Category Archives: French Culture

Knowledge of French popular culture: m’a tuer

By   February 26, 2011

An example of French popular culture: the phrase m’a tuer

I figured even Voici wouldn’t have made such a glaring grammatical mistake on their cover (it “should” be Twitter m’a tuée, using the past participle and agreeing with the preceding direct object, me, which is a woman in this case) so I asked David what it referred to. He told me about the Omar Raddad case and the murder of Ghislaine Marchal. Omar, a Moroccan, worked as a gardener at her villa in Mougins (not far from Cannes) and was accused of her murder in 1991 because “Omar m’a tuer” was written on the wall in her blood next to the body. Though it was never proven to be Marchal’s handwriting, it was the only piece of evidence against Omar and he did go to jail for nearly seven years before being released as a favor to King Hassan II. Technically he is still considered guilty by law, even though many people have refuted the “evidence” and still believe it was merely racism that lead to his arrest.

It was a heavily mediatized scandal in France, and a movie about it will be released this year. [Update: Watch the trailer here!] I suppose “m’a tuer” could be compared to “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” from the OJ Simpson trial in the US. Anyone who watched French news in the 90’s knows about the Omar trial and instantly recognizes the phrase just as Americans recognize the phrase about the glove. Searching online, you’ll come across many examples of m’a tuer such as Google m’a tuer and Sarkozy m’a tuer. There was even a concert protesting the controversial “creation and internet” law called Hadopi that was adopted in 2009:

I’ve written a lot on learning culture with language because they cannot be separated, but popular culture is probably the hardest aspect of culture to learn. Unless you lived through it, saw it on TV, heard about it on a daily basis, it can be hard to really understand the importance (or non-importance) of it all. It is hard to learn about pop culture from books or even magazines because they don’t really explain it; they just expect you to know it. It’s the experience that matters most, and I’m not sure of the best way to recreate that when learning a language/culture.

David speaks English really well and has no trouble communicating or understanding with Americans. He still watches American series to get more exposure to the language (especially southern accents which he loves, so thanks True Blood) but he still finds it hard to understand pop culture references. I remember when he was watching Lost a few years ago and was completely confused during the Tricia Tanaka is Dead episode. Sawyer and Hurley were on pop culture overload with Skeletor, Hooked on Phonics, Rocky III, JumboTron, Jiminy Cricket, and Munchkin. It was a funny episode for Americans, but not so much for foreigners. Even if he had turned on the English subtitles, he still wouldn’t have understood because it was the meaning behind the words and not the actual words themselves that he didn’t understand. Comparing the French and English subtitles, it’s easy to see that some things can’t be translated well because they don’t really exist in France or French:

Somebody’s hooked on phonics. becomes T’as appris la phonétique.

What’s your problem, JumboTron? becomes C’est quoi, ton problème, Écran géant ? in one version and C’est quoi, ton problème, Jabba le Hutt ? in another.

Remember online subtitles are made by volunteers and aren’t necessarily the same as the dubbed version shown in France. But it is interesting to see how the translators decided to render the same idea or image in French, especially for things that don’t exist, such as the brand name JumboTron for the large TV screens in arenas and stadiums. One translator resorts to a literal translation of giant screen, while the other uses another cultural reference that French people would know since Star Wars is just as famous here as in the US.

Anyone else endlessly fascinated by translations of pop culture among languages?

More French Cultural Vocabulary: Proprietary or Brand Names

By   February 13, 2011

Proprietary or brand names are also a cultural aspect of learning languages. Many times people aren’t even aware that a word they use for a certain object is in fact a brand name and not the generic name. In English, we have several brand names that have become more common than the original terms, such as kleenex (tissue), Q-tip (cotton swab), and band-aid (adhesive bandage).  This also extends further than nouns because we have verbs such as to tweet and to google.  And of course, some dialects of English do not use the same proprietary names as others (it’s plaster and not band-aid in British English.)

Here are a few proprietary names (with their generic names) used in France.

critérium / portemine

stabilo / surligneur

tippex / correcteur fluide

sopalin / essuie-tout

cotons-tiges / bâtons ouatés

Check out other Cultural Realia of France.

Culturally Relevant Photos of French Objects: Learning the Cultural Significance of Words

By   February 8, 2011

Following up on my recent post about cultural differences in photos, I have begun taking pictures of culturally relevant objects in France as an extension to my realia project that originally included written objects in French, such as signs, brochures, menus, receipts, etc. Now I want to add realia pertaining to visual differences among cultures and how a word in one language sometimes cannot translate exactly to another.

