Visitors to France often arrive with a head full of expectations and a deep desire to blend in with the country’s inhabitants. This is because the French are stereotypically regarded as casually chic, urbane and quick to judge (and probably dislike) tourists who commit minor infractions against manners and good taste.
While it may be silly to excessively worry about making cultural faux pas, it is worth understanding some of the main differences that make France special. For instance personal conduct is often a crucial part of distinguishing tourists from residents. The French generally tend to talk softly, regardless of whether they’re on a bus or in a restaurant. Loud-mouthed tourists may be frowned upon.
While many people have a basic grasp of French, trying to construct sentences from half-remembered school-learnt vocabulary can have unintended consequences. Even those who learn French in France need to be careful with what they say, as the language’s subtle nuances can give some phrases unintended meanings.
Phrases not to say in France
Here are just some of the more common mistakes by those who’ve yet to fully master the language.
At the end of a meal, the temptation might be to say ‘I’m so full’ by exclaiming ‘je suis tellement pleine!’ Unfortunately, this announces that you are either very pregnant or very drunk.
When someone tells you a tale of derring-do it might seem apt to say ‘that’s so exciting!’ using the phrase ‘c’est excitant!’ What this will convey, however, is that you are aroused.
When in Paris, any tourist might ask someone to take them to the Eiffel Tower using the following phrase: ‘Pouvez-vous me prendre à la Tour Eiffel?’ Surprisingly, this will be interpreted as a request to ‘have sex with me at the Eiffel Tower’.
At the top of the afore mentioned Eiffel Tower, a visitor might like to say that they were scared to death, and pronounce ‘J’ai eu une petite mort!’ This tells their bemused companion that they’ve just had an orgasm.
While it’s generally not a good idea to comment on somebody’s size, those who wish to say comment on a French person’s diminutive stature should definitely not say ‘vous êtes tellement petite!’ as this tells them that you consider their breasts to be small.
By José Calvo