Category Archives: Culture

French Words: Gourmande

January 17, 2017

French Words: Gourmande | modernfrenchblog.com

The first couple times we went back to France my language abilities were, shall we say, lacking. Outside of bonjour, au revoir, and oui, I couldn’t say much nor carry on a conversation.

This made it tough to dine with our French family and friends. At first the monsieur would translate for me, but at one point it became a chore and interrupted conservation so I was left to my own devices. This usually meant intense focus on the plate in front of me or excusing myself to the couch where I’d promptly fall asleep.

During one dinner, two family members were in a deep conversation. It looked fascinating so I nudged the hubs and asked him what they were talking about. After listening in for a few moments he said, “Oh, they’re talking about local chefs and their impressive repertoire.” Forty minutes later they were talking so much more intensely that I was sure they had moved on to another topic. “Non,” Arnaud reassured me, “they are still talking about local cuisine.”

That’s one of the many things I love about the French; they are deeply passionate about food and find great joy in eating. So many of the French people in my life have self-defined as a gourmande (pronounced gore-mahn-dd) that I’ve lost count. By the way, gourmande is the feminine version of the word; the masculine version is gourmand and is pronounced similarly but without the “d” at the end.

You’re probably familiar with this word since we also use it in English. However, our definition of gourmand has a negative twinge and conjures up the image of a glutton eating copious amounts of food, which says a lot about our culture’s issues with food more than anything.

Moi? As we all know, I’m becoming more French by the minute so I’m going to continue embracing the more positive definition of gourmande. This means less weird American food issues and more delicious French meals in my future, which is definitely something I can get behind.

P.S. How to say cheers when you’re dining à la française and a fancy dinner party menu for a celebration.

French Girls Aren’t Perfect

January 4, 2017

Being obsessed with the French is a full time job, or at least a very busy part-time job.

During my free time, you can most likely find me a) reading about something French, b) watching something in French, or c) hanging out with some French person and creepily trying to usurp their identity.

Okay, I’m kidding about that last part, but I will admit that I unknowingly file away the super Frenchie things my friends do and end up writing about it later.

The “French Girl” Doesn’t Exist

This brings me to something I alluded to in this blog post and have wanted to write about for a while. The French Girl, as we’ve come to know and define her, doesn’t really exist.

There is no French Girl who spends zero time on her appearance but is forever chic, who eats nothing but bread, cheese, and butter but never gets fat, and who is the perfect parent bringing up bébé but also a naughty kitten in the boudoir.

Elle n’existe pas. She is a figment of our imaginations.

The Irony of it All

This might seem funny coming from the person writing a blog that often aims to unravel the mystery of the all-mighty French Girl. Believe me, the irony is not lost on me.

When I write about French Girls, I know that I tend to make sweeping generalizations and romanticize the best bits of their culture while totally avoiding the not-so-great parts of it.

Are some French women incredibly chic? Oui oui. Do others have well-behaved children who eat alongside adults at dinner parties where the food is insanely delicious? They sure do.

But some wear color and many don’t have banging bods, and I even know a French woman who hates wine! Blasphemy, I know.

A Petit Grain of Sel

My main point here is to take all this French Girl stuff with a grain of salt.

French girls aren’t perfect. We aren’t perfect and, really, nobody is perfect. Thank god for that! Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we were all the same?

Of course, I’ll still be here writing about wining, dining, style, and funny French things because I genuinely like this stuff and it makes me happy. If you are here reading this, I guessing you like it all too.

The important thing is that we go on liking and doing this stuff because we choose to do so, not because we’re trying to live up to some unattainable ideal!

A Call to Action for All Women

It’s going to be a tough year where women will need to fight hard to defend our most basic rights.

In light of this monumental task, I propose we stop striving for perfection whether it’s veiled in the idea of the French Girl or whatever version society is serving up to us these days. It’s not really worth it. Plus, I think we’re all pretty amazing just the way we are.

So, here’s to women in 2017!

May we band together and fight the good fight. I promise to be right here beside you in my striped shirt and with a wine bottle at the ready so we can celebrate our successes.

P.S. You can get more information about the Women’s March on Washington and Sister Marches planned in other cities. I’ll be at the one in LA, hope to see you there!

