13 Awkward French Mistakes That Will Make You Wish You Were Invisible

Wouldn’t it be awkward to yell “I am horny” to your French friend instead of “I’m a messy eater?”. As unrealistic as it sounds, it actually happened to a friend of mine.

To avoid (hilarious) mistakes, here are 13 sentences and words you should never say in French. Unless you really want to feel awkward of course.

1. Tu es bonne

Congratulating your friends is a good idea, but you need to be careful  when you do it in French.

“Tu es bonne”, said to a girl will often be interpreted as “you are good…in bed”, and that’s the most polite interpretation.

So if you ever want to congratulate a female friend, don’t forget to clearly explain what your friend is good at.

Or simply avoid this sentence and use the safer “tu es doué(e)” (you are gifted).

Wouah, elle est bonne ta soeur !
QUOI ?

Elle chante bien

Wow, your sister is good

WHAT?

She sings well

Check out Bien vs Bon: Which One Should You Use? to learn more about the different ways to say “good” in French.

2. connard/ canard

French learners often mistake “canard” and “connard”. Two words with a radically different meaning.

While “canard” means “duck”, “connard” means jerk.

You may want to avoid asking for a jerk in the restaurant.

Bonjour monsieur, je vous sers du canard ou du poulet ?

Du connard s’il vous plaît

Hello sir, do I serve you duck or chicken?

Jerk please

3. Baiser

You certainly think that “baiser” means “to kiss”, and that using that word would be really cute.

Wrong!

While “un baiser” does mean “a kiss”, “baiser” used as a verb means “to f***”.

Less glamorous, right?

Check out this article to learn the dos and don’ts of French greetings.

 4. Je suis chaud(e)

In English, “I’m hot” means that you’re…well hot. In French though, “je suis chaude” (I’m hot said by a woman) means “I’m horny”.

If you’re a woman and would like to say you’re hot, use “J’ai chaud” (lit : I have hot) instead.

This is one of many cases where the verb “to be” in English becomes “to have” in French.

  • I’m hungry => j’ai faim (lit: I have hunger)
  • I’m thirsty => j’ai soif (lit: I have thirst)

5. Préservatif

preservatives in French

You like your food without preservatives?

Then you may be tempted to ask for food “sans préservatifs” thinking you’re using one of many French words whose meaning is identical in French and English.

Unfortunately for you, “préservatif” is a faux-ami, one of several words whose meaning is radically different in French and in English despite being written almost the same way.

When you ask for food “sans préservatifs”, you ask for food without condoms.

Oops.

Excusez-moi, est-ce que ce plat contient des préservatifs ?

Excuse me, does this dish contain condoms?

Non, par contre il contient des conservateurs

No, but it contains preservatives

6. Chatte

cat in French

Cats are cute, right?

“Chat” (cat) is one of the first words students usually learn in French.

What your French course may not have mentioned though is that the female version, “chatte” has two meanings.

It’s both the female animal and…the female sex!

To avoid confusion, don’t use this word!

7. Putain

putain

This is a magical word.

As the video below demonstrates, you can use it for absolutely everything, but certainly not with everyone.

Used alone, it means you are tired, frustrated or angry.

Used to talk about someone, it means “whore”.

Whatever meaning you choose, remember that this word is extremely informal!

If you ever go on American TV, using “putain” could cause you problems. Ask Jean Dujardin what he thinks about it!

8.  ça suce

Tu penses quoi de ce film ? Il suce !

What do you think about this movie? It sucks!

Seems correct, right?

Well, not exactly…

In French “sucer” (to suck) mainly has a sexual meaning.

Next time you want to say something sucks, say “c’est nul” (it’s lame) instead.

9. Je suis plein(e)

You just ate in a wonderful French restaurant rue Mouffetard (a lovely street in the center of Paris) and your stomach is about to explode.

Proud of yourself, you look at your French friend and say “Je suis plein(e)” (I am full).

Full? Full of what?

Your friend wonders.

You simply can’t say “je suis plein” in French,

it sounds weird.

Instead you may want to use:

  • Je n’ai plus faim (lit : I don’t have hunger anymore)
  • J’ai trop mangé (I ate too much)

10. Jouir

Imagine that your French conversation partner  just asked you if you enjoyed your visit of Paris.

After opening a dictionary, you found that “jouir” means “to enjoy”.

So you proudly answer your friend “oui j’ai bien joui”.

Your friend starts laughing and you’re confused.

You actually just said “yes I had an orgasm”.

“Jouir” only means “to enjoy” in a formal context. Most of the time, French people use it to say they had an orgasm, not to say they enjoyed something.

11. Cochonne

I once had lunch with a bunch of Korean and French friends. At some point, noodles fell on one of the Korean girls’ t-shirt and she yelled “JE SUIS COCHONNE”.

