nav-left cat-right

The Faux Pas

I think it takes a great amount of courage to travel to a foreign country and attempt to speak the local language. When someone visits me and makes a mistake using English, I gently correct them. But, as hard as we try, a slight mispronunciation or a double meaning can have hilarious results. I have included several of my favorite faux pas along with some that my friends have shared over the years. Have you ever “had a slip or blunder in etiquette, manners, or conduct; an embarrassing social blunder or indiscretion” so good that you have to share it? Please send it to me under “You Said” and I will publish it soon. The examples below all have French ties, but blunders in all countries and languages are welcome!

Val’s French Class. I took a French class about a year ago for obvious reasons. The teacher asked us to describe a photo of a very handsome Kevin Costner. When it was my turn, I fell into an old habit of taking an English word and to make it French, I give it a French enunciation. So I said, “Kevin est en vacashion.” (Kevin is on vacation.) My teacher was aghast. She asked me what I was trying to say and quickly corrected me. After class I raced home to ask my husband what I said (he speaks fluent French). Evidently, I said something like “Kevin goes with pigs.”

Val Needs Body Lotion. Visiting with my husband’s relatives in France, I ran out of body lotion. Feeling very sure of myself, I walked to the local market and headed to the beauty section. I scanned the items and found a pink bottle with a word I could recognize: doux – soft. Yes, I wanted soft skin. So I purchased it and it was gentle, but my skin never really felt moisturized. When we got home, I showed the bottle to my husband. I told him it was pretty lousy body lotion. He started laughing. He told me it was make up remover! I had the cleanest arms and legs that vacation.

Val Orders Strawberry Ice Cream. I joined my husband on a business trip to Paris a few years ago. It was a beautiful afternoon and I was in the mood for some strawberry ice cream. Strawberry ice cream in Paris is not like the plastic stuff we get in the US. It is similar to a sorbet and very refreshing. I walked to a nearby sunny café and ordered off the menu. The waiter returned with a bowl of something white with a few packets of sugar to go with it. I tried to remain composed and smiled while I had a few spoonfuls. It was awful. I figured out pretty quickly that I had ordered crème fraîche (which is thick fermented cream) instead of glace à la fraise. Just two letters (ch) kept me from my intended dessert.

A Friend Orders Take Out. Prêt-à-Porter is a fairly well-known film about the French fashion industry. It translates in English to ready-to-wear. A girlfriend of mine spent one summer vacation in Paris thinking it meant “to go.” This is an easy mistake to make since porter does mean to carry. However, she confused many café owners when she asked for her meal “prêt-à-porter.” They must have thought she was one crazy American who wanted to wear her food.

My Sister-in-Law is Full. Literal translations are often a downfall. My sister-in-law learned this the hard way. She was a teenager visiting her French side of the family. She had consumed one of those gigantic meals for which the French are famous. When asked if she would like more to eat, she replied “Je suis plein.” The literal translation is “I am full.” However, it is also slang for I am pregnant. The French relatives got a big kick out of that one.

A Friend has Fun at the Pool. Back In 2000, a friend was on vacation in Bretagne at an ocean front spa. One day she and her friend decided to check out the pool and get a little exercise by swimming a few laps. They walked into the spa area where they were greeted by an attractive young Frenchman handing out towels. In her best fractured French, she explained that they were interested in having a look around and would like to go swimming. She said: “Pouvez-vous nous monter la piscine?” She noticed a subtle change in the spa assistant’s expression and he almost eagerly dropped what he was doing and said he would meet them at the pool. He seemed very obliging, as though maybe he needed to stay at the pool for some reason. After a while, he left a bit disappointed. In the middle of the night, my friend awoke thinking about the pool scene. In horror and embarrassment she realized that the verb she had intended to use, “montrer”, means to show, but the word she used, “monter” means to mount. Young Jacques or Pierre or Jean Paul may have surmised that what he had been hearing about American women was true – they will do anything on vacation.