Les argots

More and more, I’m starting to believe that there is a secret society that banishes authors from teaching real French in any books. French has such an astounding number of slang words and expressions, as well as a spoken form that is sometimes nearly unrecognizable from the written form, that I truly believe this entire language is just one cruel joke on foreigners. I have read through at least a dozen textbooks, and yet another dozen teach yourself French books, and have never come across half of the words that are in common usage in France today. I realize that slang is hard to publish in books because it changes so quickly, but still…

Another problem is that I have no idea when to use the slang words. Unlike English, French has a rich lexicon of slang words for nouns. For example, I cannot for the life of me figure out why there are three slang words for umbrella. In which cases would you use pébroque instead of pépin instead of chamberlain instead of the standard parapluie? Is one word considered old-fashioned? Does another describe the good or bad qualities of the item (such as clunker for a run-down car?) Are any of them even used anymore today? I just don’t know.

I’m also starting to get used to discovering what I learned in my French classes is wrong in spoken French. Well, not wrong, just not used. Déjeuener actually means to eat lunch and to eat breakfast. Salade is nothing more than a bowl of lettuce. Steak haché is nothing more than a hamburger patty. Possession is shown by using à not de. Barely anyone uses inversion or even est-ce que to form a question (subject, verb, question word is good enough). Everyone uses on instead of nous to mean we.

Recently on TF1’s site there was a poll asking for opinions of the show Secret Story (some stupid reality show where the contestants must discover each others secrets). The choices were:

C’est top, C’est bof, Ça craint, C’est quoi ?
Approximate translations: It’s great, It’s mediocre, It’s awful, What is it?

Years of French at university and 9 months of living in France and I still had to look up ça craint. I knew the verb craindre meant to fear, but I had no idea there was a slang meaning too. These words are relatively easy to figure out since the first choice is obviously good, and the rest go downhill from there. But if I had encountered these expressions in a different context, I would have no idea what they meant.

My biggest fear when I first moved to France was being able to understand spoken French. I knew that my grammar and reading comprehension were fine. But the thought of not understanding a word someone said to me made me so stressed out. To this day, I still have problems speaking and understanding French on the phone (Heck, I still have problems speaking and understanding English on the phone, but that’s a different story…)

I suppose this is why I’m so obsessed with discovering new expressions and words everyday, so I can add them to my Informal French page. I feel cheated that all of my French books only teach the formal, written language and I want to help others learn the real French language so they are not completely lost when they move here.

Just another day in France

Happy 4th of July! The Fourth of July at NPR

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Les Soldes

The semi-annual sales are taking place right now in France. The government allows stores to have sales twice a year, once in January and once in July. I didn’t feel like shopping much in January when I had the worst flu of my life, so I decided to take advantage of the second round of […]

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July 1, 1867

Happy Canada Day! Canada Day Quiz from CBC News

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Good news

I went to the optician this morning to choose my frames (ma monture). I’m getting new glasses and new contacts for a year, for a grand total of 130 €. I could have even gotten a second pair of glasses (prescription sunglasses, for example) for only 14 €, but I don’t need them. Go Mutuelle […]

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La Fête de la Musique

The first day of summer is celebrated by la fête de la musique everywhere in France. Big cities have huge outdoor celebrations for all sorts of music. The one in Paris is televised, of course. Since I live in a suburb of Annecy, the local fête here was rather small – it was actually nothing […]

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David received an attestation from Alliance Française today. He passed the tests to do the formation to become certified to teach French as a Foreign Language. He should receive the first of six modules next month, which I will also be reading through and studying because I’m a nerd: 1. Linguistique appliquée à l’enseignement du […]

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I’ve been to the doctor three times already in France (four if you count the visite medicale required for the carte de séjour), but today was my first appointment at an eye doctor. Not only did I finally learn the difference between an ophthalmologist and an optician – I always just say eye doctor in […]

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Oh la France.

Getting a job in France is very hard, even for the French. Jobs here are based on your diplomas or degrees, not experience, which forces young people to go to university for years in order to obtain jobs that 16 year-olds do in the US. Every job is a contract; CDI if it’s long-term (no […]

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dimanche le 17 juin

Bonne Fête des Pères ! Father’s Day is the same day in the US and France – the third Sunday in June. Which is slightly less complicated than Mother’s Day, which is the second Sunday in May in the US and the last Sunday in May in France – unless that last Sunday is also […]

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Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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