Monthly Archives: March 2011

Swearing and Degrees of Vulgarity

Another in a series of posts drawn from ielanguages.com, an incredible, free on-line French language resource created by Jennie Wagner, an English lecturer at the Université de Savoie in Chambéry, France. Jennie has graciously allowed Posted in Paris to repost several of her tutorials.

by Jennie Wagner

Swearing is a cultural concept that is difficult to master when learning a language. Exact translations among swear words are hard to come by since a lot of the meaning depends on the situation and tone of voice. What is considered vulgar in one language may not be in another. In French, merde is usually translated as sh*t in English, but it can also mean good luck or break a leg when talking to actors, and kids don’t get in trouble for saying it. American kids would be grounded or get detention for saying the s word. So should we really say that it means sh*t in English? It certainly doesn’t have the same impact in both languages.

In fact, swearing in French is much less obscene than in English – which is perhaps more detrimental to French students learning English than vice versa. There are many more degrees of vulgarity to English swear words and when we should use them or not, which is something that was unknown to my French students.  Since censorship on television doesn’t exist in France, the idea that certain words are bleeped out on American TV is a bit odd to them. Of course, censorship of nudity is also odd to them – Janet Jackson fiasco, anyone? – but that’s another story!

I tend to classify swear words in English by the situations where they would be censored or not and if children will get in trouble for saying them (but again, that can depend on the school and parents.) In my dialect of English, this is how I would describe the following phrases expressing indifference:

  • It doesn’t matter. – most neutral phrase, can be used in any situation
  • I don’t care. – still not swearing, but can be considered rude
  • I don’t give a damn. – cannot be said by children or teenagers at school; but allowed on network TV
  • I don’t give a sh*t. – cannot be said at school or on network TV; but allowed in movies that teenagers can watch
  • I don’t give a f*ck. – can only be said in movies or cable TV geared towards adults (17 and older)

Now in French, it is difficult to give exact translations for each phrase so let’s group them according to vulgarity:

  • Neutral: N’importe lequel. / Peu importe. / Ça m’est égal.
  • Informal: Je m’en fiche. / Je m’en balance. / Je m’en moque.
  • Vulgar: Je m’en fous.
  • Most vulgar: J’en ai rien à foutre.

There can be some overlap with these phrases as well, depending on who you ask. My French friend says Je m’en fiche and Je m’en fous are essentially the same thing to him and he doesn’t feel that one is particularly more vulgar than the other. And for less vulgar synonyms that replace foutre, such as J’en ai rien à cirer, where should we place them in the spectrum? Are they still considered vulgar or merely informal?

The verbe foutre itself presents the same problem as merde. Originally it had a very vulgar meaning, but nowadays it is used so often and with various banal meanings, that it is no longer as shock-worthy as it used to be. Can you imagine if English f*ck could also be used informally – without getting in trouble for saying it or being censored on TV – to mean to put/stick/shove/throw something or to do something?

Où t’as foutu les clés ? Where did you put the keys?

Qu’est-ce qu’il fout là-bas ? What is he doing over there?

More examples of foutre and the adjective foutu and their approximate English translations:

  • foutre en l’air – to ruin; to beat up; to kill
  • foutre (de la gueule) de quelqu’un – to make fun of someone
  • foutre dedans – to blow it; to stick one’s foot in it
  • foutre la trouille à quelqu’un – to scare the crap out of someone
  • se foutre par terre – to fall flat on one’s face; to embarrass oneself
  • foutre la paix à quelqu’un – to leave someone alone
  • foutre une baffe à quelqu’un – to slap someone in the face
  • foutu de faire quelque chose – to be capable of doing something
  • argent foutu – money down the drain
  • bien foutu – well built (muscular body)
  • café boullu, café foutu – boiled coffee, ruined coffee
  • foutu – screwed; finished; done for
  • mal foutu – sick
  • je-m’en-foutisme – apathy

When in doubt, it’s best to try to use the most neutral expressions as possible so you don’t offend anyone. And if you do say something wrong, you can always play the non-native speaker card. I was once told by a two year old that I shoudn’t say dégueulasse because it was a gros mot. I thought it was just a slang form of dégoûtant (disgusting) and it didn’t seem that vulgar to me. But since I didn’t speak French that well back then due to a lack of exposure to authentic language and culture, how would I have known?

