Category Archives: French Language

Mairie de Paris French Courses

Language schools abound in the City of Light, but it’s difficult to find a program that provides quality instruction and doesn’t break the bank or wreak havoc on your schedule. However, the language program offered by the Mairie de Paris fits the bill–knowledgeable teachers, after-work hours, and convenient locations. The best part? The semester long courses cost as little as 1oo euros. For 60 hours of instruction, it’s the best deal in town.

But, there’s a catch! Signing up isn’t quite as easy as we’d like it to be and you must register in advance. Since the courses are cheap by Paris standards, lots of folks are vying for a classroom seat. To secure a spot, you need to stay on top of registration opening and closing dates*, fill out and mail in your enrollment paperwork (Bulletin d’Inscription), and, in some cases, follow up directly at the school where you applied to take the course (classes are held in Paris’s public school buildings). After the registration closing date, you’ll receive a response as to whether you’ve been accepted or put on a wait list. If accepted, the response letter will explain next steps, including payment, evaluation, and getting your ID card. The courses are extremely popular so there’s a slim chance you may be wait-listed. Don’t be discouraged! After the first few classes of the semester, many individuals drop out and spaces open up. Keep inquiring with the school to see if you can get in.

If you don’t mind going through the motions to get yourself enrolled, these courses truly are some of the best for the price. Unlike other programs, instructors are qualified professionals who often have backgrounds in linguistics and speak multiple languages. They have years of experience refining the prescribed curriculum to meet the needs of their students and generally work hard to make sure everybody’s French improves. If you’re willing to put in the effort, so are they.

If the Mairie de Paris program isn’t what you’re looking for, read our earlier post on language schools in Paris here.

 

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?

Notes to Self

Today’s entry is reposted in its entirety from Chez Loulou: A Taste of Life in the South of France, the blog of Jennifer Greco.   Jennifer lives in the south of France with her husband, two dogs and a cat.  She is a chef, writer, photographer and French cheese addict.  

by Jennifer Greco

Olonzac Market Day

The expression “I almost had to give up my firstborn child” does not translate into French. Use it and they’ll think you’re certifiable.

Your neighbors and your hairdresser will never stop commenting on your weight gain or loss.

There’s a reason behind la priorité à droite. You will just never understand it.

The type of bra you prefer is a balconnet, not a banquette*.

As soon as they learn that you’re American, they’ll assume that you’re rolling in dough. The expression “rolling in dough” doesn’t translate either.

Stop trying to order your steak à point*. It will always arrive bleu*, no matter what.

That sweet looking, little old lady standing uncomfortably close to you in line at the boulangerie is trying to cut in front of you. Stand your ground.

It is de l’eau* or un verre d’eau*. Get that through your head already.

The day that you’re running late for an appointment in town is the day that all the streets on your route will be shut down for a manifestation.

You will never be able to pronounce the words grenouille* or moelleux*. Stop embarrassing yourself by trying to.

You will continue to have those incredible “oh my god I live in France” moments. Savor them.

As soon as you get comfortable and think you’ve got this whole living in France thing all figured out, remember that you really haven’t.
And remember to breathe.

*banquette – seat
*à point – medium
*bleu – rare
*de l’eau – some water
*un verre d’eau – a glass of water
*grenouille – frog
*moelleux – soft or mellow

Hitting the Gym

If you are still learning French, you may think that taking an exercise class in Paris is beyond your capabilities.  But think about it this way; if you’ve ever been to an aerobics class with the volume cranked up, you know that it’s possible to follow along by watching rather than by listening.  On the other hand, the prospect of going right when everyone else is going left, or being singled out by the instructor, can be downright scary.   But since you probably need to get out there and burn off a few of those pastries you’ve been eating, here are a few vocabulary words you’ll likely hear at the gym.   If nothing else, you’ll soon learn to count to eight forwards and backwards.  Courage!

