Category Archives: French Culture

Learning French Slang & Culture through Hip-Hop and Rap

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.

For the France & French Lovers in America (and Elsewhere)

It’s too hot for me to stay at the computer and do a real update. It was about 37° C / 98.6° F here today and it’s still not that cool at 10 PM. The Tour de France started in Chambéry this afternoon before heading down to Gap and I feel sorry for the cyclists who had to deal with this heat. Unlike the rest of France, it has not rained here at all. Normally I love the heat but without air conditioning or a pool, I’m a little over it.

As today is la fête nationale in France (NOT Bastille Day! French people have no idea what that is), here are some new resources for gaining exposure to French language and culture, especially for my fellow Americans:

  • The news channel France 24 is now available everywhere in the United States on the DISH network in its original French version. Previously, only a few states had access to the English version.
  • TV5Monde (also available on DISH network) has a new program dedicated to Francophone related events throughout America: Rendez-vous d’Amérique
  • France finally created an official tourism website for the entire country,, that was officially launched today. It also includes information for residents of France who are studying or working here instead of just visiting as a tourist, available in 5 languages: French, English, German, Italian and Spanish. Unfortunately the servers have already crashed because so many people were accessing the site so it is currently down. Hopefully it will be back online soon!

Adventures at the French Post Office

Since I work from home at the moment, I haven’t been going out most days because 1. the weather has been crap until about 2 days ago and 2. I’m slightly anti-social, so living in Europe with its high population density stresses me out. And usually when I do go out to accomplish some mundane task, something ridiculous happens and I wonder if it’s France getting back at me for loving Germany more or if it’s just a natural inclination of mine to end up in strange and awkward situations.

Right after I got home from traveling, I needed to run to the post office to mail the rest of my postcards and presents. If you didn’t get a postcard from me, either I didn’t have your address or France didn’t want you to receive it. And I hope the 4 people I sent the presents to actually received them or my 2 hour ordeal in the tiny post office of downtown Chambéry was all for nothing.

I hope the boîte à lettre did not eat all of my pretty postcards.

I only live 5 minutes from the main post office, which is actually open between 12 and 2 PM – a rarity even in a “large city” such as Chambéry, with its massive 50,000 inhabitants. I thought I would be able to run this errand in a few minutes and get home before the storm came in and go back to lying around watching L’Agence Tous Risques because I was still too sick and tired to do anything else. So I grabbed my jacket and the 4 packages and dashed outside, noticing that it was in fact already raining and I should have probably brought my umbrella. But the post office is only a few blocks away, right?

Right. Except when I get there, I notice signs posted all over the walls and windows that this particular branch is closed for construction until June 29. Of course.

It starts raining harder as I try to figure out where the other post offices are. Of course x 2.

I reach into my pocket where I thought there was an entire packet of tissues, but only find one slightly wet kleenex. Of course x 3.

I shove the packages under my coat and start running towards the downtown pedestrian area, hoping that none of my former students are out and about. They already think I’m the weird American who can barely speak English anymore (remember Do I still speak English?) and I really did not want them to see me with a runny nose, unbrushed hair, and a bulging coat like I had just shop-lifted something.

Finally I find the tiny office and go inside to see 9 people waiting in line. A woman asks me why I’m there, and I respond intelligently “to send some mail.” She asks how I’m going to pay, and I say “with my bank card?” almost as a question because I have no idea why this strange lady is so nosy. Then I realize she actually works there and is trying to get people through the line as quickly as possible. A fonctionnaire who is helping customers in a timely and orderly fashion? What? Am I still in France??

She wants to know what I’m sending, and of course I forget the word for fridge magnet (oops, just spoiled a gift) and can only think of aimant, which does mean magnet, but not a fridge magnet. I explain it’s for the frigo, and she says ah, un magnet. ::facepalm:: I need to stop forgetting that French nowadays is just English spoken with a French accent.

These are magnets in English or “magnets” in French.

She informs me that I can use the automatic machine to weigh and print shipping labels for my packages, so I don’t need to wait in line. She even stands next to me and helps me choose the correct buttons on the screen. I weigh all 4 packages and pay with my card and I think everything is working like a charm, until the machine spits out one of the four labels I need and then barks at me “transaction interrompue” and won’t give me the rest of the labels even though my card was debited the amount for all four.

Um, ok. The woman has no idea why it didn’t work and even apologizes for leading me to the machine because it’s just wasting my time instead of saving it. I look back and still see 9 people in line, albeit 9 different people, and sigh. This is going to be a long day. And my one kleenex is not going to last much longer.

