Category Archives: Just for laughs

On pronunciation and the proper way to eat a brownie.

kid brownie

{I don’t know this kid, but I know she knows how to eat a brownie.}

Any of my fellow compatriots who (still) think the French don’t really like us should come to France and see for themselves. The French love America! They listen to our music, they eat under golden arches (admit it, Frenchies, you adore “MacDo”), they speak our language.

Maybe I should rephrase that. Sure, every French person speaks English nowadays, but they also adopt our words when speaking their own language.

I particularly like the food vocabulary that has become increasingly trendy lately. I first noticed it when my friend Hélène opened up her cookie shop in Dijon and I started hearing sentences like, “I’d like one chocolate chip cookies, please.” Apparently, all cookies are plural here. Hélène also sells oh-so-American muffins, which sounds something like “meuhfeens.” A new “American restaurant” just popped up in town. They feature “bayGUHLS” and propose “Looky Charm” cereal for dessert (quelle horreur!).

I’m getting reasonably good at understanding French, but when they use our words and pronounce them their way, it always throws me for a loop.

sweet teeth

A couple days ago, a group of us was at the boulangerie grabbing some “sondweech” for a quick lunch. Victor ordered a “brohnie” for dessert and then asked me if I liked them. I had no idea what he was talking about.

“You know, a brohnie,” he said. “It’s American.”

“Oh! A brownie,” I said.

“Oh, A BROWNie,” Estelle teased, with spot-on American pronunciation. “You always say, ‘oh!’ whenever you recognize an American word.”

“Yea, because when I am listening to French all day, I guess my mind is constantly trying to translate, and then when it hears an American word — pronounced differently — it gets confused.”

We paid for our lunches and made our way back to school for a “pique-nique.”  When we had finished our “sondweech” and were moving on to dessert, Victor pulled out a spoon. I couldn’t help but giggle.

“You’re going to eat your brownie with a spoon?” I asked.

“Is that not the way I’m supposed to eat it?” Victor replied.

“Eat it however you want, but may I take a picture?”

Brownie{Clearly not the American way to eat a brownie)

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Do you like your coffee French?

Voila another video from Cyprien, who, I gotta tell ya, is impressively making a real name for himself with his video blog. This month he and a few of his equally successful “vlogger” friends put on a live show at the largest cinema, theater, and music complex in Paris and it sold out just days after they announced the Janauary 12 date. He’s famous and he’s never paid a centime to market himself. Pretty cool times we’re living in.

I’m posting this latest installment because coffee, a drink that has always had cultural significance, has taken on new meaning in France. In the last few years especially there has been quite a bit of buzz (pun intended) caused by 21st century home espresso machines, especially the Nespresso model, which has been everlastingly linked to the sexy, smooth talking American actor George Clooney.

(You’ll hear Cyprien give his best shot at Clooney’s salesmanship 29 seconds into the video, with the very sexy blare of the machine in the foreground.)

As Cyprien says, “I was obligated to buy a coffee machine, in order to be classy. You can’t be classy with soluble coffee, for example.”

Soluble, or dissolvable, coffee is a French cultural enigma. I just don’t think they could market that kind of thing in America. But it’s really popular in France, and it’s much faster than a coffee maker, and I have to admit that I used to drink it every morning in my little studio in Dijon. It’s not that bad, but it’s certainly not classy. Not like Nespresso.

Cyprien pokes fun at the marketing strategy behind the “capsules” you can buy to make different kinds of espresso. They all have names you can’t remember, which means they all end up being referenced by color. “It’s a brown capsule,” he says, after reading the name “Livanto.”

“And they all have more or less the same taste,” he adds. “At a certain point you have to be honest.” He reads some of the distinguishing characteristics, like “complex and balanced” and — his favorite — “mild and liquid.”

“A liquid coffee,” he says. “They take us for idiots, huh?”

(Of course, the word “moelleux” can also mean smooth, which is surely  Nespresso’s intent, but the potential misreading is funny nonetheless.)