Parts of the Body

la tête: head
le visage: face
le menton chin
le cou: neck
la poitrine: chest
les abdominaux: abdominals
le bras: arm
les épaules: shoulders
les pectoraux: pectorals
le coude: elbow
le poignet: wrist
la main: hand
le dos: back
les fessiers, fesses: butt
la jambe: leg
les cuisses: thighs
le genou: knee
la cheville: ankle
le pied:  foot
la pointe des pieds: tiptoe

Actions

Aller: to go but often in this case, let’s go
Balancer: to swing
Bloquer: to hold in place
Courir: to run
Descendre: to go down, descend
S’écarter: to move apart (as in moving legs or arms apart)
Flechir: to bend
Lever: to raise
Marcher: to walk
Monter: to go up
Se pencher: to incline
Plier: to bend
Pomper: to pump (as in pushups)
Relâcher: to let go, relax
Respirer: to breath in
Rester: to stay in place
Souffler: to breath out
Sauter: to jump

Directions

droite: right
gauche: left
en haut: up high
en bas: down low
vers la glace: to the mirror
à l’arrière: to the rear
changer de côté: to change sides
l’autre côté: the other side

Equipment

le banc: bench
le baton: stick
l’elastique: rubber band
les haltères: hand weights, dumb bells
le rameur: rowing machine
le tapis: the mat
le tapis de course: treadmill 

The Gym

le vestiaire:  locker room
hamman: sauna
les douches: showers
le casier: locker
la cabine: dressing cubicle

And then there are my personal favorites:  le stretching and le step touch.  Both of these mean exactly what you’d think.

Parlez Vous? Formal Instruction in French Language

While you can get by in Paris without speaking French (particularly if you speak English), it’s not a strategy I’d recommend.  You will be constantly frustrated, both by your inability to fully understand what is going on around you and your inability to say what needs to be said.   And the people with whom you are trying to communicate will get crabby too.  So do yourself a favor, even if you think you have no talent for languages, and make an effort. 

In the city of Paris, every mairie (town hall for the arrondissement) offers some kind of instruction for French language learners.  These vary in their intensity and quality; what they do have in common is they tend to be close to your home and the fees are quite reasonable.  The downside is that the instruction is variable and the classes often quite large. These sessions fill up quickly so don’t mess around once you figure out when registration will take place. 

There are dozens of options in Paris for language learners.  Here are a few that seem to pop up on everyone’s list. As always, leave a comment if you have information to share about these or other programs.

Alliance Francaise
101, boulevard Raspail
75006 Paris
Rolling enrollment; options range from 4 to 20 hours per week.

Ecole PERL
6, rue Spinoza
75011 Paris
Standard and intensive courses with class size limited to 15 students; rolling enrollment with courses starting throughout the year.

French As You Like It
Private French lessons focused on learning grammar and vocabulary for practical everyday purposes.  Learn the French you need for business or to go to the market.  Private and semiprivate (up to 4 students) offered for children as well. 

Institut Catholique de Paris
21, rue d’Assas
75006 Paris
A wide range of French language programs are offered on a traditional academic calendar, although there are also intensive short courses.

Institut de Langue Française (ILF)
3, avenue Bertie-Albrecht
75008 Paris
A variety of courses offered at all levels including private instruction and special courses for kids.  Standard courses are 10 or 20 hours per week with courses beginning the first of each month; classes limited to 15 students.

Institut Parisien
27, boulevard des Italiens
75002 Paris
General courses are for 15 or 20 hours per week with workshops also offered in conversation, phonetics, and written French.  One on one instruction is also available as is a special program for au pairs.

Lutece Langue
23, boulevard Sebastopol
75001 Paris
Intensive and standard courses with start dates every Monday.   This school also offers short courses for those whose schedules do not permit them to attend regular classes as well as private and semi-private tutoring. 

Paris Langues
30, rue Cabanis
75014 Paris
Small group instruction at range of levels with new courses starting each month; courses range from 2 weeks to 9 months.

Sorbonne
16 bis rue de l’Estrapade
75005 Paris
The Sorbonne’s courses in French language and civilization are suitable for levels from beginner to advanced.  There are a lot of options in terms of intensity, time of day, and focus.

Verlaine Langue
18, rue Martin Bernard
75013 Paris
Small group (no more than 6 students) with instruction daily (1.5 hours per day) and the expectation that you will complete 1.5 hours of homework daily.  Courses start every Monday.  No advanced courses.