Three Real Ways to Be French

November 1, 2016

Three Real Ways to Be French | modernfrenchblog.com

Be chic! Drink wine! Eat cheese! The world is happy to give you advice on how to be French (this blog included), but you can’t pinpoint an entire country into a few sweeping generalizations.

In the real world, some French folks are dowdy and many choose to wear color over black. I even met a Frenchie who preferred beer to wine! Blasphème, non?

However, there are three things that all French people have in common whether they’re from the fields of Provence, the swanky coast of Nice, or the bustling city of Paris. These things are easy enough so that you too can join in and add a few French habits to your daily life.

Fill Your Glass Halfway

Prepare yourself for the easiest and fastest way to become French. Get a glass, fill it halfway, and, boom, you are now French. Extra points if the glass is small.

This may be (surprisingly) tough for Americans as we’re taught to grab the biggest vessel possible and fill it to the brim with whatever we’re drinking. However, this is how drinks are poured in France whether it’s water, beer, juice, or soda.

So far, I haven’t figured out the exact reason why the French seem to only drink from glasses that are half full. There is probably some optimist/pessimist metaphor hidden in this simple act, but it seems to be habit more than anything else.

Perfect Your Resting Duck Face

Though I’ve picked up a few French words here and there, pronunciation continues to be incredibly tough. New sounds, silent letters, and things that sound nothing like the way they are spelled (here’s looking at you French “r”).

Part of the trouble is that my English-speaking mouth isn’t trained for French. There are certain muscles and lip-pursing positions that are really hard to make!

It’s these mouth muscles we Americans lack that give French people what I call Resting Duck Face. They’re lips are slightly puckered and often rest just barely apart. It’s a look that adds an extra dose of sexiness and helps to make up the whole allure of the French.

Wipe Guilty Pleasure from Your Vocabulary

A while back Michael Pollan shared a study about global food attitudes. The survey asked people from different countries what came to mind when they heard the words “chocolate cake.” Americans most often replied with “guilt” while the French mainly said “celebration.”

Why are we Americans so adverse to pleasure? Perhaps it’s our Puritan roots or that we’ve started to believe what advertisers tell us about guilty pleasures.

Either way, let’s take a page from the French book of life and start enjoying the little things. Lose yourself in every morsel of that slice of chocolate cake. Delight in every minute of your romantic comedy marathons. If it makes you happy, who the heck cares?

Conclusion

Being French is a lot easier than it’s made out to be. Simply fill your glasses halfway, perfect the pucker of your lips (aka your Resting Duck Face), and enjoy your guilt-free chocolate cake.

Of course, I’m kidding here. Like many other cultures and people around the world, the French are a very nuanced people and they are more complicated than half-full glasses of water.

However, it is pretty fun to note the small cultural differences between the Americans and zee French. And if anyone figures out the “why” behind the glass thing please feel free to comment below and fill me in.

P.S. French-inspired products you can buy at Trader Joe’s and five ways to dress like a French Girl.

French Words: Chin-Chin (or How to Say Cheers In French)

September 13, 2016

French Words: Chin-Chin (or How to Say Cheers In French) | modernfrenchblog.com

The act of saying cheers in France is serious business. There are subtle rules built on years of tradition that turn a simple act into a cherished ritual.

First, you must wait for everyone to be served. Then, you raise your drink and say cheers while being sure to clink glasses with everyone at the table. This seems easy enough.

However, here’s where it gets hard. While clinking, it’s extremely important that you 1) do not cross someone else’s arm to clink another person’s glass, 2) look everyone in the eye when your glasses meet, and 3) acknowledge everyone in the group whether it’s an actual cheers or a head nod from across the table.

Sound stressful? It kind of is! No worries though because the French have no problem correcting your behavior so you end up learning pretty quick. Plus, practice makes perfect, non? Just in case you need another excuse for wine time (wink wink).

Now that we’ve gone over how to cheers in France, let’s go over the French words you say. You can always use santé, a vôtre santé, or à la vôtre. These expressions basically wish the other person good health and are regularly used.