For example, the closest thing to a washcloth (that Americans know as a square piece of cloth) in France is actually un gant de toilette, which you can put your hand inside like a glove. Should we say that a washcloth = un gant de toilette even though they are not exactly the same thing?

How about approximations according to what is most common in each culture? In the US, most modern homes are heated by furnaces while in France most homes are heated by radiateurs, whether cast iron or electric.  Some homes even have underfloor heating. Even though Americans know what radiators are since they are still common in older houses, how would you go about translating the concept of a furnace into French? Simply use the culturally equivalent item? But then if you had only learned vocabulary by memorizing the spelling and pronunciation of the translation from your native language, how would you even know that French homes don’t have furnaces?

Here are a few other objects that are almost the same, but with slight differences.

Paper has grids, not lines, and more holes along the side

Milk is sold in one liter bottles, and most do not need to be refrigerated before opening

A wall outlet tends to be round with two circular holes for the prongs

Once again, language and culture cannot be separated. If you don’t learn them together, you will never have a full understanding of either. This is why I intend to add photos to the flashcards and I have added another page to the Realia section for this Cultural Realia of France.  All of the photos I take in France will be released under the same Creative Commons License that I used for the French Listening Resources mp3s so that other teachers and learners of French may use them in their classes or for self-study.

Cultural Differences in Photos: USA and France

By   January 25, 2011

In my English classes I taught at the university, we used flashcards with a photo of an object and the English word written out to teach and/or reinforce vocabulary. For most objects, there were no problems with the images provided but every once in a while, my students didn’t quite understand the connection between the image and the word because of cultural differences between the US and France.

For example, what word comes to mind when you look at this image?

If you are American, you would most likely identify it as a loaf of bread. All of my French students, however, thought it was a cake. Why? Because un cake in French is this:

Most Americans would probably call this a sort of quick bread, such as banana bread or zucchini bread, because the shape is similar to a loaf of bread. Loaves of bread are not all that common in France because pain has many shapes, whether a baguette, or pain de campagne, or petits pains. Sliced bread sold in loaves is just called pain de mie, or “American Sandwich” as it’s written on the bag, and it is not really eaten with meals but used almost exclusively for making sandwiches or croque monsieurs.

Another image that my students found strange was this:

Orange prescription bottles that are the norm in the US don’t exist in France. When you go to the pharmacy, you receive a box of medication but there is no printed label with the directions on it, or even your name or doctor’s name. All of that information stays on the prescription paper itself, which you must keep.

Students who watch a lot of American TV or films recognized the bottle, but it was still a foreign concept to them – just as not receiving an orange bottle is still a bit odd to me whenever I fill a prescription in France.

Now what image pops into your head when you hear the words crutches or vacuum?

If you’re American, I bet you think of these:

If you’re French, I imagine it’s more like these:

The forearm crutches and cylinder vacuum are also used in the US, but the underarm crutches and upright vacuum are relatively rare in France. I always thought it was strange when my students came to class with the forearm crutches after a car or skiing accident, because I only ever saw those used by elderly patients with lifelong disabilities or Kerry Weaver on ER. I don’t know which set of crutches is considered better for healing, but at least with the vacuums it makes more sense that the upright version is more common in North America – because we have a lot more carpet in our homes and businesses. I have yet to set foot in a home in France where there is wall-to-wall carpet instead of a few small rugs here and there. Since Europe prefers hardwood and tile floors, the cylinder vacuum is more convenient here.

Another difference that I had never thought of came to me when I was flipping through Oops magazine this past weekend. Oops is one of those trashy celebrity magazines that I only look at to learn more slang or see what atrocities French has done to English words lately (relooké always kills me). There was a picture of Zac Efron next to a car holding a few things in his hands, one of which was a tube of Burt’s beeswax lip balm, which is very recognizable to Americans – as are most tubes of chapstick. [I believe this was the paparazzi photo if you want to see for yourself.]

However, the caption in French said that he was holding a tube of homeopathic pills. I don’t think that Burt’s Bees products are as popular in France as in the US, and homeopathic pills found in little tubes are very common, so it’s easy to see why the author was mistaken:

There are many other subtle differences that don’t lead to confusion (houses with siding vs. stone houses, cars with trunks vs. hatchbacks, top-loading washers vs. front-loading) that help to identify something as American or French/European. Searching for the English word on and the French word on will provide many examples. Can you think of any other items that could be mistaken for something else like the cake and tubes above?