Deciphering Acronyms Used by French Language Programs

CECR : Cadre Européen Commun de Référence
CERT: Certification
CFTJ : Club Français du Tourisme des Jeunes
CIDJ : Centre d’Information et de Documentation Jeunesse
CIJP : Centre International des Jeunes à Paris
CIEP : Centre International d’étude Pédagogique
DALF : Diplôme d’Approfondissement de la Langue Française
DELF : Diplôme d’étude en Langue Française
ECTS: European Credit Transfer System
FLE : Français Langue Étrangère
TCF : Test de Connaissance du Français
TEF : Test d’Évaluation du Français

Special thanks to Maureen Bartee for collecting much of this information.

Technical Difficulties

Time for another language lesson 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. Make sure you follow the links in each post back to her site for the sound files.  Today:  some useful vocabulary for setting up a cell phone account and dealing with computer problems.

 Cell Phones

pay as you go plan sans engagement text message SMS
credit/minutes le crédit photo message MMS
to recharge your account recharger votre compte call waiting le double appel
contract plan le forfait caller ID la présentation du numero
extra charges hors forfait unlimited calls les appels illimités
payment plan le plan tarifaire PIN code le code PIN / secret
land line la ligne fixe SIM card la carte SIM
voicemail la messagerie vocale locked bloqué
account summary le suivi conso to download télécharger
empty / no credit épuisé ringtone la sonnerie

 

You can find the sound files here.

Computers 

computer l’ordinateur scanner le scanner
disk la disquette laptop le portable
document le document internet l’internet
CD-ROM le cédérom internet user l’internaute
monitor l’écran online en-ligne
keyboard le clavier link le lien
mouse la souris bookmark le signet
printer l’imprimante e-mail le courriel / le mail
memo la note de service password le mot de passe
fax machine le télécopieur search engine le moteur de recherche
photocopier la photocopieuse chat room la salle de tchatche
typewriter la machine à écrire bulletin board le forum
software le logiciel homepage la page d’accueil
file le dossier website le site
cabinet le placard web browswer le navigateur
memory card la carte mémoire cable le câble
flashdrive la clé USB DSL l’ADSL
external HD le disque dur externe to sign on / off se connecter / déconnecter
attachment la pièce jointe to scroll up / down dérouler le texte
to attach joindre to download télécharger

 

Sound files can be found here at #95.

Gender Bender

One thing that constantly trips up Anglophones when they’re trying to speak French is the gender of nouns. Virtually all nouns in English are neuter (with the obvious exception of those referring to boys, girls, men, and women) so it’s all new. Moreover, there seems to be no particular logic.

Well you’re right.  There’s no way to reason out whether a particular noun is masculine or feminine.   You just have to memorize them; in time, you will get used to hearing words in context and the right article will come off your tongue naturally.

But in the mean time, life must be lived and the correct articles (le or la) and numbers (un or une) should be used.  (I heard a story once about a guy so frightened about making a mistake that he always asked for two, rather than say une when the correct choice was un. )  And don’t get your panties in a twist if the shopkeeper corrects you. Trust me, you will never forget it! Finally, if you are ordering items at the boulangerie or marche, remember to use your thumb, not your index finger, to indicate one, and your thumb and index finger to indicate two, and so on. For quick reference, here’s a cheat sheet for some of the things you may be buying daily.

Fruits

These are just a few of the fruits you’ll find in a French market.   I’ve limited the list because I’ve never heard of anyone buying one cherry or one grape.  Thankfully, the article for multiples is les, no matter whether it’s masculine or feminine. 

English French
Apple La pomme
Apricot L’abricot (masculine)
Banana La banane
Grapefruit Le pamplemousse
Lemon Le citron
Lime Le citron vert
Melon Le melon
Orange L’orange (feminine)
Peach La pêche
Pear La poire
Pineapple L’ananas (masculine)
Plum La prune
Pomegranate La grenade
Watermelon La pastèque

 

Vegetables

English French
Artichoke L’artichaut (masculine)
Avocado L’avocat (masculine)
Broccoli Le broccoli
Cabbage Le chou
Cauliflower Le chou-fleur
Celery Le céleri
Cucumber Le concombre
Eggplant L’aubergine (feminine)
Onion L’oignon (masculine)
Pepper Le poivron
Tomato La tomate

For other fruits and vegetables, you will want to tell the vendor that you want a bunch (une botte), a handful (une poignée,) a small box (une barquette),  a dozen (une douzaine), or just the amount in grams or kilos (for example, cent grammes or un demi-kilo).

Baked Goods

No translations here because these items are almost all uniquely French.

Le beignet
La brioche
La baguette
Le chausson aux pommes
Le croissant
L’éclair (masculine)
Le gâteau
Le macaron
La meringue
Le millefeuille
Le pain
Le pain au chocolat
Le pain aux raisins
La religieuse
La tarte

Coping with Food Intolerances in France

by Karin Bates Snyder  

Do you have food allergies or other health conditions that prohibit your eating foods with wheat, dairy, nuts, or other ingredients? How easy is it to find food to eat in Paris for a food allergic or intolerant person? Here are some tips for traveling to or living in France from a food-intolerant person trying to find sustenance in the gourmet capital of the world.

After my first year of living in Paris, I developed some health conditions that led me to eliminate gluten and dairy, and reduce my use of cane sugar and some other ingredients in my diet. While this has not always been easy, in the process I have learned a lot about how to find food in Paris that I can eat and which won’t make me feel sick. I have also traveled to the south of France and discovered things I’ve learned in Paris apply there, too.

On scale of one to ten, with ten being the easiest place to travel or live with food intolerances, and one being the most difficult, I would rate Paris and the rest of France at about a 4 to 5 at the moment.  As elsewhere, food allergies and intolerances are on the rise in France, and I have seen improvements in awareness and understanding of food-related health conditions in even the relatively short time I have been dealing with these issues myself.

Culturally and historically, cuisine is very important to French people – maybe the important thing in the culture here. It is taken quite seriously. There is also a kind of cultural understanding that all things are fine for a body in moderation, and so the idea of eliminating something from one’s diet voluntarily is counter to how many people in France approach food and eating.

This is not to say that the French are inflexible about understanding people who have genuine health problems related to food. Since coming to France, I have met several people (French and foreigner alike) diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes destruction to the small intestine when gluten is ingested. I also know lactose intolerant people, and vegetarians and vegans, who may not have a health reason for eating differently than the bulk of the French population, but whose deep personal convictions lead them to eat differently than most. All manage to eat well in Paris, but it does take some creativity, fortitude, and patience.

Here are the key issues.

First, assess your own situation. 

Do you have only one major food intolerance, it’s not that severe, and you have experience handling it elsewhere?

If so, you are probably going to have a good food experience in France. Finding food in stores and restaurants that eliminate a major ingredient such as gluten-based grains or dairy is pretty much a piece of cake. Health food stores carry gluten and dairy-free goods, including baked goods and snacks. The average café will likely have at least one meal you can eat, even if you wind up ordering salade Niçoise each time you go out.   I have and do eat out – it is possible. My favorite restaurants are vegetarian or macrobiotic ones where foods are often organic and made from simple, whole ingredients, and also places like Léon de Bruxelles, a chain that serves mussels and frites (French fries).

There is also good information in phrasebooks (my Lonely Planet French phrase book has an entire section dedicated to food allergies) and on-line about expressions you can use in French to ask about whether a dish has an ingredient to which you are allergic or intolerant, and tips on how to befriend your waiter and finesse the entire dining experience. (See links below for more information about how to eat out in Paris or France.)

On the other hand, do you have multiple food intolerances or severe reactions to certain foods?

If this describes you, I would highly recommend that if you are visiting Paris or other places in France, you find an apartment to rent and cook for yourself instead of trying to eat every meal in a restaurant.

French waiters and chefs do not tolerate a lot of what they consider “finickiness” from diners who require special preparation of dishes. In French cuisine, the prepared dish is seen as a work of art, and is not to be deconstructed into something else.  The idea that the needs and desires of the customer are always first and foremost isn’t part of the cultural milieu here; instead, diners are seen more as guests in a home.  Would you be demanding towards friends if you were visiting their home, insisting that they prepare you a special dish just for you, even after they already prepared an elaborate meal for all the other guests? Probably not. You’d either eat first, bring your own dish to eat, or pick and choose from what is already prepared that seems “safe” and hope for the best.   That’s the kind of attitude you need to dine out in France.