Donating Goods to Charity

Spring cleaning or planning for your next move?  Either way, it’s the time of year for cleaning out closets and getting a fresh start.  If you find that you have too much stuff, here are some ideas of how to shed yourself of unwanted clothes, books, and household items.  And you may help someone in need at the same time.

The city of Paris offers free curbside pick-up of bulky items in the different arrondissements and greater city area. The service is generally offered twice each week with varying times for each area. Before placing any items curbside, please call 01 55 74 44 60 for direct information and scheduling. Note that it is not lawful to place oversized items on the curb without pre-authorization. For pick-up details in your area or to make an appointment on line, visit the city’s Web site and fill out the online form.

Emmaus Communautes will come to your apartment and pick up bags of clothes, shoes, toys and/or furniture that are in reusable and resalable condition.  They are similar to what many Americans know as the Salvation Army.  They will not come for just one bag, so if you call, be sure you have enough to make their trip worthwhile.  Be prepared to tell them how much you have for pick up.

Les Orphelins d’Auteuil
40, rue La Fontaine, 75016 Paris,
Tel :  01 44 14 75 20

Les Orphelins d’Auteuil is a Catholic-run  orphanage in the lower 16th that has a second-hand shop to help fund the home.  According to the web site they sell the following :

  • clothes and shoes for all ages
  • costume jewelry, silverware, dishes, artwork
  • linens such as sheets, towels, tablecloths, curtains
  • books, records, toys

You can leave things in good condition, Monday through Saturday from  9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sales take place on Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m.to 12:30 p.m. and then again from 2:00 pm to 6:30 pm.  Saturday hours are 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.  There is parking available on-site so you can unload without fear of blocking traffic or being ticketed.

You can also find drop boxes for clothing at several locations in and around Paris:

8th arrondissement: St. Philippe de Roule, at the intersection of rue Faubourg St. Honoré and Franklin Roosevelt

12th: La Halte des Femmes (Coeur de Femmes day shelter) 16-18, passage Raguinot, M: Gare de Lyon

13th: La Maison Coeur de Femmes, 77, rue du Château des Rentiers, M: Porte d’Ivry or  Nationale

A list of 300 collection boxes managed by the organization, Le Relais, can be found on-line.  In addition,  these organizations may also accept secondhand clothes and shoes:

La Croix Rouge at 01.44.43.11.00
L’Armee du Salut at 01.43.62.25.00
Le Secours Catholique at 01.45.49.73.00
Le Secours Populaire at 01.44.78.21.00

Yahoo hosts a bilingual online recycling group called Freecycle Paris that not only enables you to donate your items (clothes, furniture, appliances, etc.) to other members who need or want them, but also allows you to browse for items that may be of interest to you.  The group is free to join.

Finally, both the American Library in Paris and SOS Helpline will accept used books, CDs, and DVDs in good condition

Paris for the Disabled

A 2005 French law requires that public accommodations be accesssible to the disabled within 10 years.  Line 14 of the metro is fully accessible and all buses in Paris are now equipped with ramps and special mechanisms to allow those in wheelchair residents to ride safely and comfortably.   Many crosswalks have sound signals at the crosswalk to indicate to the blind that the light has changed.  And public toilet facilities are also designed for wheelchair accessibility.  But other signs of progress are less obvious.

Since full access still seems to be a long way away, here are a few sites to help negotiate the streets and institutions of Paris.  In addition, we’re told that if you’re planning to have visitors who are disabled, it’s a good idea to do a dry run in advance of major tourist sites.  If you need to rent a wheelchair, check in at your neighborhood pharmacie.

