Everywhere But Home

News and musings from wherever my crazy life takes me. My body may be back in Illinois, but at least for now, my mind is still in Mongolia.

French Innuendo and Vulgarity 101: Things Not to Say Unless You Really Mean Them

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In case any of you ever go to France, here is a list of thing of which you should probably take note. Some of these blunders have actually been made by people I know personally; others, I’ve just heard about elsewhere. Regardless of where/how I learned it, here is a handy-dandy list of things to bear in mind.

  • “Hot” and “cold” have the same sexual connotations in French as in English if you use them with être. To say “I’m hot,” as in “I’m sweating profusely and would love to sit in a building with A/C… except it doesn’t exist in France,” it’s j’ai chaud. Similarly, j’ai froid means “I could really do with one of those scarves you sell everywhere in France.” By contrast, je suis chaud means “I’m horny,” while je suis froid means “I have no sex drive.” Or “I’m dead.” Take your pick.
  • You can turn some French verbs into nouns and vice versa quite appropriately; others you cannot. Un baiser is a kiss, but if you try to make it into a verb, it means something quite vulgar.
  • Pronunciation matters. A brasserie is a bar; a brassière is a bra. Beaucoup (a lot) and canard (duck) can quickly become “nice a**” and “a**hole,” respectively, if you’re not careful.
  • There’s a good chance that any word beginning with “chi” is a reference to sh*t.
  • Everyone knows someone who tried to say “I’m embarrassed” in Spanish class and ended up announcing that they were pregnant, right? Some equivalent French scenarios:
  • Jam = confiture. While jam, jelly, and preserves are basically the same thing to most Americans, note: preservatif means “condom.” NOT jam.
  • If you are enthusiastic, thrilled, or delighted by something, say that you are impassioné(e)Je suis excité(e) is not the kind of announcement you make in public.
  • So you’re on your way somewhere and will be there shortly? Then use arriver. Sure, je viens translates as “I’m coming,” but it’s got a dirty meaning in French too.
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Author: everywherebuthome

Linguist. Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Expat in Mongolia. Writer. Scout, dancer, gymnast, equestrienne.

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