Cost of Living in France: My Personal Experience

By   November 18, 2010

How much does it cost to live in France? I’ve received a few e-mails inquiring about the cost of living in France, so here is a listing of my monthly bills and yearly taxes. Hopefully this information will be useful for those who are looking to move to France and want to compare the costs. I do not live in Paris, where the cost of living is especially high, but I do live near the Alps and Switzerland in one of the more expensive areas of France. My city is the capital of its department, and has a population of about 50,000. I live with my PACS partner, David, so most of my expenses are cut in half.

Cost of Living in France

Monthly Bills

Rent: 550€ total / my half: 275€

– one-bedroom apartment in old building (with poor electrical installation; can’t use hairdyer and microwave at same time for example…) about 10 minutes from train station and city center; 52 meters squared with two balconies and storage space in basement. Most apartments in this area are much more expensive (700-800€) which we couldn’t really afford so we chose the cheapest one possible.

Electricity & Gas: 65€ total / my half: 32.50€

– We have a gas stove & oven, but luckily regular radiators instead of those expensive electric ones (so heat is included in our rent.) Our hot water heater only heats at night during off-peak hours.

Water: 20€ total / my half: 10€

– washing machine but no dishwasher; hot water heater only holds 100 liters which is just enough for two showers and doing the dishes

Internet, phone, & TV: 30€ total / my half: 15€

– ADSL internet + land-line with free calling to US & Canada and free calls to land-lines in many, many other countries + basic “cable” channels

Groceries: 250€ total / my half: 125€

– Even shopping at Aldi and Lidl! We are trying to reduce this obviously.

Gas/Tolls: 150€ total / my half: 75€

– We only use the car once or twice a week – to get groceries or visit David’s parents. Our car is an automatic that takes the most expensive gas though.

Car Insurance: 30€ total / my half: 15€

Renter’s Insurance: 10€ total / my half: 5€

*Cell phone: 15€

– I just buy prepaid cards and very rarely need to use my cell phone thanks to the internet.

*Mutuelle: 30€

– This means my prescriptions and contacts are “free” and I get another 30% of consultation fees reimbursed. Government-run healthcare that almost everyone has (la sécu) generally reimburses the first 70%.

When I used to commute to work (100 km round-trip 4 days a week), I paid about 250€ per month for gas and tolls. David walks to work and I work at home now, so we have no public transportation costs. For reference, a monthly bus pass in our city costs 30€ while a monthly passe Navigo in Paris is between 55€ and 123€ (depending on which zones you need). However, it is now law in France that your employer must pay 50% of your public transportation costs for your commute to and from work.

  • Total Monthly Bills:  600€ (*cell phone and mutuelle are the only bills that I do not share with David)

Yearly Taxes

Residency Card Renewal: 110€ Unless you have the 10 year carte de résident, you must renew the yearly carte de séjour for a price of 110€.

Income tax: 611€ for my part.  Since I am PACSed, my income tax is lower than for a single person plus I received a credit of 194€ for the prime pour l’emploi. The amount of income tax I paid was 5% of my imposable income (about 15% of my gross income minus a 10% deduction). In France, la sécurité sociale which includes health insurance, unemployment & retirement benefits is automatically taken out of your paycheck, but income tax is NOT. I calculated that 18% of my gross income was deducted for la sécu. I have no other source of income in France because I am not eligible for CAF, or rent assistance for low-income individuals or families, that most language assistants and lecturers receive. To be on the safe side, most people say you should save almost one month’s salary to pay for income tax.

Taxe d’habitation: 368€ for my half out of 736€ total. This is a renter’s tax that you must pay on the place where you are living on January 1st, even if you move out on January 2nd. (If you own your house or apartment, you pay la taxe foncière.)  The amount of la taxe d’habitation depends on the city where you live, the size of your apartment, your income, etc. so it can be hard to know how much you will have to pay until you receive the bill in October or November. In general it should be around one month’s rent. Added to this taxe is the TV tax (or Contribution à l’audiovisuel public as it is now called) which is 121€. Every household that owns a TV must pay it. Two ways of ensuring you do not have to pay this tax is by living in university residences managed by CROUS or renting a furnished room (not apartment) in a person’s home. Sometimes you can get this tax decreased if you have a low income by explaining your situation to the tax center (a dégrèvement).

