I so often tell people I am fluent, or near-as-damn-it fluent. Or as fluent as you can get as a foreigner living in a non-French household. Yet almost every day I learn a new word or a new expression. Sometimes they are things I have indeed heard before but had forgotten about; quite often they are things I tend not to use because I trip over them and therefore have never learned to use them fluently. But that happens in one’s own language too. We speak in English at home and watch TV in English, and 90% of our friends in France are English-speaking (by that I mean they are not just English, but Welsh, Australian, Irish, American etc., ie not French people who speak English). The result of this is that I speak in English vastly more than I do in French. Oddly enough, my best chum here is Mexican and we speak what to others must sound like a terrifying mixture of Spanish, English and French … depending on what we are saying and who we are with.
I think almost all expat families throw local words in to what they are saying. I have only ever bought light-bulbs in France and so I always say “ampoules” and my husband tends to always say je ne sais pas rather than “I don’t know”. That kind of thing. Lots of them.
And there are some words that, of course, are simply better in French. Faire le point is one of them. To make the point. But in French is covers a wider range of things, whereas in English it touches on the agressive. Another one I like is il ne faut pas exagerer – one must not exaggerate. But although in French it means don’t exaggerate, of course, it is also “don’t keep going on” or “don’t make such a fuss” or “don’t behave in such-&-such way”.
FYI and just as they pop in to my head (accents missing):-
j’etais a deux doigts de – I was this close to … (giving up or whatever)
fond de veau – the closest you’ll get to gravy
cassonade – brown sugar
chapelure – bread crumbs
les meches – high/low lights at the hairdresser’s
vieux-jeu – old fashioned (also demode)
les vieux rossignols – white elephants, ie a white elephant stall. It is quite old-fashioned & I don’t think I’ve heard it said; it also applies really only to old bric-a-brac, whereas in English a castle (for example) could be a white elephant, but never bric-a-brac.
ca ira – that’ll do
achever – to finish. To acheive is reussir
une douche Itanienne -a wet room
Je t’aime bien – I like you. ”Je t’aime” is I love you. On the other hand, je ne t’aime pas is both I don’t like you and I don’t love you, though to be clear you could say “je ne t’aime pas bien”,which is I don’t like you much.
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Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist. Her books are available as e-books on this site:-
https://payhip.com/b/tEva “A Call from France”
https://payhip.com/b/OTiQ “French Sand”
https://payhip.com/b/BLkF ”The Man with Green Fingers”
https://payhip.com/b/1Ghq “Saying Nothing”
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