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I cannot put on my Christmassy self, I am French (untranslatable # 001)

November 22, 2010
Translating Christmassy to French is not one of those cases where you are going to lose bits of concepts in the process of using a periphrasis. You will end up saying typical of Christmas [typique de Noël], which is exactly the Oxford Dictionnary definition. But it is one of those cases where you will learn that the French mind does not really care about Christmas. At least not enough to have a special adjective to rate the real Christmas nature of an object or an event.

I am festive. I just don’t do Christmas very well (faux friends # 002)

November 22, 2010
I have been officially tagged as non-festive. Except that I am. In French. Indeed when in British English festive refers especially to Christmas celebrations, in French festif/ive refers to any kind of celebrations, from private parties to end-of-year celebrations. This is very easy to understand once you know that we use one and only word for any kind of celebrations, fête, from the same latin root as festif/ve (festum, also the root of your festive, although indirectly), whether we speak about holidays, parties, your name day or even a fun fair. The nuances are brought by the use of the singular/plural form and/or an adjective. And some grammatical/pragmatic context. For example a fun fair is une fête foraine whereas a festival is une fête religieuse — as an aside, don’t be fooled either by the French festival which refers only to Arts and Science festivals. If I am speaking about a name day, it would be made explicit by the use of a possessive determinant, because this is a very personal fête. Whereas if I am going to a party, I am going to une fête, marked (unmarked, linguist friends?) by an undetermined article. And to point to this special period of the end of the year, we say very simply les fêtes de fin d’année, i.e. the end-of-year celebrations, often shorten as les fêtes.
So don’t be surprised if I am quibbling when you call me non-festive, because what it activates in my French brain is much more vast than Christmas. And I like the rest of it.

these funny idioms French people use # 017

November 18, 2010
We don’t say French researchers are asked to bite/cut off/ their to spite their own face, but French researchers are asked to shoot their own foot [Les chercheurs français sont amenés à se tirer une balle dans le pied]. Except that the French meaning is a bit more lax: you don’t need to act in retaliation, just to do something that handicap only you at the end.
An idiom reminded to me by The Best Friend last weekend and which found its perfect application today, when describing the obsolescence of some French laws/attitudes (described here).

what British English speakers call French, and some (pseudo-)truth about it # 002

November 11, 2010
That’s going to be an easy one, but truth needs to be spoken. French fries, sorry to break your heart, are not French. They are Belgian. I know, for you, English-speaking world, that doesn’t really make a difference. You might even think Belgium is a region of France. We might actually think the same whenever evoking Wallonie (its French-speaking part). And Walloon Belgians certainly feel closer to us than Swiss people, even French-speaking. They have a cinema we love, they have beers we cherish. And they have French fries. Or so they say. It is interesting to notice that the English Wikipedia page on French fries is only mentioning the Belgian hypothesis, when on the French page there is also a French one. Not too much French arrogance though for once, since they clearly say that the French hypothesis is not tenable either. And we might be the worst arrogant in the world, but I don’t know one French person who would try to attribute themselves the invention of fries.

every bit of concept matters # 002

November 3, 2010
There is a very interesting impossibility to convey the whole meaning of Tu me plais when going from French to English. Tu me plais is obviously directly translatable, this is not one of those cases where you have to use a periphrasis to attain your goal. Tu me plais is the best equivalent, in my opinion, of I like you. Except that the subject is not the same. In French, as well as in Spanish or in Italian, you are the one having an effect on me. In English, I am the one who is building up emotions towards you. I might look like I am quibbling again (as if I was a quibbler really…), but this is not insignificant. I could say You appeal me, you’ll tell me, but really, a phrase that occurs only 1060 times on the internet according to Google© does not seem that plausible.
Another problem is the lack of flexibility of I like you. I like you is pretty much an understatement for I love you, or at least a prelude to it, a way of saying I could love you. Tu me plais can obviously be used in the same way. But it also can be a chat-up line or an end-of-night line, that every French girl (we don’t like having to chat-up: we’re the paradox of Feminism, mating traditionally but sharing chores in a progressive way, at least trying/pretending) will understand as Let’s go home and fuck — unless lacking of pragmatics abilities, but well, everybody knows only boys lack of those…
On the other hand I like you is fairer, reflecting that those feelings are emerging from a co-construction. But really, how I like to use Tu me plais is more on the end-of-night mode…

these funny idioms French people use # 016

November 2, 2010
We don’t beat around the bush (well, we do, we have a reputation of circumvoluted people to entertain), but we go round the pot [Nous tournons autour du pot].

these funny idioms French people use # 015 (when idioms can be false friends too)

November 1, 2010
We don’t bring grist to someone’s mill, but water to his/her mill.
But this similitude between the two idioms is shallow only. If I tell you that you brought water to my mill, I specifically want to underline that you worked against your own side, and obviously against your own will (see this post on two frogs in B’ham for an example). I believe this is partly because bringing water to one’s mill regards only debate and arguments. Bringing water to one’s mill, you don’t bring a skill or whatever concrete thing that could prove itself useful. Doing so you only bring an argument to a discussion, and because the French is stubborn by essence, s/he will think to how this argument can be opposed which will allow the development of a counter-argumentation. It’s very bad behaviour, I know, but you’ll admit it’s good for developing your critical thinking… (see we just can’t help trying to have the last word).
Therefore bringing water to one’s mill is somewhat just allowing the existence of the confirmation bias.