Category Archives: Language

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)



Filed under Culture, Food, Just for laughs, Language

Wine School: An oxymoron? Not in France!

Bonjour! Guess who’s back in France?

And…since I’ve been away a while…and since there’s so much to tell…I’ll give you the long-story-short for now, accompanied by some mysterious pictures to pique your interest!

To make a long story short, then, since the beginning of this month, I have been taking classes at the Burgundy School of Business and working toward a Master’s Degree in International Wine Commerce. Yes, reading that sentence surprises me too. I would pinch myself, except that the demanding courses I am taking every day are enough of a wake-up call in themselves.

I’m back in France! I have six hours of classes in French every day! And this time next year I will be beginning my career in the wine industry!


By way of introduction into this new French life, here are some images from my class’s first “field trip” into the Côte d’Or vineyards. We were led by our professor, Eric Vincent, who was trying to teach us about the geology of Burgundy terroir on what must have been the foggiest day of the year so far. Even though we couldn’t see much, we had fun climbing the prestigious Montrachet côte and noting the differences between limestone, loam, and clay soils – all very distinct, all in such close proximity. We had lunch in Beaune and finished the day with a cuverie visit and wine tasting at Domaine d’Ardhuy in Corgoloin.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s a pretty sweet deal to have the vineyards of Burgundy as a classroom and wine tasting as part of the curriculum. I know. I am aware.

Pinch me?!

{Our newly elected class representatives, Victor and François}

{“Moi-même,” Jenifer, Estelle, Laure, Emilie, and Marlène}

{Marion and Jules}

En Francais! Click here to see Marie-Amélie’s translation: Continue reading


Filed under Language, Wine

The Wall Street Journal’s Lettie Teague defines “Sommelier” + a riddle of sorts!

Winemaker, Vineyard manager, Cellar Master.

Wine Writer, Critic, Journalist.

Wine Consultant, Distributor, Sales Director…

There are many, many diverse professions within the wine industry, yet “Sommelier” seems to be the layman’s catch-all for wine professionalism. In this video, Lettie Teague, wine writer for The Wall Street Journal, explains why it’s a hot career right now, the common assumptions about what these people do, and what it truly means to be a sommelier.

I think it’s a great summary that clears up a lot of misconceptions. But because I haven’t forgotten my dear English degree, I’d like to challenge you to find one fairly surprising orthographical error that jumped out at me in the first 40 seconds of the video. Here are three hints to draw your attention (don’t read them if you want to try to find it first without help!).

  • I said “orthographical,” not “grammatical” or “typographical” error.
  • It has something to do with a very common, non-wine specific term or expression.
  • An artist might use it, or you can stack stuff on it, but for our purposes we’d rather perceive things with it.

Let me know what you come up with! Bonne chance!


Filed under Culture, Language, Wine

World War II and the vineyards of southern Burgundy, on E-Romantic Hotels

You’ve already met Monsieur Drouin via the teaser transcription I posted yesterday, so I know you are on the edge of your seats to know more. Let me just say, the article that came of my conversation with Monsieur Drouin is nothing like what I expected it to be. Having tasted his wine a few weeks ago, I was eager to write more about a certain Macon-Villages I found particularly refreshing and clean. In the end I didn’t even mention it!

Monsieur Drouin brought up a topic that always piques my interest: World War II. When he started talking about the impact the Nazis had on Burgundian wine tradition, I knew the article would take a different turn. I did a bit more research. I waded through articles in French. What spurred me on (as if I needed spurring!) was the absolute dearth of information on the subject in English. Such a fascinating topic, and only one primary source came up in a Google Search!

Please indulge my fascination and let me know what you think about the article on E-Romantic Hotels’ website. Thanks!

{Hotel Burgevin, Loire Valley}

While we’re on the topic: E-Romantic Hotels is a French website (with text in both English and French) founded and run by Isabelle Brigout. Isabelle’s team searches for the most charming hotels and bed and breakfasts in France and organizes them by region, featuring them in an easy-to-browse database on the site.