However, being a laidback Californian gal, I prefer to use the more casual chin-chin, which is sometimes spelled tchin-tchin. It is pronounced cheen cheen, which is kinda cute in my book. Perhaps it’s a repetition thing because I also love the word boui-boui. Je ne sais pas…

Above all, I love the chin-chin because it means one thing: Drinks are present and it’s time to celebrate. So, next time you raise a glass, do it the French way with a casual chin-chin!

P.S. A great wine from Trader Joe’s to cheers with and great music to play in the background.

French Words: Youpi and Other French Interjections

July 5, 2016

French-Words-Youpi-and-Other-French-Interjections

While playing a round of Heads Up! last week, we got a particularly hard word right before the buzzer sounded and I exclaimed, “Ho ho!” to which one of our funniest friends replied, “Did Santa Clause just walk in here or something?”

Seemingly overnight French interjections had crept into my brain and overwrote all the English ones. Gone are the woo hoo’s and ah ha’s, which have now been replaced by the youpi’s and ho ho’s. Maybe I’m getting closer to 80% or 90% French?

Since they are kind of funny and pop up regularly in French conversation, I thought a list of ten expressive French words and how they are used may be useful for other Francophiles and aspiring Francophones.

Aïe: Similar to how we’d use “ouch” to express pain or worry. Pronounced like the letter “i”.

Bof: Equivalent of hmmph or meh that usually proceeds a sentence where you either don’t know, don’t care, or are indifferent. Pronounced like bo-fff.

Chut: Shush or shhh. A way to quiet someone down or try to shut them up. Pronounced like shhh-uu-t, but keep in mind the “uu” is very quick and brief.

Eh: Instead of uh or um, the French say eh. Fun fact: Spanish speakers also use eh in the same way. Pronounced like the “ey” in hey.

Oh là là: In English, we use this word to express how someone or something is stylish, however the French typically use it as a surprise reaction to something positive or negative. The “oh” is sometimes pronounced like ooo or oh while là là is pronounced simply as la la.

Ouf: Used the way English speakers would say whew or phew. It’s pronounced somewhere between uf and oof.

Oups: Easily translated as oops. More or less said the same way we say oops in English.

Ho ho: The French ha ha. Sometimes it’s said as “oh ho ho”, which is even more like something Santa Clause would say. Pronounced exactly how it looks.

Hop là: This word is used in so many ways that it doesn’t have a clear English equivalent. Sometimes it’s used to accentuate movement like when you pick up a little kid and say alley oops or when you reach for something that is very high. It could also be used the way we say here we go, there we go, or that’s the end. Pronounced like ope-la.

Youpi: Equivalent of yippee or woo hoo. Pronounced like you-pee. You pee, get it! #mindofafifthgrader

P.S. Learn how to say a French cuss word or check out how the French say the word lush.

French Words: Putain de Merde

April 5, 2016

French Words: Putain de Merde | modernfrenchblog.com

Inevitably, the first words you learn in another language are the bad words, like some odd language hazing tradition that is practiced the world over.

Let me apologize for waiting so long to share my favorite French cuss word, putain de merde, which is pronounced like poo-tahn duh mare-d. This expletive combines putain (a word that means whore but is used the way Americans say the f word) and marries it with merde (which translates to shit). Together it means “effing shit”.

Used on their own, these two words are said often and are fairly harmless as far as bad words go. Someone cut you off on the freeway? Putain. Run out of wine at the dinner party? Merde.

Or perhaps your son is getting married in an hour and you’ve been called back to the dressing room to discover that the zipper on your daughter-in-law’s wedding dress has broken permanently. “Putain de merde,” you say as you lift a cigarette to your lips. Then, you hunker down, tap your prior life as a seamstress, and sew her into the dress a record speed.

I would strongly advise that you do not use putain de merde regularly nor in front of your mother-in-law. It’s a bit vulgar and reserved for particularly annoying or maddening situations. For instance, when the zipper on your wedding dress breaks right before you are about to be wed because, oui oui, that happened to me.

French Words: Boui-Boui

December 29, 2015

French Words: Boui-Boui | modernfrenchblog.com

Two years ago the French family was here for the holidays. We spent our days fixing up the house (because that’s what family is for) and our nights enjoying delicious meals that ran on for hours (because that’s what French family is for).

My French was pretty minimal at that point so I spent most my time listening intently and trying to make sense of it all. One word kept popping up so I finally asked what it meant.