  • Total Yearly Taxes:  1,089€

At the very least, I need more than 8,300€ to survive in France each year and the above figures do not include any extra expenses such as clothes, books, entertainment, birthday & Christmas presents, etc. We never go to the movies and rarely eat at restaurants – and when we do, we use David’s tickets-restaurant. In addition, every two years we have to pay 80€ for the vehicle inspection (contrôle technique) and every year our car has needed about 600€ worth of repairs (it’s a 1986 Renault Super 5 automatic with a manual choke.) And another expense that was free in the US is a checking account. I pay 33€ a year for my account, debit card and checks.

Personally I don’t feel that life is that much more expensive in France compared to the US. Internet/phone/TV is definitely cheaper here and cell phones can also be cheaper if you rarely make calls since receiving calls is free in France. However, clothes, books and especially electronics are definitely more expensive than what I’m used to. Movies and restaurants are comparable to larger cities in the US, but expensive compared to the area where I come from. Groceries, gas, and tolls are more expensive than what I used to pay in Michigan – though gas in general is much cheaper in the US and Michigan only has freeways. It’s harder to compare income tax since I’ve always received a refund in the US and never paid much attention to how much was taken out of my paychecks. And a renter’s tax just doesn’t exist where I lived.

Nevertheless, even if bills and taxes are similar and we receive great benefits in France with regards to unemployment and health insurance, the main difference I see with the US are the incomes. It is very frustrating to know that I earned roughly the same amount working full-time in France that I earned working part-time in the US. A lot of people working full-time only earn minimum wage in France, which is 12,600€ net per year. When I was an English assistant, I earned 5,460€ and only had a 7 month contract. When I was an English lecturer at the university, I earned 14,640€ per year before income tax and the job was considered full-time (I wasn’t even allowed to get a 2nd job if I wanted to) and required a Master’s degree. Most fonctionnaires (civil servants) start out between 14,500€ and 19,000€ per year. They may have their job for life, but the incomes do not increase much even after years and years of experience. French people who make American-like incomes work in Switzerland and Luxembourg, where they average 48-72k per year. French people working the same jobs in France tend to average 18-30k.

That being said, France does a good job of taking care of people who are extremely poor. People who earn minimum wage tend to receive a large prime pour l’emploi and monthly benefits from CAF. Even unemployed people get special discounts on public transportation, library subscriptions, museum admission, etc. Young people (under 25) also get a LOT of nice discounts and families with children receive very generous benefits from the state. Once you’re over 25 and earn just above minimum wage however, you get nothing. Being PACSed or married definitely helps with regards to income tax, though it also tends to make you ineligible for CAF. In a nutshell, there’s not a whole lot you can do in France to earn more money, but you can decrease your bills by living with a roommate and/or getting PACSed.  If I were single and living in the same apartment, I’d probably end up paying 900-1,000€ in monthly bills (depending on how much I used the car) with a higher rate of income tax plus the full amount of the taxe d’habitation. So my advice to everyone is get PACSed!


Expat Exhaustion: All Grèved Out and All Franced Out

By   October 15, 2010

Perhaps you heard that there was a strike this past Tuesday in France against the pension reforms. Perhaps you heard it was the 5th one this year, and another one is already scheduled for next Tuesday. Perhaps you heard that the government has already passed the reforms anyway. Even though most people protesting only took Tuesday off, the transportation strikes continue with limited trains throughout the week, and now high schoolers in many cities, including Chambéry, are blocading their schools and getting into trouble with the police. For the past two days, I have heard nothing but siren after siren as police cars leave the station (only 500 feet from us, oh joy) to head downtown. High schoolers started setting things on fire in front of their schools and throwing stones at the police, who responded by tear gassing the teenagers. This morning the students marched over to the train station and disrupted the traffic by staying on the tracks, where the police tear gassed them again.

I understand why the teenagers are mad and feel the need to protest like everyone else. Young people in this country already had a bleak outlook for their futures before this reform (unemployment is over 20%), and now it keeps getting worse. I don’t necessarily think that setting things on fire in the street is going to change the unemployment problem, however. Yet the reaction by the police seems a bit excessive to me too. Shooting tear gas into a school, chasing students just to hit them with their clubs, and threatening people who film everything make me sick.

