can try to test your knowledge of slang:

Test your French slang (Harrap’s)
French Slang Wish 101

French slang sites with English translations:

French Slang – Argot Français (5 chapters from Street French by David Burke)
BBC Cool French
The Alternative French Dictionary
Argot – French Slang from About.com
Language Realm: French Slang, French Idioms, & French Proverbs
French Slang @ Everything2.com
Katia & Kyliemac Learn French Podcast

French slang sites with standard French translations:

ArgotPod – Le Français non censuré !
L’argot dans le film, Les Ripoux
Dictionnaire d’argot en ligne
Dictionnaire Français-Argot et Argot-Français
Liste de termes argotiques en français

PACSing and the right to a Carte de Séjour in France

By   June 11, 2008

I get a lot of e-mails about PACSing and Carte de Séjours in France, so I wanted to clear up some things. These two are completely separate from one another – the Tribunal d’Instance takes care of PACSing and the Préfecture takes care of the carte de séjour. If you ask the Tribunal about the CDS, they will most likely give you wrong information, and if you ask the Préfecture about getting PACSed, they will most likely give you wrong information as well.

You can get PACSed whenever you want (similar to marriage – except marriage is still not an option in France for gay or lesbian couples.) Any two un-related people over the age of 18 can get PACSed in France, regardless of their nationality. (Two non-EU citizens – such as 2 Americans – are allowed to get PACSed as long as one of them has a carte de séjour already.) You may or may not have to prove that you live in France, so if you plan on getting PACSed soon, make sure both of your names are on an EDF or France Télécom bill. Check my PACS/Marriage page for more information on the paperwork needed to get PACSed.

You do not need to have a visa in order to get PACSed, but you need a visa in order to receive a carte de séjour due to being PACSed (or even married – the laws are the same). You must obtain a long-stay type D visa in order to stay legally in France, but it doesn’t matter if you obtain this visa before or after you get PACSed/married. If you obtain the visa before getting PACSed/married, you only have 40 days to actually do so after your arrival. If you obtain the visa after you get PACSed/married, then obviously this costs more because you have to return to your home country, but it might be easier to get because you can prove that you are indeed PACSed/married (with your certificat de PACS or livret de famille) which makes your application stronger than just having the intent to do so after your arrival in France.

If you are a PACSed foreigner, your partner is an EU citizen and you have a long-stay visa, you are entitled to the CDS visiteur – which gives you the right to stay, but not work – if you cannot prove un an de vie commune in France. This year of living together can definitely start before you get PACSed, as long as you were living in France legally at that time. (If you’ve been in France for more than 3 months without a visa, thereby surpassing the tourist limit in the Schengen space*, this time will NOT count towards your un an de vie commune. The year starts upon your LEGAL arrival in France, after you get the visa.)

If you can prove the un an de vie commune, regardless of when you got PACSed, then you are entitled to the CDS vie privée et familiale, which gives you the right to work in France. (This is the same carte you will receive if you are married to an EU citizen and have a long-stay visa.) I’ve heard horror stories of foreigners being denied a CDS even though they fulfill these requirements because some Préfectures don’t know the rules or don’t want to follow the rules. Even though PACSing has been around for almost 10 years, some fonctionnaires are still clueless as what it really means for foreigners in France.

I have found one organization, ARDHIS, that tries to help PACSed foreigners with their legal status in France. It’s actually an organization for the rights of homosexual and transsexual foreigners, but they have some legal information that is pertinent to any PACSed foreigner. (A few other helpful organizations for immigrants are GISTI and FASTI.) If you have been denied a CDS even though you are PACSed to an EU citizen and have a long-stay visa, here are some official documents that might help your case:

A circulaire from the Ministère de l’Intérieur (Villepin) dated October 30, 2004, specifically states your right to a CDS vie privée et familiale if you can justify un an de vie commune or to a CDS visiteur if you cannot. The PACS section starts on page 4.

Another circulaire from January 2007 reminds the préfectures that the first circulaire from October 2004 is still effective and PACSed foreigners should not be denied a CDS.

*Just a reminder about the Schengen space tourist visa: You can stay for 3 months, but then you must leave for 3 months! You can no longer leave for one day and come back without a visa. The original Schengen countries are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. As of December 2007, the eastern countries were added: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Switzerland & Liechtenstein (2008-9), Cyprus (2009) and Bulgaria & Romania (2011) will be fully implementing the Schengen laws during the years noted. Notice that the UK & Ireland do not implement the Schengen laws!

