False friends - faux amis in French


Domestic Gist. It has taken me years to understand the art of homemaking. I'm not there yet--loin de là--but, in bites, little by little, I am beginning to "get" the domestic gist of bucolic bliss. In today's picture: another spent sunflower from the garden (I harvested the seeds for sowing next spring); homegrown tomatoes, too! The blue Portuguese tile fits into a beautiful bread board that friends Annabelle and Bill gave me: useful, practical, beautiful. 

barjot (bar-zhoh) adjective

    nuts, crazy

noun: nutcase

une bande de barjots = a bunch of nutcases

Interesting word history: the French word "barjo(t)" comes from the verlan "jobard".

Audio File and Example Sentence: Download MP3 for "barjot"

Une bande de barjots est partie sauter à l'élastique.
A group of crazies left to go bungee jumping.

A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse

Faux Amis... and Loopy Friends & Family

My first year in France I ran around telling everyone that my friends and my family back home were nuts! I hadn't meant to call them crazy, didn't intend to imply or insinuate insanity. No, I had no idea that the compliments I was lavishing on my loved ones were translating themselves into mean morsels of mental illness, no thanks to a single, misused mot.*

"Oh, then there's my grandma," I'd gush, in conversation with the French. "Elle est vraiement SPECIALE!" I would insist, only to notice the confused looks on the interlocutors' faces. Turns out I was telling my audience that grandma had a screw loose.

I continued to put my foot into my newly formed French mouth with doozies such as:

"My best friend? Oh, I met her in 10th grade." With a nostalgic look and a sentimental smile, I would then tack on that confusing-to-the-French English qualifier, "special":
"Yes, she is special," I'd sigh. Only, this is what French ears were hearing me say:
"Yes, she really isn't dealing with a full deck!"

The misunderstandings continued as I bragged on and on about my "batty" family. I loved to talk to the French about my soeur aînée,* whom I admire for her beauty, her coolness, and her intelligence. "She is really A CASE!" I'd boast to the French, proud (it seemed) to share the same peculiar genes.

My poor parents were not spared of the "out there" accolades, either, as I bragged on and on about my "dingue* Dad" and "mad mother". At least that's what they must have sounded like to the French, who were literally taking my word for it!

No confusing conversation would be complete without praise for my French teacher, Madame Wollam, the one whose encouragement would change the course of my life. Mist in my eyes, I'd proceed to eulogize her as "such an odd duck, that one!"

What with peculiar parents, odd aunts, fruity friends, taré* teachers, nutty neighbors, and a goofy grandma... the French surely suspected I was a chip off the ol' block, born out of the batty bunch back home that I proudly claimed as my own.

Whether kooky, batty, bonkers, or nuts...
loco, dotty, cracked, or bats...
fruity, daft, or mad...

I was unwittingly painting quite a portrait of my "precious ones" on the other side of the pond* or, rather "over the cuckoo's nest"?

There is no moral to this story, only a cautionary note: no matter how lovely your friends and your family are, no matter how sweet... never say they're "special" lest the French misunderstand them to be crazy, fresh out of a padded cell.

Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--always welcome and appreciated in the comments box. Be sure to tell us about your own embarrassing language gaffes and misunderstandings.

And speaking of family... you might enjoy Anne Morddel's French genealogy blog. Qui sait? Maybe you have some eccentric French family of your own? 

~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~
le mot (m) = word; la soeur (f) aînée = older sister, dingue = crazy; taré = completely crazy; pond = synonym for Atlantic Ocean

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Currently listening to....

Paris to Cuba Paris to Cuba by Mario Grigorov. that immediately evokes an aural landscape, a narrative of striking up a wandering romance with a stranger, a paseo through Plaza Vieja or a sunset on the Seine. Lilting, sensual brass sections flirt with gentle vocals on "I See" , "Every Little Moment" , and "Snake Eyes" - the three tracks which feature singer, Melissa Newman. Blending hints of Pink Martini, Madelyn Peyroux and Buena Vista Social Club, the percussion section laps as a wave on an empty beach. It is easy for the listener to get lost in the guitar solos, mysterious accordion and nostalgic, sweeping strings. This is not your typical jazz or world record.


Upcoming events: I will be joining a panel of three other authors at the American Library in Paris. Four expats and authors discuss their fish-out-of-water experiences living in la belle France.

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety