They never thought to teach this stuff in French class…
1. You can say “Re-hello”
Well, rebonjour to be exact. That’s when you see someone for the second time in the same day. You can even say rebonsoir if the same thing happens in the evening.
2. All the guys are “dudes”
Every French guy under 40 refers to every other French guy under 40 as “mec” (pronounced meck). It could be translated as “dude” but is not as slangy. If you want to fit in in France, start your conversations with guys with a “salut mec” and voila, you fit in.
3. The more la’s that you add to oh la la, the stronger your reaction
While no one ever says Sacre Bleu, people often do say Oh la la, meaning “Oh my god”. The more la’s you add, the more you’re reacting. Eg: If you see a man fall off a bridge, you might say “Oh la la la la”. If he miraculously landed in a passing boat you might even take it a step further and add an extra la or two. I once heard seven la’s from a lady who was watching a burning car outside the Louvre on a hot day.
Here is a pic of the car. Unfortunately I got no audio of the Oh la la la la la la la.
4. Baguette doesn’t always mean bread
I was once ordering sushi to take away and the mec at the desk asked me if I wanted some baguettes with it. I was gobsmacked. No, I said, I don’t want baguettes with my sushi. I also wondered where the baguettes were in the tiny sushi shop.
It took a while for me to understand that he meant chopsticks. I then thought he was just using baguettes as slang for chopsticks, as they’re both kind of long and pointy, but no, chopsticks are actually called baguettes. Baguette just means stick. In fact, Harry Potter’s magic wand is a Baguette magique in France.
5. They actually use a backwards language
It’s called Verlan, and we talked about it in the show before. But it’s essentially switching syllables in words around. Eg: Merci is Cimer. While this might sound like some kind of kids’ language, French people actually use it, provided they are under the age of 40. You may have used it without even knowing – the singer Stromae is Verlan for Maestro, the word Meuf comes from Femme (woman or girlfriend)… and the word Verlan itself… yep, it comes from L’envers (reverse).
6. If someone asks “how are you”, you don’t really have to answer how you are
In French class, you learn: Ca va? Très bien, et vous? (How are you? Very well, and you?) But, you can answer in many ways that don’t even really tell how you are. Eg: If someone says Ca va?, you can answer oui (yes) or simply et toi? (And you?). It might sound rude (hey, it might even be rude), but people do it.
7. You need to stock up on your bons
Everyone knows the French say bonjour (and even rebonjour, apparently). They also say things like bonsoir, bon appetit, and bonne journee. But I had no idea they say so many other bons, which you should really know. Every day of the week can have a bon (bon dimanche = Have a good Sunday). You can say bonne degustation, bonne continuation, bonnes vacances, and bonne chance, of course. The list goes on and on forever. It remains unknown at this point if, when buying candy, the seller says bon bonbon, but they probably do.
8. If you talk like a monk you sound more French
To fill pauses in conversation, French people make a sound like a monk singing. It sounds like the word fur without the letter F. Eughhhh. If you’re ever stuck for a word, throw this noise in and you will sound more French than you’d ever believe. Tip: Don’t say it too often, you will be mocked. To hear this sound in action, listen to this episode with Lindsey Tramuta. Full disclosure: I’ve never heard a real monk.
EDIT: Read the follow-up to this list, with eight more weird things about French here.
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