The Convenience / La Commodité

By   June 10, 2008

Qu’est-ce qui te manque le plus ? When people ask me what I miss most about the United States, the first word that comes to mind is convenience. And then I have to explain what exactly that means to me: being able to do what I want when I want. I was never forced to comply to someone else’s schedule. There were plenty of stores and restaurants open 24 hours so I wasn’t as rushed to buy my groceries before 8pm. Banks and the post office did not close for 2 hour lunches. Not many places were closed on Sundays either.

But in France I feel as though I waste a lot of time waiting for places to open so I can get things done. Even my bank is closed on Mondays, which I never seem to remember because I don’t understand why they have to be closed on that particular day. And the idea of “un drive” anywhere but McDonald’s or Quick is practically unheard of. My local post office has this convenient drop-off box for letters, but it’s located about 10 feet from the road. You have to park your car and run down the stairs to drop your mail off. And it’s in an industrial area, so there are few sidewalks for those who want to walk there. I just don’t get it.

So imagine my surprise a little while ago when I discovered that my bank has a drive-up ATM in Annecy! I thought these just didn’t exist in France because David was always talking about how cool they were when we were in the US for Christmas. (He even took a picture of one when I stopped to get some cash. And the pharmacy drive-thrus just blew his mind!) But this bank is actually pretty far from where I live, and I avoid driving in downtown Annecy as much as possible, so I doubt I will ever use it. But still, it is there!

The second thing that comes to mind about the US is just the space. The US is much larger than France, and the population density is much lower, so I never felt as crowded as I do here. I’ve always been a country girl though, and had my parents’ back yard to escape to. I think that’s why I have a hard time living in an apartment in such a residential area in France. I will never get used to the people or the noise and not having my own private yard to relax in.

The third thing is donuts. Definitely donuts.

International Animated Film Festival – June 9 to 14

By   June 9, 2008

I was downtown this morning running errands and I noticed some crews setting up equipment on the Pâquier. Then I remembered the International Animated Film Festival starts today. Oh yeah, that little thing…

The calm before the storm…

This Film Festival is the largest tourist attraction each year in Annecy. Tim Burton has attended in previous years (or so I’ve been told). Don’t plan on being able to find accommodation if you want to be a tourist this week. And you also cannot drink alcohol on the Pâquier after 7 PM, but you can start drinking again at 1 AM. Just so you know.

I’m a little confused why they wrote the dates in both British English (day then month) and American English (month then day): 09 to 14 june but 5-30-08?  And somebody forgot his English capitalization rules…

International means lots of flags. They just put up the American one as I walked by. (I think that man is wondering why I’m taking photos of them putting up flags. I wasn’t the only one though!)

They do make the canal look even prettier.

And this has nothing to do with the Film Festival, but I happened to walk by the new Subway and was excited when I saw the Ouvert sign. But then I realized that meant “open for business in general” and not “open right now so you can buy a sandwich at 9:30 AM.” There were no hours posted, so I don’t know how often they will be open. I’m hoping since it’s just a carry out place (there is absolutely no place to sit inside) that they will be open “non-stop” during the day. I get so annoyed at restaurants that are closed after 2 PM. Some of us never eat lunch at noon!

My Love Affair with the Préfecture: A Timeline

By   June 7, 2008

October 2006: Apply for first Carte de Séjour at Seynod mairie
December 2006: Receive récépissé #1 in Seynod
February 2007: Receive first CDS travailleur temporaire due to being a language assistant; but need to change adress on it already since I had moved. Since I stayed within the same département, a sticker with the new address is placed on the back of the card.
March 2007: Apply for second CDS at Meythet mairie
May 2007: Receive récépissé #2 in Meythet
June 2007: CDS gets lost in the mail (uknown to me)
August 2007: Re-apply for second CDS at Annecy préfecture; receive récépissé #3 same day
October 2007: Receive second CDS visiteur due to being PACSed, but not having lived together for one year
December 2007: Apply for third CDS; receive récépissé #4 at Annecy préfecture same day
January 2008: Discover that Paris sent the wrong CDS; re-apply for third CDS, receive no récépissé
March 2008: Receive correct third CDS travailleur temporaire due to being language assistant again
April 2008: Apply for fourth CDS at Annecy préfecture; receive récépissé #5 same day
June 2008: Receive fourth CDS vie privée et familiale due to being PACSed and having lived together for one year; and finally have the full right to work in France!