Boui-boui is slang for a little place that could be anything from a tiny shop or restaurant to a small café or bar. Though the French use the adjective petit like it’s going out of style, I’ve almost always heard these two paired together (i.e. un petit boui-boui).

The word boui comes from a dialect in the Bresse region and refers to small structure that houses ducks and geese. Some online sources specifically describe it as a place that is inexpensive and mediocre. Think dive bar or a greasy diner.

The best part about boui-boui is the way it is pronounced. You say bwee-bwee with little-to-no pause between the first bwee and the second. It kind of sounds like baby talk, which is what makes it so darn cute and probably why it’s one of my favorite French words ever.

A Country in Mourning

November 16, 2015

A Country in Mourning | modernfrenchblog.com

My husband and I learned about the attacks just as we arrived to LAX for our trip to France. “Alyssa, there have been some shootings in Paris,” Arnaud said as he looked up from his phone with disbelief.

After we got through security, we waited for our flight and watched the terrible news unfurl. Three shootings. 60 dead. More injured. Our row got called so we boarded and kept refreshing our phones for more news until the flight attendant cut us off.

A brief stop at Heathrow and the numbers were all higher. I scrolled through my phone and was almost in tears. We were both shocked and scared and sad and mad all at the same time. Once we landed in Nice, things were worse and the death toll rung in just past 100.

This is the third time I’ve been in a country when it has suffered a terrorist attack (first 9/11 and then Madrid in 2004) and I can’t say that it has gotten easier. It’s a confusing time punctuated with deep sorrow and I have a million words yet can’t say anything.

“No country does life on earth better than the French,” said an anonymous commenter in response to an article in the New York Times. I (obviously) couldn’t agree more.

May we mourn those who were ripped from this world in an act of hate and honor them by pursuing a life full of love. Liberté, égalité, fraternité, and above all peace.

French Words: Pompette

September 29, 2015

French Words: Pompette | modernfrenchblog.com

To know me is to know that I am a lush.

Just the other day a co-worker called me out, “I feel like all your stories start with: This one time I was in a bar…” While he’s absolutely correct, the funny thing is he’s ten years younger so shouldn’t it be the other way around? Also, note to self: re-evaluate storytelling policy at work.

Anyway, I digress. I’m the lush who received all alcohol-related gifts at my bridal shower and all wine-related cards for my last birthday. So, inevitably, my French friends like to tease me with alcohol-related words.

Pompette is a cute way to say that you are tipsy. It’s an adjective that reminds me of a bubbly cheerleader who’s had a few glasses of champagne (probably something to do with the whole pom pom thing).

It’s also way nicer than pochetronne (or pochtron for guys), the nickname given to me by our first French roommate. This word translates as drunkard, and conjures up an image of a village drunk with a potbelly and a big, red nose.

For obvious reasons, I prefer the pompette teasing to the pochetronne teasing. However, I’m naturally easy-going and will go along with either nickname, especially if I’m a little tipsy on account of some good, cheap wine.

French Words: Mon Gars

July 15, 2015

French Words: Mon Gars | modernfrenchblog.com

I am Californian, therefore I say dude.

After many years of trying to quit, I have finally managed to kick my dude habit. I can’t remember the last time I said it at work and it very rarely slips out in my personal life. But get me on the beach with a beer in my hand and, inevitably, it comes out. No way dude! Dude, are you serious? I am so stoked, dude. Yup, just call me Keanu.

In French, mon gars is somewhat of a dude equivalent. Mon is pronounced how it looks (kinda like “Jamaican mon” if you need some help) while gars is pronounced like car without the s (oh zee French with those tricky consonants at the end of the word that no one pronounces).

From what I understand, it’s short for mon garçon (the French word for my boy) and is a casual word that’s often used between male friends. So don’t go saying it your boss or mother-in-law! The verdict is still out on whether you can use it with your girlfriends, but I say go for it and be a rule breaker.

While dude is the Californian English translation, it also works as a substitute for man, bro, guy, son, or mate (if you’re Brit or an Ozzie). I even saw one website translate is as playa, which I found incredibly hilarious.

By the way, today is Bastille Day so vive la révolution, mon gars!