The three make-it-or-break it criteria for inclusion on the site? Each hotel must be distinguished by beautiful architecture, elegant interior design and decoration, and a very warm welcome.

{Résidence Dary, Corsica and Hotel Le Moulin, Alsace}

To hear Isabelle describe it in her own words — in French — visit this page. I highly recommend listening to any of her 1.5 minute weekly “Air Show” radio spots, during which she describes a featured destination. It would be especially useful if you are just learning French. She articulates beautifully and exudes the French je ne sais quoi (pardon the cliche) to a tee. Plus, there is a transcript, so you can read along if you’d like.

All photos:

Marie-Amelie’s Translation:

La Seconde Guerre Mondiale et les vignes du sud Bourgogne, sur E-Romantic Hotels

Vous avez déjà fait la connaissance de Monsieur Drouin dans le résumé que j’ai posté hier, donc je sais que vous mourez d’envie d’en savoir plus. Je vous dirai juste que l’article ressorti de ma conversation avec Monsieur Drouin n’a rien à voir avec ce à quoi je m’attendais. J’ai goûté ses vins il y a quelques semaines, j’avais hâte d’écrire un peu plus à propos d’un certain Mâcon-Villages que j’avais trouvé particulièrement rafraichissant et pur. Finalement, je ne l’ai même pas mentionné.

Monsieur Drouin a évoqué un sujet qui éveille toujours mon intérêt : la Seconde Guerre Mondiale. Quand il a commencé à parler de l’influence des Nazis sur la tradition viticole en Bourgogne, j’ai su que l’article allait prendre un tour différent. J’ai effectué un peu plus de recherches. J’ai pataugé au milieu d’articles en français. Ce qui m’a stimulée (comme si j’avais besoin d’être stimulée) est le manque profond d’information en anglais sur la question. Un sujet si fascinant, et seulement une source principale dans la recherche Google !

Pitié, pardonnez ma fascination et dites-moi ce que vous pensez de mon article sur le site d’E-Romantic Hotels. Merci !

Puisqu’on en parle, E-Romantic Hotels est un site Français (avec des textes en anglais et en français), fondé et dirigé  par Isabelle Brigout. L’équipe d’Isabelle recherche les hôtels et chambres d’hôtes les plus charmants de France et les trie par région, pour les présenter dans une base de données facile à parcourir sur le site.

Les trois critères de sélection pour apparaître sur le site ? chaque hôtel doit se distinguer par une belle architecture, une décoration intérieure et un design élégants, et un accueil très chaleureux.

Pour entendre Isabelle faire une description avec ses propres mots – en français – visitez cette page. Je vous recommande chaudement d’écouter un de ses spots hebdomadaires de 1,5 minutes ‘’en radio’’, pendant lequel elle décrit une destination sélectionnée. Cela vous sera très utile si vous apprenez tout juste le Français. Elle articule parfaitement et respire à plein nez le je ne sais quoi Français (pardon pour le cliché). En plus, il y a une transcription, donc vous pouvez suivre en lisant si vous le désirez.


Filed under Culture, Language, Travel, Wine

Los Monitos’ Wine and Language series made the news (Hear me say, “I would like some wine, please!” in French)

Man, these morning shows are like clockwork and a rapid fire gun show combined.

When Bill from Los Monitos Language Center called to tell me our Wine and Language series — the French part of which I’ll be teaching next week — was going on the air, I said I’ve always dreamed of being a star.

Hardy har.

Our four point two-five minutes of pure fame flew by so fast I didn’t even have time to check out the cool teleprompters. We sat down on that skinny grey couch and no sooner had I been hooked up to a mic and shaken the hands of Terry and Rachel, than the cameraman announced “ten seconds” and we were live.

I have no idea how I remembered my French.

But I did! Which leads me to believe I just need more time in front of the camera to get comfortable…

I’d love it if you got a chuckle out of the video…and I’d be even more thrilled if my Louisville readers made it to Vint next week for wine and French on the patio.

Hope to see you there!


Filed under Culture, Language, Wine

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


Filed under Cool Characters, Culture, Just for laughs, Language

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!


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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Filed under Culture, Just for laughs, Language