In addition to the public transportation strikes, there are also reports of blocades at the rafineries and possible gas shortages. Luckily I don’t have to go anywhere and David can walk to work so we’re not affected by it. I feel really bad for the tourists who are stuck throughout France or at the airports in Paris. Strikes may be a big part of French culture, but I’m sure it’s not the “culture” they were looking forward to experiencing.

Yet it’s not just the strikes that are making me so tired of being in France or being an expat in France. It’s all the little things that add up to one big thing: frustration. Whether simply trying to open a bank account (took 6 weeks!), renew a residency card (took 9 months!), update important personal information on any French website (all of them are just horrible, awful trash), buy groceries on a Saturday, or do anything at all on a Sunday – everything feels like a huge obstacle to overcome in order to accomplish the most mundane tasks. And after four years, the inefficiency and lack of convenience really starts to get to you. But my biggest concerns have more to do with working and immigration, which are obviously the most important aspects to me as a non-tourist foreigner in France.

The cost of living and taxes continue to increase, yet salaries stay the same. We had to pay 1,555€ in income tax in September (it’s not a pay-as-you-earn system so you just have to keep saving money all year long), and then another 736€ in October for the taxe d’habitation (renter’s tax), of which 121€ was for owning a TV. The cost to renew my residency card each year is 110€, and in fact it used to be 70€. It costs more each year to own a TV in France that it does to have the right to work! Granted, I don’t mind paying higher taxes for health insurance, unemployment and retirement benefits, but when too many people start thinking they can slack off and let the government take care of them because of the high taxes they pay, then obviously it becomes a problem. On the other hand, paying lower taxes but having no government help at all is not ideal either.

I find it harder and harder to justify living in a country where 1,500€ per month/18,000€ per year is a normal or even good salary for someone with a Master’s degree. (The average income in the US for someone with an M.A. is about $40,000.) For as educated and experienced as I am, I feel like I’m worth a little bit more than the 1,200€ a month I got as a lectrice, which turned into about 13,500€ for the year after paying taxes. I’ve always been annoyed by the restrictive concept of needing a métier in France and no one caring if you have experience – all that matters is that you have a very specific degree for a very specific job and if you don’t like it, too bad. You’re stuck there for your entire life. No wonder this country’s youth is so pessimistic.

I also find it harder and harder to stay in a country that treats French citizens of foreign backgrounds differently and openly calls immigrants criminals. The new measure adopted by l’Assemblée states that any immigrant who kills a policeman will have his French nationality stripped from him – and it also makes it easier to expel Gypsies from France by allowing the expulsion of any EU citizen found guilty of “repeated acts of theft, aggressive begging and illegally occupying land.” Another part of the law limits access to medical care for foreigners who do not have a valid residency card. All this in the country of les droits de l’homme – or perhaps it should be changed to les droits des français nés en France.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t absolutely hate living in France or else I wouldn’t be here, and France is still winning in my USA vs. France battle (but only by a hair). But everyday it gets harder to stay happy here knowing that life is much better in other countries, where I can have a real career. I didn’t spend six years at university just to earn minimum wage in temporary jobs. I have no desire to return to the US but I also have no desire to stay in France for much longer. I love the French language and all Francophone cultures, but I feel like I need to break up with France before this frustration gets the best of me. Luckily David agrees that things are not good in France right now and wants to live abroad too, so to all of you who are thinking “if she doesn’t like it, why doesn’t she just leave” – don’t worry, I’m working on it.

But I wonder how much of this frustration is due to being an expat in a foreign country (or perhaps just France) and how much of it is just thinking that everything is better where I am not?

Il me semble que je serais toujours bien là où je ne suis pas, et cette question de déménagement en est une que je discute sans cesse avec mon âme.

– Baudelaire

La Rentrée en France: Back to School… and Strikes

By   September 2, 2010

The official back to school shopping list for all French public school students is not only a lesson in vocabulary, but also in culture.  Most people know that France is a very centralized country and that all roads (and railroads) lead to Paris. The academic calendar is set in stone for the three zones of France years in advance and the school curriculum is essentially the same throughout the entire country. The joke about every student studying the same subject from the same textbook at the same time everywhere in France isn’t exactly true, yet take a look at the specificity of the school supplies that parents are supposed to buy for their children:

Fournitures : Qualité type attendue
Grand cahier 96 pages (21 x 29,7 cm) : Dos agrafé, 80 à 90 g/m2
Grand cahier 96 pages (24 x 32 cm) : Dos agrafé, 80 à 90 g/m2
Petit cahier de 96 pages (17 x 22 cm) : Dos agrafé, 80 à 90 g/m2
Feuillets mobiles perforés (21 x 29,7 cm) : 70 à 90 g/m2
Copies doubles perforées (21 x 29,7 cm) : 70 à 90 g/m2
Cahier de musique de 48 pages (17 x 22 cm)
Classeur rigide (21 x 29,7 cm) : Cartonné recyclable
Classeur souple (21 x 29,7 cm) : Plastique
Protège-cahiers (17 x 22 – 21 x 29,7 – 24 x 32)
Pochettes transparentes perforées (21 x 29,7 cm) : Lot de 90 à 100
Rouleau de plastique pour couvrir les livres
Stylos à bille : 1 bleu, 1 noir, 1 rouge, 1 vert – pointe moyenne
Crayons à papier : H.B. – bout gomme
Pochette de 12 crayons de couleur
Pochette de 12 feutres de couleur : Lavables, sans solvant, non toxiques
5 tubes (10 ml) de gouache – 5 couleurs primaires : Peinture à l’eau
Stylo correcteur
Bâton de colle – lot de 2 à 4 : Non toxique – sans solvant
Rouleau de ruban adhésif : Sans dévidoir
Porte-vues – 21 x 29,7cm – 40 à 60 vues : Matière plastique ou recyclée

I certainly don’t remember my back to school lists being this specific. Teachers just told us to buy a notebook or folders or colored pencils. I was never told dimensions or numbers of pages or stapled, not glued. Maybe things have changed since my school days (I graduated high school in 2000), but somehow I don’t think American schools are quite as exigeant with their school supplies as l’Education Nationale in France.

I’ve worked in 3 high schools, 2 middle schools and 1 university in France and I can attest to the fact that all students use the same pens, plastic rulers, glue sticks, notebooks, sheets of paper, etc. Students may not all be studying math at 10 AM on Tuesday mornings, but they most likely are all using the same blue pens and grid paper and not one will attempt to draw a line without using their ruler, or without asking where exactly on the page to draw it. To Americans, this rigidness seems like a lack of imagination or creativity, whereas to the French, it is essential to suivre le modèle and not step out of line (or color outside of the lines).  I’m not saying that one country’s education system is better than the other – because I have a lot of problems with both – but maybe we should strive to be more like Finland instead. Just sayin’!

To learn school supply vocabulary online, I recommend browsing paper store websites such as You’ll notice that certain supplies that are common in the US don’t actually exist in France or aren’t used very often (two-pocket folders, spiral notebooks, lined paper).

Another facet of French culture that is evident at this time of year? Strikes! Even though everyone is just returning from summer vacation and going back to work and school this week, there is already a nation-wide strike scheduled for Tuesday. I love you, France, because you make me laugh and cry at the same time.

Are you a Juillettiste or an Aoûtien? and Another Reason to Visit France

By   August 2, 2010

We are in the middle of les grandes vacances in France and it certainly shows, even in smaller towns rather than just Paris. Many shops are closed or not nearly as crowded as usual, most of the people wandering the streets have cameras around their necks, and I can always find a parking spot directly in front of my building. Some things haven’t changed – there are just as many loud scooters on the streets that drive me insane – but France in August is definitely my favorite time of the year. And every summer I’m reminded just how much French language and culture are inseparable by the fact that there are words for people who take their annual vacation in July, les juillettistes, or in August, les aoûtiens.

Most French people have 5 weeks of paid vacation per year, and some have even more time off with the inclusion of their RTTs (essentially, personal days) for those who work more than 35 hours per week. My fonctionnaire (civil servant) boyfriend has nine weeks off per year, all paid of course – and this is only his second year as a fonctionnaire.  Even the education system makes sure there are 2 week vacations after every 6 weeks during the school year, which consequently means summer vacation is only 2 months instead of 3 like in the States, and hence why there are no real juinistes (people who take their vacation in June; very few people use this word and it’s not in the dictionary). Nevertheless, French law makes sure everyone gets plenty of vacation!

Regardless of whether you are a juillettiste or an aoûtien, there is yet another reason to spend your vacation in France: UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has just inscribed a new cultural site in France on their World Heritage List. The episcopal city of Albi, located in the southwest near Toulouse, is the 31st World Heritage cultural site in mainland France and there are also natural sites on the islands of Corsica, La Réunion, and New Caledonia. Of course, you should visit countries to learn the language, meet the people, eat the food, etc. instead of just hopping from Heritage site to Heritage site, but the list is a nice way to get an overview of the history and culture of an area.