Another postal worker comes out to help but he can’t find the right key to open the machine. Third postal worker tries to help but he doesn’t have the code to punch in the machine to put it into maintenance mode. Finally fourth postal worker gets the thing open, but can’t figure out why the labels didn’t print. The woman is busy writing a note on official La Poste paper stating that if my card had been debited the full amount even though only one label had been printed, I could come back to the office and try to get it sorted out.

Number four asks me a bunch of questions about what buttons I pushed, and it becomes clear that he has no idea how the machine works. He thought it was only for buying stamps.

Number three returns and seems to be a little more knowledgeable about this mystery machine from the future, but doesn’t understand why I was weighing four different packages. He thought you could only do one package at a time.

I just stand there with my kleenex in one hand and the packages in the other. Is this really happening?, I ask myself. I know more about La Poste’s machine than the people who work at La Poste. And then I realize Why yes, I am still in France. The familiarity of the “everything in France ends up becoming a strange and bizarre adventure that I will never forget” feeling begins to set in and I’m surprised I haven’t been given the Gallic shrug yet.

But eh, whaddaya gonna do, right?

The machine seems to be functioning again, so I decide to weigh the remaining packages and hope it works correctly this time. Number three stays next to me, presumably so he could help me, but I really think it was so he could learn how to use this new and exciting technology.

Finally, everything works perfectly and it prints the labels and accepts my card and I’ve taught a fonctionnaire how to use a stupid machine. I hand over the packages to the woman because she is the only one that I trust and wish an old lady who wanted to buy some stamps from the machine bon courage as I leave. Now all I have to do is check my bank statement and hope La Poste didn’t charge me for 7 packages instead of 4 so that I don’t ever have to come back to this place ever again.

Walking home I was so grateful that my level of French is near-fluent because I think I might have just started crying dealing with all of that ridiculousness in any other language.

And that pretty much sums up every encounter at a French store/pharmacy/bank/post office/train station/anything located outside of my apartment that I’ve ever been in. It’s like one big series of bizarre events after another. Like the time the bank lady said she didn’t know how to do a cashier’s check or where to find them even though I needed it within 2 hours so I could buy my car or when we needed to buy a new box spring and had to drive the scary minivan that we rented from the mafia men or every single time I have ever stepped foot in the préfecture. I’m on residency card #7 in less than 4 years, mostly thanks to screw ups by… you guessed it, La Poste!

So other expats, is it me or is it France?

France is Distorting my Childhood Memories

I don’t watch much TV in France, and I certainly don’t like to watch American shows dubbed in French, but since Michelle and I were both sick last week we often returned to the hotel early and watched The A-Team. In French it’s called L’Agence Tous Risques and it’s like a completely different show because the theme song that every child of the 80’s instantly recognizes is missing.

In case you need to be reminded of the awesomeness of the original theme song, here it is:

And here is the French version, which is not awesome:

Why, France, why??

Plus the names of the characters are different: Face became Futé, B.A. changed to Barracuda, and Murdock was called Looping. At least they left Hannibal alone (though without the initial /h/ sound, of course).

The theme song for The Dukes of Hazzard (Shérif, fais-moi peur ! in French) is also completely different. No love for Waylon Jennings and The Good Ol’ Boys. Instead we get this:

I do have to admit that the French intro for Dallas is slightly better than the instrumental American one. It’s kind of catchy and it is actually the most famous TV theme song in France:

You can find lyrics and other theme songs at Génériques TV. Sometimes they have both the original and French versions and other times it’s just the French one, but of course, you need to know the French translation of names of the shows too. You can always just use Wikipedia and “Languages” in the left column to figure them out.

I am not a fan of dubbing at all and I wish the translations of titles were more direct (The Avengers is Chapeau Melon et Bottes de Cuir! ::sigh::), but I don’t understand why new theme songs are written in French, especially when the original version has no English lyrics anyway. Why can’t they just stick to the original as closely as possible? As with dubbing, it diminishes the authenticity of the work. Subtitles cannot convey this entirely either since they are merely translations, but it’s better than adding something new as if the original writers had created it.

And now the L’Agence Tous Risques song keeps getting stuck in my head and I instantly think Barracuda instead of B.A. when I picture Mr. T. I still understand pop culture references to classic American shows and movies, but I can’t make them anymore because the French names or titles come out of my mouth first so Americans have no idea what I’m talking about. Thanks France for distorting my memories of the 80’s!