Access in Paris: a guidebook mostly geared for tourists, you can download chapters one at a time.  Includes information on hotels, tourist sites, public transportation, and signage.

Disabled Access in Paris from Sage Traveling:  a helpful online guide with sections on transport, hotels and tourist attractions.  While the site is designed to get you to use the company’s services,  there is quite a bit of information posted here for all comers.

Tourisme et Handicap:  a downloadable brochure on 200 sites (lodging, tourist sites) in Ile de France noting their level of accessibility.

Infomobi:  Information on public transport for the disabled (those in wheelchairs, the blind, deaf, and with mental disabilities) throughout Ile de France (in French).

Les Compagnons du Voyage:  organization providing personalized assistance to elderly and disabled persons travelling on the SNCF and RATP.  There is a fee for this service (in French.)

Medias Sous Titres:  a site focused on closed captioning of television, film, and cultural events for the hearing impaired (in French).

And here’s an article from the Boston Globe (2013) commenting on the experience of a disabled American tourist in Paris.

Getting Your Nails Done in Paris: A Guide for First Timers

by Lindsey Passaic

Like many women, I enjoy being pampered at the salon. But since the thought of going to a salon in Paris was more terrifying than relaxing, I found myself doing one home manicure after another with the same sloppy results each time. When I could not handle my imperfect polishing skills any longer, I finally braved a salon to get the classic French manicure.

Not wanting to embarrass myself beyond my already bitten and chewed nails, I spoke with a true Parisian woman (with a beautiful red manicure nonetheless!) to prepare myself for my first salon visit. In addition to teaching me basic nail vocabulary, she shared simple phrases to communicate with the nail technician.

Unwilling to pay top euro, I avoided chain salons and beauty institutes, instead searching for “mom and pop” shops with lower prices. The average price of a manicure at a full service beauty salon is between 25 and 50 euros. At a no-frills nail salon that price is cut drastically! For around 12 euros or less you can get a quick polish change and have ring-ready fingers in no time. But even for luxury enthusiasts, 12 euros may be too much (especially if you’re blessed with a steady hand and eye for color).  In Paris, like everywhere else, the cheapest and most convenient manicure is still the one give yourself. You can buy topcoat, polish, nail files, and polish remover at Sephora for a little less than 20 euros. Splurge a bit and you can find an all-in-one kit and have a French manicure at your fingertips whenever you please. Beauty Monop and Marionnaud also offer similarly priced products for creating a nail salon at home.

If you’re ready and willing to dive into the French beauty experience, here are my suggestions for getting the manicure you want:

1) Visit  Qype to search for Paris nail salons by neighborhood and price.

2) Visit Manucure & Beaute to find American-style nail salons in and around Paris.

3) Visit one of the following English speaking salons:

Stylepixie Salon
2 rue Edouard Vasseur
Ivry sur Seine 94200
Tel: 01 46 70 25 69

Artistic Nail
84 rue du Cherche-Midi
Paris 75006
Tel: 01 42 22 00 62

Vocabulary

la main, les mains hand(s)
le ongle, les ongles nail(s)
la cuticule, les cuticules cuticle(s)
la manucuresoin des mains manicurenail care
la pédicuresoin des pieds pedicurefoot care
faux onglesles ongles gelles ongles acryliques fake nailsgelacrylic
les vernis à ongles nail polish
la lime à ongles nail file
le bloc abrasif nail buffer
le bloc polissoir, la lime finaliseur nail polisher
le bloc emeri emery board
le dissolvent doux sans acétone nail polish remover w/o acetone
dépose nail removal
ongle cassé broken nail
spray sechant pour vernis drying spray
Je voudrais une manucure. I would like a manicure.
Je voudrais une French manucure. I would like a French manicure.
Je voudrais un changement de vernis. I would like a polish change.
Je voudrais des faux ongles. I would like a set of fake nails.