My divine partner has returned from her travels. We’re back together again and our collaboration will now recommence.
For those of you unfamiliar with our “Transatlantic Parallel,” it is the once-a-week exchange between a French woman, the brilliant Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart creator of the stunning blog Through the French Eye of Design, married to an American and living outside New York City and moi. I’m the flip side of the equation, married to a French man, living outside Paris.
Every Monday we select a subject to examine in our adopted lands which because of our official status as les etrangéres, we may find funning, infuriating, frustrating or just plain odd. Then we share our experiences with you — the good, the bad and the unfortunate — as we daily cope with the cultural pleasures and pressures of living on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
The other day Jeanne-Aelia said, “Let’s do faux amis” (false friends as it applies to language). “Brilliant idea, mon amie,” said I.
These are — one thinks — the same words in French and English (though not always spelled exactly the same way), but to our great dismay, have entirely different meanings. The misuse of them I’ve discovered over the years can put one (me) in the following types of situations: all conversation stops while people stare in shock, a minor tiff can be ignited, or as happened yesterday, right after the pause of disbelief, great gales of laughter ensue.
I couldn’t believe it really. How could this happen? How timely. Wait until Jeanne-Aelia hears this.
It developed innocently enough as so many faux pas often do. We were eight, having tea after a swim chez my friend Edith. One of the women had brought a bag of store bought — important detail, not boulanger purchased — mini pain au chocolats. Quickly, as is often the case in France, the conversation turned to the ingredients of the apparently offensive delights, whereupon after close reading of the label, it was discovered they contained the killer palm oil. Someone remarked, “oh that keeps them fresh longer,” while My-Reason-For-Living-In-France noted his doctor says palm oil is poison.
OK, as always, one thing led to another and I said, “well at least they don’t have have any preservatives.” All conversation came abruptly to a halt. All eyes were upon me. I thought, you’ve done it again, but what? As is my wont, I repeated the fact they have no preservatives, except slightly louder this time. (I thought perhaps everyone was deaf.) More silence, followed by stifled giggles that finally erupted into guffaws.
Preservatives are condoms in France(!!) Food has conservateurs. Not a day goes by when I don’t learn something new. What an exciting, stimulating life I lead.
My experience is not an example of a faux amis, just another humiliating day-in-the life. . . It was one more faux pas to add to my ever-growing list.
Here are a few genuine faux amis that have made my life either complicated, funny or annoying:
1.) Chance: a possibility. Chance: to have good luck.
2.) Circulation: movement in general. Circulation: traffic.
3.) College: higher education, after high school graduation. College: junior high school.
4.) To demand: to order with force. Demander: to ask.
5.) Education: instruction in school. Education: upbringing.
6.) Evidence: proof. Evidence: something obvious.
7.) To ignore: to not pay attention to something. Ignorer: to not know something.
8.) Crayons: those fun wax colored things we loved as children. Crayon: a pencil.
9.) Miserable: sad, unhappy. Miserable: poor.
10.) Occasion: a special moment. Occasion: an opportunity, a bargain.
11.) Phrase: a group of words. Phrase: a sentence.
12.) Remark: to mention. Remarquer: to notice.
13.) Piece: a portion of something. Pièce: a coin or a room.
14.) Robe: the garment we wear in the house. Robe: a dress.
15.) Legume: beans, grains, etc. Legume: a vegetable. (Féculents are the equivalent to legumes in English, note picture above.)
16.) Etiquette: good manners. Etiquette: the label on a product.
17.) Souvenir: an object. Souvenir: a memory.
18.) Actually: in fact, etc. Actuellement: at the moment, currently.
19.) Library: library (bibliothèque in French). Librairie: bookshop.
Now you must dash over to Jeanne-Aelia, she will definitely have a creative take on this eternal conundrum. And for those of you who have studied Latin, I’m sure you see why some of these words have evolved in one language and not in the other.
P.S.: Jeanne-Aelia, please tell me if I’ve made any errors here. Merci par avance.