The Frenchified English of McDonald’s in France

I had the misfortune of eating at McDonald’s last Sunday when David and I decided to go on a drive to Chanaz, at the other end of Lac du Bourget. Unfortunately, we arrived at 2pm, when every restaurant in Europe closes because no one can possibly still be hungry at that time, so it was either starve (I normally eat breakfast at 11 and lunch at 2, I’m so unFrench!) or go to the only “restaurant” in this area that serves “food” after 2pm. So McDonald’s it was, though I think I should have chosen to just starve for a while longer.

I always have to laugh at fast food places in France because they try so hard to be American. Most of their menu is in English, though Frenchified English, because everyone associates fast food with the US, so of course you have to order in English to make the experience more authentic; and I’m sure it’s supposed to attract the Americans abroad. I got bored waiting at the drive-thru (that’s le drive in French) so I took a picture of their menu so I could see what ridiculous names they give the food. There’s the Big Tasty (Europe dropped the N’), the CBO (Chicken Bacon Oignons – why it’s 2/3 in English and 1/3 in French nobody knows!), Le P’tit Wrap Cheese & Sauce Ranch, and the value meals are called Best Of, though most burgers/sandwiches and the Happy Meal kept the same names.

Even though the spelling may be the same, the pronunciation is radically different, which basically means Americans who can’t speak Frenchified English can’t order at McDonald’s in France even though the menu is in English. Shortly after my arrival in France, the boulanger didn’t understand me when I tried to order un cookie because I pronounced it /ˈkʊki/ instead of /kuˈki/ and the whole time I was wondering why can’t it just be called un biscuit like I learned in French class. One little vowel and stress pattern changed and the word becomes incomprehensible. Though perhaps this should serve as a lesson why learning proper pronunciation of a foreign language is so important – especially the pronunciation of loan words that are deceptively similar to the original.

When we got home, I decided to look at McDonald’s French website for more “translations” – I highly recommend you don’t because the site is incredibly flash-heavy like most French sites – and came across this:

So I’m a little confused. Which is the English and which is the French? I’m pretty sure this is called a double cheeseburger in the US, but the translation seems to imply that Double Cheese is the English and that Double Cheeseburger is an appropriate translation into French. Why not just leave it as Double Cheeseburger and therefore have no need for that super helpful translation at the bottom?

Staying Legal in France: More Residency Card Crap (for lack of a better word)

La Préfecture, the love of my life. Immigrants in France must have a very close relationship with the préfecture. It’s the place where we have to go – every 3 months, in some cases – to obtain our residency cards and make sure we are not sans-papiers. France doesn’t exactly have a “permanent resident” status for most people, so almost everyone starts out with a carte de séjour that must be renewed every single year. Well, those of us who were already living in France before the visa rules changed this past June. For the newbies, the visa serves as the carte de séjour for the first year, and then every year after that, it may be changed into a carte de séjour depending on if your préfecture likes you or not.

Anyway, it’s a rather annoying process because the préfectures are usually too inept to put the list of required documents on their website, so you must first go the préfecture and wait in line for an hour just to pick up this magic list. And then when you do return to the préfecture with all of the documents, they usually require something else that wasn’t on the list and that you had no idea you would even need, so of course you didn’t bring it with you (or its photocopy since you must have originals and photocopies of everything.)

Even if you do have all of the documents, it can take months and months to get your actual carte de séjour, so you have to keep going back to the préfecture to find out why you haven’t received it yet, or to request a new récépissé – the receipt that proves you did apply for it – or to apply again when the post office loses your carte in the mail (been there) or when you move to a different département and your old préfecture refuses to send your dossier to the new one (done that). In the 3.5 years I’ve been in France, I’m already on carte de séjours #6 and #7.

Carte de sejour
Why does it take so long to make these little cards?

I’ve already explained the first three years of my CDS adventures in the Love Affair with the Préfecture post, so here’s an update:

Technically, I applied for CDS #6 way back on June 16, 2009, right after David & I moved to Chambéry. I needed to change the address on it, which involves making a whole new card, so even though I had just renewed it in Annecy, I had to apply all over again. I did receive a récépissé on July 1st, which was good until September 30, but of course that date came and went and no word from the préfecture. I used to return every month and bug them about it, but they just kept telling me that Annecy hadn’t sent my dossier to Chambéry yet and that I would receive a new récépissé soon. That never happened. The card with my Annecy address on it is actually still good until May, so I wasn’t too overly concerned about it – especially since the only real reason I would need to have the correct address on my CDS would be for CAF, which I’m not eligible for since France thinks I’m so rich now with my 13k a year.