French Summer School Online: Free Resources to Download

By   July 22, 2010

Académie en ligne is the official website of Education Nationale in France that provides support materials for all courses in public schools so that students can continue learning during the summer. The site was launched last summer, but I had forgotten until This French Life posted about it.  It’s designed for all students from CP to Terminale (kindergarten through senior year for the Americans) but I like to use it to improve my French and learn more about certain topics from a French perspective.  The subjects available are: German, English, Chinese, Spanish, French, History-Geography, Math, Philosophy, Physics-Chemistry, Life & Earth Science, Economics & Social Science, and Experimental Sciences & Technology.

Of course I’m most interested in the language and geography sections, and I have to say the materials for German and French are pretty useful. Not only are there exercises and the answers (in PDF format) to download, but also audio resources that go with the documents. You can use the DownThemAll add-on for Firefox to download the PDFs at once and the best part is: this is all free! I love free language learning materials! I really wish they had Italian materials too since that’s what I’m focusing on at the moment. More students study Italian than German or Chinese in France so I’m a little confused as to why it’s not included.

It’s worth checking out just to see what it is French students learn in school, and English assistants or tutors could probably use the (British English) materials in their classes. Plus the Mon Cahier d’Europe site has a neat booklet on European Union members, an online game you can play to test your knowledge, and a few links to learn more about the EU.

Learning French Slang & Culture through Hip-Hop and Rap

By   July 18, 2010

Even if you don’t like rap in English, it pays to listen to it in foreign languages because the songs are usually full of informal language and slang as well as cultural references. Here are some songs that also teach you verlan (a “backwards” form of slang), French geography, Francophone names, common acronyms and the reduction of the schwa vowel.

Sinik & Diam’s: Le Même Sang French rap from famous rappers who are not français de souche. Sinik is Franco-Algerian and Diam’s was born in Cyprus. Most French rappers have origins in Francophone Africa, such as MC Solaar who is Senegalese (though his parents were from Chad) or come from Marseille and have a distinct accent.

Read lyrics here.
Vocabulary: rentpa, daron, flic, gosse, niquer, braquer, foutre, SMIC, baraque

Grand Corps Malade: Les Voyages en Train Not exactly rap or hip-hop, but slam poetry, or le slam in French. It’s much easier to understand! This poem gives us lots of vocabulary for taking the train in France.

Read lyrics here.
Vocabulary: SNCF, Tipex, se planter, flipper, saouler, pote, trainer

Zaho: C’est Chelou More hip-hop than rap, but there’s verlan in the title. Chelou comes from louche, which means shady, dodgy, sketchy, etc. Also shows us what a typical French douchebag looks like so you know who to avoid.

Read the lyrics here.
Vocabulary: chelou, taspé, taffer

Koxie: Garçon If you take off the cedilla, you’re left with garcon, or gare aux cons. Gare here does not mean train station, but is the slang verb for watch out/beware and con is a really common insult, meaning jerk/idiot/asshole. Not all men are jerks of course, but the ones who harass you on the streets of Paris are.

Read lyrics here.
Vocabulary: gâterie, baiser, défoncer, quéquette, pote, bordel, galère, con, cochonne (careful! some of these words are considered vulgar!)

Fatal Bazooka: Fous ta cagoule ! Michaël Youn is more known as a comedian/actor but his parody band actually has become quite successful in France. This was their first single from 2006, which reached number 1 on French charts and satirizes typical French rap from Marseille in addition to slam, and which teaches us that it is cold in Savoie so you need to put on your ski mask.

Read the lyrics here.
Vocabulary: grelots, boules, Vesoul, Savoie, Picard, putain, espèce de fils de ****

Palmashow: Rap des Prénoms Another comedic group that teaches us French names and what it implies about the person. Eric, Bruno, and Teddy are firemen. Gérard is an alcoholic. Michael and Kévin are showoffs. Sylvie, Martine, and Annick work at supermarkets.

Read lyrics here.
Vocabulary: kéké, tuning, weeling, golri, meuf, Juste Prix, Mondial Moquette, pote, caisse, blase

Palmashow also does hilarious sketches about TV shows called Remakers that you should check out. Click on All Shows and Remakers in the bottom right corner.