“Coffee connoisseurs” don’t make it out of Cyprien’s video un-poked either. It’s easy to feign recognition of the “complex and balanced” aspects of an espresso, but only if you know what specific characteristics go with the names of the capsules. (He serves a shot of Coca Cola to call the imaginary connoisseur’s bluff.)

The real test, though, is whether someone can drink his coffee without sugar. “I drink it without sugar,” Cyprien’s character says. But what he’s thinking as he takes a sip is, “it’s bitter, it’s disgusting, it’s bitter, it needs sugar, it’s bitter.”

Love it!

TRADUCTION A LA MELIE: Continue reading

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Cliché ! A video about stereotypes

It’s not true! It’s not true!

Oh, come on, you know it is. That’s what’s so great about a cliché…there’s always that bit of truth you just can’t deny, however exaggerated the joke may be.

Tonight at my little hometown French meetup group, the subject of living a multicultural life came up and immediately opened the door to one stereotype after another.

Brigitte, who’s been here over ten years, said she’ll never forget that when she arrived in America someone asked her if she had driven all the way from France.

“My family asked me if there was running water here in the States!” Pierre joked in response.

Brigitte dabbed a tear from her eye. “An American asked me if we celebrated Christmas in France!”

Needless to say, we goodhearted Americans were giggling and rolling our eyes right along with them. This served as a diversion while I searched my memory for a similar experience I know I must have had as a foreigner in France.

Sara beat me to the punch.

“Well, we all know you guys only use one bar of soap a year. That’s why you produce so much perfume!”

As they may or may not say in France, touché, Sara. Touché.

Below is the video that inspired Sara’s response. I’m posting it in both its French and English versions. Hope you like it!

TRADUCTION A LA MELIE:

Cliché ! une vidéo sur les stéréotypes

C’est pas vrai ! c’est pas vrai !

Allez, vous savez bien que si. C’est ça qui est bien avec les clichés … il y a toujours cette petite part de vérité que vous ne pouvez pas nier, même si la blague est exagérée.

Ce soir, avec mon petit groupe local de conversation français, nous en sommes venus à parler de la vie multiculturelle, ce qui a tout de suite ouvert la porte à tous les stéréotypes.

Brigitte, qui vit ici depuis plus de dix ans, nous a raconté qu’elle n’oublierait jamais qu’à son arrivée en Amérique, quelqu’un lui avait demandé si elle avait conduit tout le trajet pour venir de France.

« Ma famille m’a demandé s’il y avait l’eau courante ici aux Etats-Unis ! » a plaisanté Pierre en guise de réponse.

Brigitte a essuyé une larme « Un Américain m’a demandé si nous fêtions Noel en France ! »

Pas besoin de dire que nous bons Américains avons pouffé de rire et roulé des yeux avec eux. Cela m’a laissé le temps de chercher dans ma mémoire une expérience similaire que j’avais du avoir en tant qu’étrangère en France.

Sara m’a coiffée au poteau.

« Et, vous savez bien vous que vous n’utilisez qu’un savon par an. C’est pour ça que vous fabriquez autant de parfum ! »

Comme on dit en France (ou pas), touché Sara. Touché.

Ci-dessous la vidéo qui a inspiré la réponse de Sara. Je la publie dans les deux versions, française et anglaise. J’espère que vous apprécierez. !

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Fromage: Part of a balanced meal

Small wonder the French are fans of New York Style Cheesecake. This Thanksgiving weekend, while my parents were eating turkey and pumpkin pie across the Atlantic, I was eating cheesecake at the special request of my French family.

I should mention that before coming to France I never ate cheesecake. Mom made delicious chocolate and Angel Food cakes, but I’m quite sure a cheesecake never emerged from our Kentucky oven. That’s why, on the only two occasions I’ve ever been called to make one such dessert, my stomach lurched at the possibility of disaster. I’d heard about cracked cakes and stiff cakes, overly beaten or overly cooked cakes.

“It’s not in my blood,” I wanted to say. “I don’t know how to make a cheesecake!”

But then, defeat is not in my blood either.