Moreover, if your issues are severe, you won’t want to take the risk.  Some people have such severe gluten intolerance that they experience severe cramping and diarrhea from even the slightest cross-contamination of a few crumbs of bread that got dusted onto their plate, or from the chef using the same pan to cook an item with gluten as the item without.

Plus you do not want to risk being out and about and having an intestinal attack: another thing Paris is infamous for is the lack of easily accessible and free public toilets.  Your visit is not going to be a good one if you are constantly in search of a toilet as you are touring, or holed up in your hotel room.

Second, take action.  There are a number of good Internet resources to help you experience Paris and the rest of France gluten free, dairy-free, or any-other-food-free. The tips can apply to eating vegan and vegetarian as well.

David Lebovitz on Eating and Dining Gluten-Free in Paris.  The information in this post is still very relevant nearly three years after its original posting. Even though it is written for people who need to avoid gluten, it is, hands down, still the best and most complete post I have ever read about eating and dining in Paris with food allergies and/or intolerances. The links at the end of the post are very helpful, and I note that new comments are continually being written on this post, some of which have additional helpful information.

For example, the most recent comment has a link to a gluten-free B&B in Paris – one where the host prepares gluten-free meals: Gluten Free Paris.

Celiac Chicks on gluten-free travel. A Gluten-Free Guide to Paris is another good read about traveling and dining gluten-free in Paris.

Compile a list of the French equivalents for all the ingredients to which you are allergic/intolerant so you can read labels on packaged foods.  Try these resources: 

  • Allergy Translations is a Web site dedicated to helping people find the vocabulary they need to avoid allergens.
  • Select Wisely has food and travel translation cards you can print up and carry with you.
  • Allergy Free Passport has multiple resources to help you out on their website.

Note that labeling of major allergens contained in foods and their possible presence does exist in France. Ingredients that may be problematic for people are clearly labeled, usually just after the ingredient list.  Also look for the catch phrases traces éventuelles de… and présence possible de… followed by the name of the allergen.

Know where to go to shop. Make lists (in French) of foods you can eat as well as those you can’t.

All of the major grocers have at least a section of aisle that is dedicated to organic or eating allergen-free.  Realistically, however, you will probably have to visit more than one store to shop for foods you can eat.

Monoprix is a popular grocery chain carrying soy milk, soy-based yogurts, some gluten-free baking mixes and ready-to-eat foods or snacks as well as nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables.  Bring your list for reading labels, though. As with snack and prepared foods in the U.S., filler ingredients containing allergens are in some of these foods. Amidon transformé, for example, is modified wheat starch and is found in many snack foods.

Franprix, Leader Price, and Ed are discount grocers. They also have fresh fruits and vegetables, and the basics for preparing many dishes. Leader Price has its own line of organic products (look for the terms biologique or bio) including soy milks, rice cakes (which contain sesame, however), and jams made with organic cane sugar, among other items. These Leader Price items are sold in Franprix as well.

In the outlying suburbs of Paris, hypermarkets such as Carrefour and Auchan have large aisles of gluten and dairy-free baked goods and other foods.   Many of these stores also have ingredients for grain-free baking such as almond and hazelnut flours, but note that these products are not produced in allergen-free manufacturing plants, and may contain traces of gluten or other allergens.  I have not had much of an opportunity to shop in these stores, but know of people who find plenty of foods at these French equivalents of Wal-Mart.  

Overall, however, your best bet at finding allergen-free foods are at health food stores.  In Paris, there are three major health food store chains: Biocoop, Naturalia, and La Vie Claire.  (Check their Web sites for a location near you.) There are also independent stores in some neighborhoods.  These stores typically have dedicated shelves or areas for gluten-free products. (On the other hand, dairy-free equivalents (such as dairy-free chocolate-hazelnut spread, like the Nutella brand) are often next to their allergen-containing counterparts).  A quick read of the labeling will tell you which products are certified to be gluten-free, dairy-free, or free of other allergens. Much of the labeling is also multilingual, and some have ingredient listings in English, too.

