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“Trouvé” (Found) in Translation

Opening Note: This week I am exclusively writing the first few chapters and a book proposal of the first of a series of books. In lieu of the usual Parler Paris and Parler Nice Nouvellettres® based on current events, we are republishing a few of our best past issues — those that we know you enjoyed and might enjoy reading again! I am taking the liberty of editing them just a bit to bring them up to date.

THIS PARLER PARIS WAS FIRST PUBLISHED: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 • Paris, France

Dear Parler Paris Reader,

Sure, today I should be writing about “Halloween” in Paris, but now I know it as “La Toussaint” (All Saints Day). That’s because I’m losing the English language.

La Toussaint is November 1st, when French Catholics celebrate their illustrious saints. That makes sense: “tous saint” or “all saints.” It’s fairly literal — no wonder why it sticks on the tongue.

So many French words do…now that my level of French has improved and the English translation can be easily forgotten. In a conversation last night with a New York friend who spends a few months a year here in her “pied-à-terre” (apartment which serves a ‘foothold’ in Paris) with a beautiful view on the “Marais” (district in Paris that centuries ago was swampland) just “en face” (in front) of the Saint-Paul “Métro” (subway) station, it was difficult to come up with the English words for much of my own dialog.

It’s not that I speak French so much. In fact, it’s really rather pathetic how bad my level of French is considering a 15-year full time residence [now 21 years and still pathetic!] in the land of Francophones. As an Anglophone, one can exist here his entire life with barely any French at all. (The French have become quite fluent in English and love to show it off.) But I must admit, it wouldn’t be quite as much fun as it is mixing and matching the languages to suit one’s own expression.

There simply are lots of words in French that have no good English equivalent. For example, now that I’m knee deep in the construction dust of the renovation of my studio and “studette” (very small studio apartment), words that apply to the project seem to roll off the tongue in French easier than in English. The “chantier” (construction project) is what everyone calls it as if it were as “formidable” (grand) as “un château” (castle). The “plombier” (plumber) wants to know where to install the “robinet” (tap) and the “massons” (masons) are about to lay the “chape” (coating or covering), in this case of “beton” (concrete) before laying the “carrelages” (tiles) on the “sol” (floor).

The “Franglais” seems to be creeping into my vocabulary more and more, just as English has infiltrated the French language, too. Newly created French words pop up everyday as the French adopt the words in English for which there is no good equivalent in French. “D’accord” has easily become “okay” and “le weekend” became “au courant” (fully familiar) for exactly what it is long ago. Instead of “les nouvelles” you will hear someone ask a friend, “Donne-moi de tes ‘news.'” And now with the world of “cyberspace,” “courrier électronique” or “courriel” is now of course, “email” (which in French ‘used’ to mean “enamel!”).

There’s a long list of words we have shared for centuries such as “armoire,” “cliché,” “entrepreneur,” “liaison” and “rapport” — words that clearly had no good equivalent in English so we adopted them as our own. This crossing or “mariage” of cultures is being expressed in the language every day so that at some point perhaps we won’t recognize the difference between the French and the English at all.

That’s what’s happening now to tie my tongue. I’m having a personal cross-cultural experience — it’s tough to even discern the difference between the French and the English term in some instances. You may recall it happened a few months ago to the Parler Paris “Newsletter”…when it became the Parler Paris “Nouvellettre®” (although this one cannot be blamed on the French as it’s a creation of mine with the help of some friends).

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - Paris, FranceAdrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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P.S. Since the time of this writing, English has penetrated even more into the French language. For example, “Le scotch” is “Scotch tape” (a brand turned generic term), and now “scotcher” is “to tape” something. “Le brushing” is ‘to brush one’s hair’ or ‘blow dry.’ “Un Brainstorming” is of course, a way to come up with more creative ideas. And there are dozens, maybe hundreds or thousands. Before long, we might not need to learn French at all. Sad, but true.

P.P.S. If owning an apartment in Paris or home in the French countryside is on your holiday wish list, subscribe to French Property Insider. This weekly e-zine gives you insights, recommendations and tips about buying and investing in property in France. Receive 50 information-packed issues a year, plus you’ll have access to all past issues, archived articles, special reports and the latest Paris property price information. Subscribe now at French Property Insider

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