March 2009: Wander all over Annecy trying to find out where to request a recent récépissé de PACS that is needed in order to renew my CDS vie privée et familiale for another year. Finally discover that I need to request it from the TGI Paris, but their website no longer exists and they never answer the phone. (Address & Info on what to do is here.)  Finally get the stupid récépissé de PACS and hand in all the paperwork to the préfecture in Annecy. No récépissé though since they assured me I would receive my new CDS before the old one expires.
May 2009: Pay 70€ to a tabac to buy OMI timbres which the préfecture requires. My new CDS vie privée et familiale is actually there with the correct information so I am set for another year in France!
June 2009: Moved to Chambéry, which is in a different département, so instead of just putting a sticker on my current CDS to change the address, I have to re-apply from scratch! Same exact papers that I just gave to the préfecture in Annecy a month ago. ::sigh:: (Luckily none of them were too old, so I didn’t have to get any new documents.)  Find out the préfecture in Chmabéry does not give out récépissés immediately.
July 2009: Receive a convocation to go pick up my récépissé, which is good until September 30.
September 2009: Return to préfecture to ask if my CDS has arrived yet and what to do when my récépissé runs out in a week. No CDS because Annecy has not yet sent my file to Chambéry and I’ll be sent another convocation when my new récépissé is printed so I can go pick it up.
December 2009: Still waiting for a new récépissé and new CDS with my Chambéry address on it. Something tells me I will not receive either one…. My CDS (with my old address in Annecy on it) is good until May 2010, so I’m not that worried about it. I have to do the renewal process in March anyway, so I don’t bother going back to the préfecture to ask what’s going on. I’m sure the answer is: Annecy has not yet sent your file.

March 2010: Still no news about CDS with Chambéry address, but it’s time to renew it anyway. Turned in all the paperwork on the 9th and was told my change of address card (that I applied for in JUNE) would arrive in a few days.  A few days meant 16 days later, on the 25th. Chambéry just said Annecy never wanted to send my dossier so that’s why it took so darn long.

I hate the Euro

By   June 7, 2008

No, not the currency. The stupid soccer* tournament. Well, I do hate the euro currency too, but that’s another story…

It starts today in less than 2 hours. (There’s actually a countdown on the official site.) David’s going to be glued to the TV and I’m going to be bored. France doesn’t play until Monday though. Fortunately I have a private lesson at the same time so I won’t be home!

I’m still dreading my train from Geneva to Freiburg in a few weeks. I have a stop in Basel. Geneva and Basel are both host cities for it.

I wish it were June 29th already…

* I refuse to say football even though I’m in Europe because that always reminds me of American football, which I hate even more.

Guess who has the right to work in France now?

By   June 5, 2008


I got my carte de séjour vie privée et familiale today! It says “autorise son titulaire à travailler” right on it. And it’s good until May 2009. I am beyond ecstatic!!!

It has taken me almost two years and a lot of months wondering how I’d make it financially in France. I hope EU citizens realize how incredibly lucky they are. Not that I’m bitter or anything…

Time to apply for unemployment and any and every job I can find!


By   June 4, 2008

Drivers in France: As of July 1, you must have a bright yellow vest and red triangle (gilet de sécurité et triangle de pré-signalisation) in your car at all times to use during an accident or if your car breaks down. The police will be doing random checks and if they discover that you do not have these, they will fine you 90 €.

Cyclists in France: As of September 1, you must wear a bright yellow vest if you are riding at night and outside of the city limits. The fine for not wearing this vest will be 22 €.

Eastern EU Citizens: Also as of July 1, you will have the full right to work in France. Previously, only citizens of the the states admitted before 2004 (UK, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Austria, Finland, and Sweden, plus Cyprus and Malta); members of the European Economic Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) and a few other states (Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Vatican City and Liechtenstein) could live and work in France without needing a residency or work permit, but Sarkozy recently announced that citizens of the Eastern states would be allowed as well (2004 entrants): the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. However, restrictions are still in place against citizens of Romania and Bulgaria (2007 entrants).

Tourists to the US: As of January 12, 2009, tourists from the 27 Visa Waiver countries will be required to enter basic ID/contact information online at least three days before their arrival in the US. Supposedly the registration will be good for two years unless the tourist’s passport expires before then. No word yet on what will happen to tourists who forget or don’t know they need to enter this information 3 days before their flight. The Visa Waiver Program countries are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Citizens of Canada, Bermuda and Mexico do not need visas to enter the US as tourists either.