Finally, if the prices at health food stores are too high, go to one of Paris’ districts where Asian communities have set up shop. The Marais (3rd arrondissement), Belleville (20th arrondissement), and the area around Avenue d’Ivry in the 13th have Asian-based markets and grocers where you can find rice flour, bean thread and rice noodles, and tapioca starch for a lot less than at health food stores.

I have yet to find ingredients such as coconut or sorghum flours, but new things are continuously showing up on shelves, and it seems I find something new each time I visit. Different stores carry different products, too, so exploring all of the chains frequently yields new discoveries.

I am fortunate in that my intolerances are fairly mild compared to some. Once in a while, I decide to try something that has an ingredient to which I know I will react, but the trade-off of trying something unique to France’s incredible cuisine is often worth a few of days of feeling unwell. Like anything, it is a choice. I hope, however, that if you have no choice in what you consume because of an allergy or intolerance, that you have found this information helpful.

If you have information to add or other questions, please leave it in the comments below. Or stop by my blog and leave me a note in the Contact Me section.  

Karin Bates Snyder never expected to wind up living in a place like Paris after turning 40. She also developed several food intolerances shortly after moving to the City of Light. These events have contributed to her feeling like a duck out of water, like An Alien Parisienne, the name of the blog where she writes to come to terms with being a stranger in a strange land.

Getting Ready for School

Who doesn’t love fresh clean notebooks, sharpened pencils, and a brand new set of crayons? And what could be more baffling than the list of required school supplies from your child’s school? Here’s a quick guide to the school supply vocabulary, including an explanation of some of the items that may be new to you.  These lists tend to be very specific in terms of the size, style, and color of the items.  Double check what you’ve got before you head to the register.

Writing implements

Stylo: Pen.  It comes in several varieties:  le stylo à bille (ballpoint), stylo à plume (a fountain pen).

Crayon: Aack! The word crayon is a faux ami because it’s not from Crayola.  It’s simply what we Anglophones call a pencil.  The designation H.B. is roughly akin to the American designation No. 2.

Crayons de couleur:  Colored pencils

Surligneur:  Highlighter

Porte mine:  Mechanical pencil

Stylo correcteur : correction fluid in a pen

Pochette de 12 feutres de couleur :  A package of magic markers.  Your list may specify lavable (washable), pointe fine (small point) or pointe large (larger sized point).

Feutre d’ardoise:  White board marker

Effaceur:  Eraser.   Available in the same shape as a pen or pencil to fit neatly in your trousse (see below)

Gomme:  The classic eraser

Cartouches d’encre : ink cartridges (On the supply list, this would mean cartridges for a pen but the same word is used for your computer.)

Other tools

Agrafeuse:  stapler

Ardoise:  Traditionally a chalkboard but now it’s also used to describe an erasable white board.  With this, you need feutres d’ardoise (see above) and a chiffon (a rag).

Taille-crayons:  Pencil sharpener.  If it says avec reservoir, that means it has a piece to capture the shavings.

Règle plate: a ruler.  These come in 20 and 30 centimeter sizes

Rapporteur: protractor

Équerre: triangle

Compas: compass

Art supplies

Ciseaux: scissors.  If your child is young, you probably need to get those with the rounded tips (bout rond).

Baton de colle:  glue stick

Scotch:  Yes!  It’s tape.

Rouleau de ruban adhésif sans dévidoir:  Tape without a dispenser

Tubes de gouache:  watercolors that come in tubes

Pinceaux de tailles différentes:  paintbrushes in different sizes

Gobelet en plastique, sans couvercle :  a plastic cup without a cover

Paper

Cahier:  a notebook, usually bound and stapled, rather than spiral.  And don’t go looking for one that’s lined.  Instead there are two formats:  grand carreaux, which has large squares with horizontal lines for normal writing and petits carreaux, which has 5mm squares for technical drawing and geometry.  Cahiers come in various sizes, both in terms of the size of the paper and the number of pages.  Make sure you check the list carefully!