She wanted to say she ate in a dirty way. She didn’t know that “cochonne” often has an entirely different meaning…

If you open a French dictionary, you will read that “cochonne” is the feminine form of “cochon” (pig) and that it also means that you’re a messy eater if used as an adjective (it’s rarely used as such though).

What your dictionary doesn’t tell you is that it has a more common and much more embarrassing meaning. For most French people (especially young ones),  “cochonne” means “someone who loves sex”.

So when my friend yelled ‘je suis cochonne”, people didn’t understand “I ate in a dirty way”, but “I love sex”.

12. J’ai envie de toi

When French Together reader Candy said to her friend “j’ai envie de toi”, she meant she envied her friend.

What Candy didn’t know was that “j’ai envie de toi” doesn’t mean “I envy you”, but “i want to sleep with you”. This is what you say to your lover, not to your friend.

To say “I envy you”, you’d say “je t’envie” or “je vous envie” in a formal context.

13. Beau cul

To a foreign ear, “beaucoup” and “beau cul” may sound similar, but they’ve radically different meanings. “Beaucoup” means “very”, while beau cul” means “nice ass”.

Next time you thank someone, make sure you say “merci beaucoup” and not “merci beau cul”. You will avoid an awkward situation.

Have you ever made funny mistakes in French? Share your stories in the comments below!

Benjamin Houy

Benjamin Houy is a native French speaker and tea drinker with a BA degree in Applied Foreign Languages and a passion for languages. After teaching French and English in South Korea for 7 months as part of a French government program, he created French Together™ to help English speakers learn the 20% of French that truly matters.

256 thoughts on “13 Awkward French Mistakes That Will Make You Wish You Were Invisible”

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  1. I once went to buy a mattress in France and went up to the female assistant and announced boldly: Je cherche une maitresse!
    The French word is I believe “matelas”, which introduces another trap as this is similar to “matelot”!

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  2. Instead of asking where the train station was, ”ou est la gare”, I asked, where is the war, ”ou est la guerre” (pronounced like the English would say gare).

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  3. Actually “It sucks” in English is also of the sexual origin with the same connotations as in French. It used to be a “naughty word” when I was growing up and very vulgar, and it eventually fell into disuse. Then about twenty years ago it was rediscovered by a generation that hadn’t any past with it. It was thus desexualized to it’s most current usage of “awful”.

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  4. Oh my God, my boyfriend is French and we’ve been speaking in French for a few weeks now. Last night I wanna say something sweet to him so I said “… mon connard” instead of “… mon canard” more than once :’). Needless to say he was very shocked, but we had a good laugh after that XD.

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  5. Early in my stay as an exchange student with a French-speaking Belgian family, when I was offered more food at dinner, I responded, “Merci, je suis pleine.” Of course, I meant to say that I was full, but instead told them I was pregnant.

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  6. While a student at the university of Nice MANY years ago I was in a glassier with a some friends ordering ice cream. As the server came around talking orders it was my turn to order. “ et vous monsieur, qu’est-ce que vous voudrais »? I answered. « Je voudrais une glace au chocolat He responded.. avec les noisettes ? « Oh non, je déteste les Allemands «  He looked at me Funny My French friend laughed saying that I said that I hated Germans. I guess I should have said almonds, not Allemands!!

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  7. I told my French electrician that I thought the fusil had blown rather than the fusible.
    He looked a little confused until I realised what I had said, then we had a good laugh.

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  8. I was trying to tell someone I was drunk (bourré) but my pronunciation was horrible at the time, so I kept saying “beurré” and instead telling everyone I was “buttered”

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  9. A friend of mine meant to say he went out with buddies and said hier je suis sorti avec des gars but since he mistakenly pronounced the final s it sounded like hier je suis sorti avec des garces.

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  10. After arriving fresh in Paris first time, I didn’t know how to utilize French properly much and relied on a direct-from-English conversion. So instead of saying “Pardon”, I kept repeating “Je suis désolée” and was so confused why people were ignoring me and not letting me pass through.
    Still getting the embarrassment from this episode…

    Reply
    • Both of those work in that context. But one would say just “désolé” and not “je suis désolé”
      Désolé and pardon are the same, with pardon being slightly more formal. Je suis désolé is saying I’m sorry as in “I’m sorry for not understanding” 😉

      Reply
  11. I spent a year in Alsace some time ago and met the boyfriend of one of my colleagues. She had previously told me that he was a newly qualified pediatrician so, when I met him I said “Ah, bonjour. Vous etes pederaste, non?”
    He looked suitably shocked.

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  12. I’m a French teacher and will definitely be pointing my students towards your blog! It has lots of interesting articles that they will love.
    I’m not sure if someone has already mentioned this mistake as there are so many comments but my students often say in speaking exams: normalement, le weekend, je visite ma grandmere (please excuse lack of accents!). Afterwards, when I explain to them how this can be interpreted, they always go bright red! I have to constantly remind them to use ’aller voir’ or ‘rendre visite a’ instead when talking about people.