My first cheesecake, you’ll remember, was a success. I had my doubts about the second one. At Nicolas’ sister’s house for the weekend, I was on foreign soil in more ways than one. Unknown oven. Unfamiliar baking dish. Thermomix. Let the challenge begin. Continue reading

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Lessons from a toddler: Where there’s a will there’s a way

Mais si,” Jules says, furrowing his brow and pursing his lips with determination. It’s his choice phrase at this point in his young life, when according to him, every “no” can be remedied by the confident retort, “but yes!”

“No more chocolate, Jules.”

Mais si!”

“That’s not very nice, Jules.”

Mais si!”

“It won’t kill you to eat your soup, Jules.”

Mais si!”

(We should have seen that last one coming.)

This weekend, with a house full of guests, the little brown haired, brown eyed cherub took full advantage on more than one occasion. He batted his eyelashes. He scrunched his brows. He steadfastly insisted against all statements to the contrary, “but yes, but yes!”

And so I should have guessed that when I walked into the bathroom and locked the door, knowing that Jules was hot on my heels, he would not take this barrier lightly. He knocked once. I responded, “Je suis là!” He knocked again. “Still here,” I said. When he pounded with his fists, I chuckled.

“Jules!” I said sternly, “I am using the bathroom. You may not come in!”

That settled it. He didn’t pound, or even knock, again. Still, I kept an eye on the door.

Not thirty seconds later, the wall opposite the door began to slide open and a little brown head popped through.

Mais si!” he asserted with a big grin.

Embarrassed, I squealed, trying to protect my modesty before the miniature magician. He had jumped through the wall (a sliding door leading to a closet) and into the bathroom, completely unabashed.

Lesson learned. When one door is closed, another door will open.

And maybe it’s a hidden door, reserved for those whose answer to “no” is a sure and confident, “but yes!”

For the translation, Continue reading

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Le taxidermiste: A spooky story

Have you ever noticed that creepy things seem to happen more frequently around Halloween?  Maybe it’s because we’re so conditioned to the secondary nature of All Hallows’ Eve. (Back in the 16th century there was nothing frightening about “All Hallows’ Evening.” It was simply the night before All Hallows’ Day, a celebration of the saints.)  Or maybe it’s the changing season, the wind whistling in the progressively more naked trees, the orange skies and eerie quiet, night falling more quickly and chilly air banishing the warmth of summer.

Or maybe it’s just me.

At any rate, there’s a taxidermist down the street and, call me crazy, but it creeps me out.  When I come in from a run, my cool-down walk sometimes leads me in the direction of this dead-things store, but I always stay on the other side of the street.  At the beginning of this week dusk was setting in as I passed the shop, which was dark except for a dim light in the back room.  Don’t ask me why I was curious but I squinted from across the street, trying to see what the after-hours stuffer was doing. Continue reading

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No taking naps. No making appointments. This is France.

I speak, you speak, he speaks.

We learn, you learn, they learn.

He speaks French. I learn French.

I. am. still. learning. French.

In France no one takes naps.  It’s not because people don’t get tired, or that we’re not in Spain, but people just don’t take naps here.  Nor do they make appointments.  It is absolutely impossible to make an appointment in France, and if you try to do so, you will immediately be pegged as a foreigner.  No taking naps and no making appointments.

In France if you are tired  you must make a nap.  You must hammer together dreams and mold clouds of z’s out of clay.  Very tiring work, to be sure.

In France if you need to meet with someone, you must take an appointment.  Take it, right away!  Snatch it from his schedule and glue it into an empty spot on your own agenda. Of course you must consult with him, make him aware of your completely acceptable intention of stealing some of his sweet time.  There is no more civil way to go about it.  It is culturally acceptable and in fact completely unavoidable if you should ever hope to be considered “one of us.”

Believe me, I struggle with this every day.  Whether I’m confronting my unwillingness to labor over nap-making or undermining my courteous hesitancy to take something so precious as time, I often have to console myself with a phrase that doubles as a mnemonic device: “It’s exactly the opposite of what it would be in English.”

Take a nap = prendre faire la sieste

and

Make an appointment = faire prendre rendez-vous.

I speak French.

I laugh. You laugh. We laugh.

For Mélie’s translation into French… Continue reading

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