The grand is the same size as a piece of A4 paper, which is the standard paper you would use in your printer or copier in France (slightly larger than an American 8 ½  x 11 sheet).  There are also specialized cahiers such as the cahier de musique, cahier de texte, and cahier de travaux pratiques.

Pochette de papier dessin :  drawing paper

Feuillets mobiles perforés :  looseleaf paper for a binder (see below)

Copies doubles perforées :  small sized paper (equivalent to an A3 sheet folded in half)

Oeillets: reinforcements for your looseleaf paper

Organization

Porte-documents:  A plasticized folder with plastic sleeves for papers.  You can buy these in a variety of sizes: 40, 60, 80 or 100 vues.

Chemise rabats à élastiques:  A cardboard folder with elastic bands that keep everything secure.

Classeur:  a loose leaf binder.  It can be souple (made of a flexible plastic) or rigide (made of a stiff cardboard).

Pochettes:  Usually used to describe plasticized sleeves for documents.  These can be perforated to fit in a looseleaf binder

Intercalaires:  Subject dividers for use with your classeur.

Bags

Trousse:  A pencil case and no proper French student (no matter what age) would be caught dead without one.

Cartable:  a school bag.  Traditionally, it was a satchel with a handle and maybe a shoulder strap.  But it’s also now used to refer to backpacks (sacs à dos) as well.

Other

Protège-cahiers :  See through plastic covers for your cahiers.  These come in different sizes and colors.

Rouleau de plastique pour couvrir les livres :  plastic that can be used to cover textbooks.

General notes:  Sometimes the supply list will note the desired brand (marque).

Talk Like a Parisian

Today’s post is reposted with permission from Paris-Wise, the blog of Christopher Back, long-time Paris resident and California native.   Although it’s written for tourists, there are definitely a few nuggets here for anyone new to France who doesn’t speak the language well.   

 by Christopher Back

I’ve come to the conclusion that since the tours created by my company afford visitors a glimpse of Paris that isn’t in the guidebooks, the people I meet are especially curious about French life and culture.  As a result, we are often asked what French to learn before coming to Paris. 

Of course, it’s unlikely that anyone can actually “learn to speak French” in the course of planning a holiday vacation to France.  However, you can use a few commonly known words to your advantage.  You just have to use precisely the right word at just the right moment. 

The best place to start is to forget everything you think you know.  There is a charming term used in French language schools called the “Faux ami” – pronounced Fauze-amie.  This translates litteraly to false friend and refers to words that seem like they should mean the same thing in English and French but don’t. 

An example is “excusez-moi” which is generally thought by English speakers to work like “excuse me” when it’s closer to “sorry.”  “I’m sorry” is actually “Je m’excuse”  So this is the first thing to remember.  In my opinion you should forget about “excusez-moi”.

If you are in a crowed place or in the Métro and want to get by the thing to say is not “excusez-moi”, but “Pardon” pronounced par-DON.  With the emphasis on the second syllable and with a nasal “own” sound if you can manage it.  When the doors open in a crowded Métro car and you are stuck far from the quickly closing door, saying Pardon firmly and emphatically will part the crowd in seconds. 

If you are curious about other ways to attract attention, you can read this post for advice on service in restaurants.

The next thing to learn is when to use the words Bonjour, Bonsoir, Au Revoir and Adieu.  “Bonjour” which means “Good Day” is used from morning until dusk.  “Bonsoir” is “Good Evening.”  Both greetings are used in common speech so there’s no faux-ami lurking here.  While there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule about when to switch, it seems that this often happens around dusk  I notice it also can happen when you meet someone working in a shop in the late afternoon who has become bored and tired.  I think they say Bonsoir out of wishful thinking that their workday is almost over.  I would say, it’s a safe bet to start using Bonsoir about 6pm.  Of course, you will quickly relize that you are using the wrong greeting when you say “bonjour” and the person responds “bonsoir.”  Note: This only works with native speakers, the rest of us are sometimes as confused as you are.

What about Au revoir and Adieu you ask?  Well, just thinking about what each of these words mean will give you a clue when to use them.  “Au revoir” translates to “See you again” and “Adieu” is “To God”.  Clearly the finality of “To God” makes it something that is not necessarily used when saying “goodbye” to people.  The lesson here, unless you are at a funeral, forget Adieu.

I’ve saved the easiest for last.  “Merci” and “Merci beaucoup”.  “Thank you” and “Thank you very much” – nothing tricky here.  At last — Something that you can thank Madame Charles, your Junior High School French teacher, for telling you. 

Now that we’ve reviewed the words, we can now discuss the more challenging part of this effort.  When to use the words to get the effect we want —  Like when we need to get people to step aside quickly to let us out of the Métro before the doors shut.

There is a myth that the French are rude, but I think this is no more true in Paris than any other big city in the world.  In most cases, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact, there are some basic cultural guidelines for being polite to strangers that don’t necessicarily apply in English speaking countries. 

When you enter a small boutique or a café  you are expected to say “Bonjour” (or Bonsoir) to the person working there.  Once you have looked around (and regardless of whether you’ve bought anything) one says “Merci – Au Revoir” when leaving.  This is also regardless of whether the person in the shop has even bothered to come over and offer to assist you.  But I can assure you, no matter how disinterested the person working in the shop may have seemed, when you leave and say “Merci – Au Revoir” they will respond with “Au Revoir.”  

The same is true when you leave a neighborhood café.  I have already written about how to order coffee in Paris, but after a having a coffee at the counter or a table, when you pass by the bar on your way out the door, you should say “Merci – Au Revoir”.  Again, no matter how disinterested the barman may seem they will generally respond with an automatic “Au Revoir.”

The final and perhaps most important moment to use “Bonjour” and “Bonsoir” is when you are asking a question in any store, shop, grocery store or department store.  Imagine you have been looking around inside for a little while and now have a question for someone working there.  In English, it’s acceptable to glance over and say “Excuse me, do you have this in red?” all in one quick and efficient phrase. 

Not so fast there partner, we’re in France;  things are different here.  I learned this the hard way in the first few weeks of living in Paris back in 2001.  Armed with just a couple of weeks of French studies, I went to the Monoprix grocery store in my neighborhood of Passy.  I was looking for something that I was sure they stocked but I simply couldn’t find. 

I looked around and found a man who was stocking the shelves.  I went over to him and said – “Excusez-moi ou est mayonnaise?” — “Excuse me, where’s the mayonnaise?” Okay, it was a bit roughly said, but I thought I was getting my point across.  After all, I’d only been studying French for two weeks.   The man responded with a blank stare and replied “Bonjour”.  I repeated my question differently assuming I’d made a mistake.  “Je cherche mayonnaise” – “I’m looking for mayonnaise”.  Again he replied “Bonjour”.  The third time I thought I should keep it simplesaying only “Mayonnaise” which I probably pronounced slowly “May-onnnn-NAIZZZZZE” to ensure that I was as clear as possible.  By now I became convinced that “Mayonnaise” was not actually a word in French because he responded again with “Bonjour”. 

Exasperated, I didn’t know what to do.  It was clear that I was not going to be buying any mayonnaise that day.  So, I started to walk away.  “Monsieur” the man called after me “En France on dit Bonjour d’abord” — “In France we say Bonjour first”. 

Ah, I finally understood, and started over.  This time I said “Bonjour”.  He replied “Bonjour”, then I said “je cherche mayonnaise” and he replied “Aisle five”.  Success!  It was my first cultural lesson, and it happened right there in the middle of the Monoprix where I recently had another cultural awakening.

One last moment when I think it’s very important to say Bonjour is on the bus.  When boarding the bus, most people greet the driver who says “bonjour” in return.  A nice custom I think.  In general, when you come up to someone and you want to ask them a question, start with “bonjour” or “bonsoir” and you’ll never go wrong.

So, it’s not necessary to learn a lot of French to blend in a bit and give the people you meet in shops and cafés the impression you are making an effort.  In reality more and more people speak English in France and so it’s generally not so difficult to communicate in most shopping, eating or sightseeing situations.  In most shops even if the person you first greet doesn’t speak English, they will find a colleague who does.

So instead of studying French, I recommend you spend your time reading guidebooks and scouring the Internet for places to go, things to see and hidden restaurants to discover.  Or, you can let our concierge do the planning for you and simply enjoy the result.  Bon voyage!