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‘Cos you’re hot and you’re cold

As my friend Anne put it, we are immersed in pleine tempête sibérienne today. Despite it being mid-March, we woke up in the morning to snowfall and it has been non-stop since. Public transport system is thrown in a loop, flights were cancelled, many northern France-bound train services (including Eurostar) had been halted.

Snowy Paris

Yet, it was mere 3 days ago when we had a wonderful spring day (yes, sadly, just one day). The sun was out, the mercury recorded some 18°C, we were out cycling, walking in the park (no coat, no scarf!) – how wonderful! When we arrived home, I made a passing remark to F: “je suis chaude” to which he raised his eyebrows and started laughing at the same time.

Ah, yes, welcome to my amusing world of French faux pas. Again.

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Errm, he is my …?

Loving elephants

The running joke is, if something’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen. After F and I got PACSed, I made an announcement – first time ever that’s related to my relationship status – along with a photo of us together. Congratulatory messages poured in (thanks again everyone for the well wishes), along with a good deal of confusion of the following variety:

– What is PACS?
– Are you engaged?
– Did you get married?

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French writing – fail!

Recently, during lunch time discussion, one of my colleagues mentioned how she was preparing herself to help me settling in my first months in Paris. Not just at work, but also with accommodation search, administrative meetings, opening bank account, getting mobile phone, etc. She was duly impressed that I managed most things on my own, and knew right then that I like France enough to make all the effort to fit in.

Correct your French blunder

Oh if only she could see the imposter in me dancing away to this praise I don’t quite deserve. Sure, I read and speak better French now, and I can understand rapid conversations a lot easier (although I still talk a lot less than I would when a conversation is in English or in Chinese), but oh if only you know how atrocious my writing is (and can be)… We’re not talking about reports or poetry or anything of that magnitude; we’re talking 2 lines email to my group of friends!

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Un copain, mon copain

This afternoon, during a family meal chez ma belle famille, the conversation turned towards plans for Christmas break and I regretfully informed everyone that I will not be joining them this year for the celebration. Instead I will be Ireland-bound to visit my family and friends. (Oh yes, I can’t wait to see my niece!)

MIL: Mais oui, c’est bien de voir ta famille, tes amis et, Frédéric dit, ton ancien directeur de thèse aussi?
Me: Mon directeur de thèse? Euuuh non, pas tout à fait. On va peut-être se croisser une soirée…
Boy: C’est pas le directeur de thèse, mais le mec qui s’est occupé de ta thèse, comment il s’appelle? On l’a vu cet été.
Me: Ah, Dave? Mais lui, il est mon copain, pas qu’un collègue.
Boy: Ton copain?
Me: Oui. Non! Un copain! Il est un copain!
BIL: Et nous, on vous laisse de se discuter un peu, hahaha…

Hillarity all round and teases coming my way, I was going red from blushing (it may have been the wine too). With an incorrect use of just one word – one! – I have declared to the family that I have a boyfriend elsewhere, oops.

In French, to denote possession, and specifically something/someone that “belongs” to me, the determiners/adjectives are mon for masculine, singular; ma for feminine, singular; and mes for plural.

A friend is given by un ami (masculine) or une amie (feminine), or informally as un copain (masculine) or une copine (feminine). It is therefore not a far leap in logic (at least to this Anglophone brain) to casually claim “my friend” as mon copain or ma copine.

Nope. It appears such connection is flawed.

In fact, these terms are pretty much exclusively reserved to refer to “my boyfriend” or “my girlfriend”. Forget the French beginner’s class lesson where they are, respectively, mon petit ami and ma petite amie. Cute as these may sound, they are obsolete from day-to-day use. As for referring to my friend, if I opt to use the words copain/copine, he/she will forever just be un copain/une copine (“a friend”).

I wonder though what happens when I refer to them in plural, as in “my friends”. Can I use mes copains or would it be misconstrued as having multiple boyfriends? ;)

Vouvoiement vs tutoiement

I came across an article on BBC yesterday that discusses the use of “tu” on social media and how this is causing a cultural clash in France. But first, let’s pedal back a little for those who read the sentence above and went “what”?

What’s tu?

Or for the Malaysians, apa tu? ;)

We have it easy in English. When you talk to someone, you refer to the person simply as “you”. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if it’s address to one person, or several, or the age and rank of the person. However, in French, not quite so. There’s an entire quagmire to navigate here and a false move can quickly make you a social pariah to said offended person.

At a basic level, “tu” is you in the singular, and “vous” is you in the plural. Add on the layer of politesse, “tu” is now an informal you, used to address a friend, a colleague (but not a superior unless he/she is a friend or has ok’ed), a child or a family member/relative; “vous” is a formal you, used to address anyone you don’t know, someone older than you, someone with authority (bosses fall in this category) and someone you’re showing a level of respect (say, the President).

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Let’s talk languages

I speak Franglais?

I like it that I grew up in a multi-lingual environment, and that I have opportunity to live abroad and experience new languages in the process. At present, I use either English or French in my daily conversations and they are slowly mergin to take life on its own. Slightly alarmingly for me is to find a plateau in my grasp of French and at the same time a regression in my use of English…

Lately, I find myself saying things like “his father” and “her mother” despite referring to the parents of a same friend (who is not both male and female at the same time, I assure you), asking a colleague if she has “taken her tickets” for a conference trip, and I “make (someone) a present” even if it’s store-bought and directly gift-wrapped (lovingly chosen, of course).

In another word, I’m beginning to literally translate from French to English (“son père”, “sa mère”, “prendre les billets”, “faire un cadeau”), and therefore committing the very same errors that I used to correct my Francophone friends from making! I know this is not strictly Franglais in the traditional sense – I don’t often speak in either one language then pepper it with words from the other – but what else would you call it? Confused foreign-speaker?

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Kisses in digital age

First year uni, freshers’ week. I still remember the flutters in my stomach the first time I received a text message from this cute guy I have just met the previous evening, signed off with “kisses”. A mere hour later, another guy I also met during the same social event, also attaching “kisses” to the end of his email. Surely I cannot suddenly be so popular for everyone to be sending kisses my way?

Kisses by Claire

Ah, the naïveté that was me in my youth, and on getting to know the charming “Latin-Europeans” – mainly French, Italian and Spanish – for the first time.

Little did I know, those kisses were merely equivalent to the air/cheek kisses I’ve been getting in greetings to say hello and goodbye, only in these cases, in written form. Had I received a message from a girl that ended with “kisses”, I probably would have think twice about its significance and not jump onto the “someone-had-a-crush-on-me?” bandwagon. The other shoe dropped when some of my new Latin-European friends, of both genders, concluded their text messages or emails with “kiss kiss”. Aaaahhh…

Embarrassing, right? Oh well, at least for a little while, I felt the thrill of the geeky girl who garnered the attention normally reserved for the homecoming queen ;)

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C’est pas mal vs C’est pas terrible

Ce n’est pas mal. (more commonly, C’est pas mal.)
Ce n’est pas terrible. (ditto, C’est pas terrible.)

Translating word by word, what we have are “it is not bad” and “it is not terrible”. They are conveying messages along similar vein, no? Where we didn’t think it’s good but it’s still, you know, alright I guess. Acceptable.

These phrases are easy to remember; the words not too complicated for a foreigner. Quelle déception! Instead, we would inevitably use them incorrectly. This is how cross-messages happened, until one day, light bulb moment – ding! Mais franchement, I think French people are trying to mess with our heads… ;)

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