So, I gave up and stopped bugging the préfecture about it. Then March came and I needed to gather documents to renew my card for yet another frickin year of temporary status, and I was a little worried that they’d yell at me for something. Luckily the woman was really nice and discovered that Annecy had FINALLY sent my dossier to Chambéry a few weeks ago and CDS #6 was in the process of being made. I should receive it soon, even though it expires in less than 2 months. How amazingly useful.

Since I had all the documents and David was able to go to the préfecture with me this morning, I told the woman I was just going to do the renewal process today and get it over with since CDS #6 would basically be useless to me. She agreed. She didn’t dispute any of the documents, even though some of my “originals” were color copies of older documents (I love my printer) and some were a lot older than 3 months (2007 anyone?) and she actually remembered the communauté de vie paper that they tried to forget the last time. But it was all of the same paperwork I had given them in June, and that card was actually being made – albeit NINE MONTHS LATE – so my documents must be good enough for them.

Though of course I won’t stop feeling stressed out about it until I receive CDS #7 (that’s my renewal card, not my change of address card; are you still following me?) since we are flying back to Geneva from Croatia, which is NOT in the EU or Schengen zone yet, on May 8 – exactly one day after my current CDS expires. Plus the university cannot and will not give me my salary for the remaining months of my contract unless I have a valid CDS.  So it’s not only the fact that I could be “illegal” in France; it’s also a matter of being let back into France and being able to pay rent.

I can start applying for citizenship in October, and hopefully get it by the end of 2011 or early 2012. I will feel so relieved to finally have  a permanent status in this country. Except apparently even French citizens have their citizenship questioned nowadays, so that’s not very comforting.

David said that people joke about the fonctionnaires who work at the préfecture. Ceux qui ne réusissent pas le concours de la Poste travaillent à la Préfecture. I wonder how true that is…

Kentucky Fried Chicken in France

It’s Sunday and we have no food in the apartment because it’s Sunday and no stores are open. Ok, some stores are open in the morning on Sundays, but they are so crowded that I hyperventilate just thinking about it.

A KFC opened in Chambéry a few months ago and I was actually curious to see what it would be like (though I haven’t eaten at KFC in the US since I was in high school…) and David wanted to try it too since he’s never had it. KFC hopes to open 200 restaurants in France by 2012 and according to their awful flash-heavy website that takes 2 minutes to load, there are currently 93 restaurants open.

So I got some Crispy Tenders (the menu is mostly in English, of course). My first impression of a Frenchified KFC is: where are the mashed potatoes & gravy?!

Yes, they sell pieces of chicken in a bucket with Col. Sanders’ face on it but that’s about where the similarities end. The sides available with the meals are a salad, fries or a little corn on the cob that no one knows how to “make” and so they won’t even give it to you, but instead substitute fries without your knowledge.  The sauces available for the chicken are barbecue, sweet & sour or curry. The desserts are the standard ones you find at French McDonald’s and Quick: fondant au chocolat, tiramisu, tartes, etc.

No mashed potatoes, no gravy, no biscuits, no mac & cheese, no beans, no rice, no apple pie or parfaits.  I figured these things wouldn’t be served in France, but I still had a tiny bit of hope. And now I’m actually craving the mashed potato bowl – mashed potatoes with corn, chicken, gravy and cheddar cheese on top. It’s seriously no surprise to me that French people would not want to eat that, but now I do! And I can’t have it. ::sigh::

I suppose what bothered me most was the fries. I am so sick of French people complaining that Americans are so fat and Americans eat french fries at every meal, blah blah blah. I very rarely ate fries in the US and I have never had so many fries forced on me as I do in France. I can’t even eat fries anymore because of it. I used to just to be nice, but now I don’t care. You can do more to potatoes than just frying them, ya know, like boiling and mashing them!

One good thing is that it seems to be much cheaper than other fast food places in France. Compared to US prices, it’s still ridiculously expensive for not-so-great food.

And their Hot Wings? Not so hot.  France and spices don’t get along.

At least in December, some stores are allowed to be open on Sundays for Christmas shopping so we won’t have to resort to fast food. The law passed earlier this year allowing stores to open on Sundays for the entire year is only for Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille and Lille. Those of us in the boondocks get nothing because the law is supposed to be intended for tourists in tourist-heavy areas only because French people couldn’t possibly want to shop on Sundays!

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942

A little history lesson thanks to David’s grandma who didn’t throw these French newspapers away (that we just discovered in the storage space this weekend!)

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 Conditions of the WWI peace treaties were decided in May 1919. (Women’s suffrage is just a teaser. That wouldn’t actually happen until 1944.)

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 The Treaty of Versailles was signed June 28, 1919.

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain and Daladier gathered in Munich in September 1938. Hitler “accepted” to delay mobilizing troops.

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 The Munich Agreement was signed on September 30, 1938 and everyone proclaimed “PEACE!”

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 A Historic Night. Enthusiasm in Munich. And much sadness and betrayal in Czechoslovakia, who was not even invited to the conference.

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 270,000 refugees of the Spanish Civil War came to France in February of 1939. (The actual number was closer to 500,000.)

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 German troops invaded Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg (as well as northern France) on May 10, 1940 which marked the beginning of the Western Offensive, also known as the Battle of France.

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 Italy declared war on France and England on June 10, 1940.  France signed an armistice with Germany 12 days later and the Vichy Regime was formed on July 10.

French Newspapers from 1919 and 1938-1942 Vichy France, run by Phillipe Pétain and Pierre Laval, urged Frenchmen to go to work in Germany in June 1942 for “the freedom of prisoners” and for “OUR COUNTRY!”

Emphasizing Oral Skills in Language Education

For once I agree with Sarkozy on something. He recently announced an “emergency” plan for changing the way languages are taught in France. He recognizes that the French system currently emphasizes too much grammar and memorization when basic communication skills such as listening and speaking should be the focus of language education. Even though most French students learn two foreign languages from the 6th grade on, by the time they finish high school, they still cannot actually speak the language. Another recent report indicates that 41% of adults in France report speaking no foreign languages, which ranks France as the 6th worst country for adults speaking another language (behind Greece, Bulgaria, Spain, Portugal, and Hungary, which reports a whopping 78% of adults who only speak Hungarian).

After observing and “assisting” two years of middle & high school English classes in France, I can definitely say the teachers did not care so much for teaching listening skills or even exposing the students to authentic language which is absolutely necessary to improve pronunciation and spoken fluency. Of course, with 30-36 students in each class that only meets a few hours a week, it’s a nearly impossible to have every student practice talking. But that’s what homework is for. This leads into questions of motivation and autonomous learning, which are often very different for each student – especially French students who must take two foreign languages even if they don’t want to.

Some schools have been experimenting with using more audio resources for teaching English. I came across some reportages on using mp3 players outside of class to listen to an audio file in English and then the student records his or her reaction to it, or tries to write down the transcription, or answers comprehension questions, etc. The schools provide the mp3 players (since not all teenagers have one already), and this way more expensive language labs or even computers are not actually necessary.

Since my university most likely won’t spend money on mp3 players (because they won’t spend money on new computers…), I prefer to have my classes in the one computer room we have on campus even though the computers are from the late 90’s and we’re stuck using the 60-second-maximum Windows recorder. I’ve been asking for administrator privileges so I can install Audacity, but no luck so far. In my special English class for exchange students, I’ve been spending a ridiculous amount of time preparing interactive lessons using audio and video files so that the students can listen to English as much as possible. Our program does include many language labs that are audio-based as well, but the lecture courses remain writing and grammar-based and the grades for these lecture courses count more than for the labs, which seems a bit backwards to me.

But should all students be forced to learn English? My university doesn’t even offer a degree in a single foreign language. Students must learn English and another language. It’s English/Spanish, English/Italian or English/German and nothing else. Sarkozy was mostly referring to English when he announced the new plan because of its status as a global language vital to international business and also because he’s still upset about France’s ranking of 69 out of 109 on the TOEFL test. But some French people would prefer to learn other languages in order get jobs, such as German. The region of Alsace has launched a new campaign to get people interested in learning German because there are several jobs in the area that go unfilled because they cannot find enough French-German bilinguals to hire.  (The official site is here.)  German is actually the most widely-spoken language in Europe. There are 100 million people (or about 1 out of every 5 people in the EU) who speak it as their native language as compared to around 75 million for English.

Do As the French Do (but without the mistakes)

Which city was the capital of Roman and Christian Gaul?

a. Nice   b. Arles   c. Marseille

The correct answer is, of course, LYON. But Ross Steele’s When in France, Do as the French Do claims the answer is c. Marseille, even though page 92 clearly states “Lyon, where the Rhône and Saône rivers meet, was the capital of Roman and Christian Gaul.”

Another gem is the quote “More recently, in 1996, Mario Botta, an Italian, designed the only new cathedral built in Europe during the 20th century, at Evry, north of Paris.”  If by north, he means south, then there’s nothing wrong with this sentence. Evry is located in Essonne, which lies directly south of Paris, unless you’re holding the map upside-down and disregarding cardinal directions.

I may not be a “renowned expert on French culture” but I sure know somebody who needs a proofreader…