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Trouvé (Found) in Translation

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 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”…(till the next time)

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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P.S. If you’re in Paris on Toussaint, then make it a special day by laying flowers on the grave(s) of some of your favorite ghosts. A great list of Paris cemeteries can be found at http://www.pariscemeteries.com/

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