Eight unusual things I didn’t know about the French language until I moved to France

This story is a follow up to this story.

1. The French don’t say Cheese!, they say “Marmoset!”

When someone’s taking a picture of French people, they don’t yell out “Say Cheese”. No, they don’t even yell out “Say fromage“, as you might have suspected. But they do often yell out “Ouistiti”.

What’s a ouistiti? Well, apparently it’s a marmoset, which is apparently a small monkey with an outlandish haircut. In fact, that’s a marmoset in the picture above. The idea is that the word ouistiti, like the English word cheese, makes your mouth naturally smile 🙂

2. You can literally say the phrase “ca va” four times in a row. Maybe even six. 

Yes, it can make a whole conversation, as a commenter pointed out in the last story. Ca va? means “how are you?”, or literally: “It goes.” Another translation could be “All good?” That might help to understand that two French people could say:

“Ca va?”…  “Ca va. Ca va?” …  “Ca va.”

In a rough translation: “All good with you?” “Yeah, all good with me. All good with you?” “Yeah, all good with me too”.

Sometimes, people even double it up, as in Ca va, ca va. By this logic, I think a conversation could legitimately have six ca vas in a row:

Person one: Ca va?

Person two: Ca va, ca va. Ca va?

Person one: Ca va, ca va.

Warning: Do not try and get into a ca va marathon, as it might never. It could be similar to the never ending oh la la la la

3. The French like to say genre. A lot. 

We have the word genre in English, as in, comedy is my favourite genre of film. The French, especially the younger ones, use the word genre as a filler word, similar to how English people say “like”. They pronounce it like zhon, and say it so quickly you might miss it. If you use this word when speaking French, congratulations, you’ve mastered the language.

4. Be careful with the word mademoiselle

You learn in school that a person is either a monsieur, madame, or mademoiselle. But many today consider the word mademoiselle to be outdated and even sexist (why should I woman have to reveal if she is married or not?). So, keep this in mind if you plan to use the word Mademoiselle. I should stress, many women have no issue with the word and it’s still common.

Bonus trivia: There used to be a word for young man – mondamoiseau – but it died out.

Related listening: The struggles of being a woman in France


5. They like to add the pronoun at the end

Imagine saying in English: I’m cold, me. Or: He’s funny, him. Well, they do that in French sometimes. Eg: J’ai froid, moi. Il est drole, lui. It’s a good way to show you speak good French. You should fake it til you make it, you.

6. Sometimes you get an A+ without even trying

The French love to shorten A plus tard (See you later) to A plus. Then they shorten it again to A+ in text speak (and they do it often). It’s pronounced Ah ploose (rhymes with “a moose”) and when I first saw it I thought someone was suggesting I had done a really good job with something, like an A plus effort. I hadn’t. They were just saying goodbye.


7. The French don’t always realize that slang is slang

Some “slang” words are so common among the younger French people that they use it without knowing that others don’t understand. A good example is the verb “bosser”, which is slang for “to work”.

Yep, young French people will ask you “where do you boss” (but in French, of course) and you will have no idea what they’re talking about. If, like me, you hate not understanding basic questions in small talk, better brush up on French slang – it is a lot more common than you might think. But remember, it’s very informal so don’t say it to your mother-in-law.

8. They like to shorten place names

You may have heard that French people like to shorten words. Kind of like how we say mayo instead of mayonnaise in English, the French shorten words all the time. Cinema is cine, bon appetit is bon app and so on. But in our recent season finale, I learned they shorten place names too. In Paris, for example, some say Place d’It instead of Place d’Italie, Inva for Invalides, and Montpar for Montparnasse.

But apparently you can’t just shorten any word you like, which is why my shortening of Bonjour to bonje has never taken off.  Don’t worry, I’m going to try and take “Bonje” out on the streets and convince the French to start using it. Stay tuned.

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If you haven’t checked out the first part of this story, click here to read it.

Click here for our language section, or here to see the 24 best words in the French language.

4 thoughts on “Eight unusual things I didn’t know about the French language until I moved to France

  1. Another fun one, Oliver & team! I can’t say I hear genre too much in my social circle, but whenever I hear it on TV, I always first hear it as “jour” and for some reason don’t hear the “re” part of the word. Keep up the good work! Fun reads 😉

  2. Contente d’avoir eu ma petite participation à votre article avec les “ça va” :))

  3. The A+ is related to #8. It’s a shortened version of à plus tard. Which makes more sense than A+ because schools give grades from 0-20, not A-F.
    I also hear Belgians say, “Un de ces quatre,” which means “one of these days,” but also seems related, in a typically Belgian black humor way, to the C4, which is the form employers must send to employees it is laying off in order for them to get chômage. No link to the Citroën C4, which is just as well.
    Also re #8, though not re places, a Coca-Cola is a Coca, not a Coke (they shorten but not too much!), and McDonald’s is Macdo.

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