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      • “Je visite ma grand-mère” can be interpreted as you will have sexe with her… But don’t worry, actually everybody will understand the mistake.
        The verb “visiter” in a transitive verb. You can only visit a museum, an amusement park, a cave or whatever. You have to say “rendre visite à” or “aller voir” as said above.

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    • Being a good daughter in law, I washed dishes at my French parents home one evening. The dish water became very dirty so I emptied the sink and started fresh dish water. Mere (mother) wanted to know why I emptied the sink. Since I spoke only simple words.. I pointed to the sink and said ”sale eau”.
      She looked shocked at first then busted out laughing. I didn’t have a clue That I was calling the sink a “bastard”. This has been a family joke ever since. I have inadvertently used every one of the “faux-pas” on your list and more. French is a blast!?

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      • Excuse me but I meant to say that I believed I was saying “dirty water” hence the “sale eau”, but in french the word equals salaud.

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  13. 1) matelas (mattress) vs matelot: both spelling and pronunciation very similar. You wouldn’t want to enthuse about how well you sleep on your new sailor (matelot).

    2) pompier (firefighter) vs plombier. Similar enough to be bait for slips of the tongue. My employer uses helicopters to fight wildfires, and I explained to a friend (that slip of the tongue; I knew better) that we were aerial plumbers (plombiers). We had good fun trying to come up with a use for those.

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    • I once met a couple of French people at an event and they were talking about a specific part and I was very excited about it so I said “ je suis très excité “ and they all laughed…
      apparently that means I’m horny or something but yeah I’m never doing that again obviously

      Reply
  14. Thank you so much for having this web-site, and for your amazing, helpful, constructive and honest discussion and comments.

    I live in Australia, and my employer has many customers in “Région île de France” – New Caledonia, to the uninitiated. For the past 15 years, I have been regularly travelling there for business and have worked with the amazingly gracious people there who have accepted my total lack of understanding of French, and conducted meetings in English for my benefit.

    I have personally felt extremely embarrassed about my total lack of understanding of French (OK: Not “total” – I could say “bonjour” and “merci beaucoup”, could count to ten and knew 5 colours), and tried several times to find an effective way to learn French to the level where I could at least be viewed as “trying”. However, these efforts had fallen down in various ways, mostly because of lack of practical practice.

    Recently, I found a mobile App that has been a godsend and I have very rapidly advanced my French understanding – I still don’t know how to say anything in the past tense. However, I have learned (or had confirmed) about 1000 words in French since mid-July this year. I found your web-site through a comment on the Discussion forum of the App’s web-site.

    This evening has been an extremely entertaining time for me as I was almost universally able to predict what would be the awkward or sexual interpretation of the French words. I find it particularly amusing (and apt) that “the language of love” has so many phrases that carry a sexual or romantic interpretation!

    I was already cued to the possible “misinterpretation” of the words for “cold”, “warm” and “hot” as a result of having learned German in school, and one of my friends telling me about his saying to his German girlfriend on a bus in Germany “Ich bin heiss” – transliteration of “I am hot”. His girlfriend later (after they had left the bus-full of giggling passengers) advised him what that meant (same as the transliteration into French), but told him that, “At least you didn’t say ‘Ich bin warm’ – that means, ‘I am gay.’! You don’t say ‘I am’, you must say ‘I feel’ – ‘Ich fühle mir heiss.’!”.

    While, prior to visiting this web-page, I didn’t know that the French use “have” (“j’ai”), knowledge of my friend’s experience had warned me not to use “je suis”.

    To date, I have not found anyone to hold French conversations with, but intend to contact a local French Club to fill this gap.

    Your “13 French Mistakes” page has fore-armed me, so I am less likely to make blush the people that I do find to talk with. Your replies to various items that others have posted have been especially helpful.

    Keep it up! This is a fantastic resource for people like myself. Many thanks.

    Reply
  15. This happened to a friend of my coworker who told me the story as she was present. A number of vacationers met for dinner at a seafood restaurant at a resort in Mexico. The friend had studied French and knew that Spanish and French were similar, but didn’t know Spanish. She wanted to order a main course with the whole fish; so she wanted to make sure the waiter understood this. Knowing that tête in French meant “head” in English, she asked the waiter for “Pescado con tetas.”

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      • Hello and many thanks for your tips. I would like to ask you do you have or is there a good website which has french verbs divided and conjugated in groups according to their ending, as well as groups of irregular verbs that have same irregularities? eg. Tenir is similar to venir etc. Thank you, looking forward to your reply!

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  16. When i first met up with my french friend… i was so happy and tried to say lots of french words… when we hung out together to some beautiful places… and then i tried to impress him by pronouncing a sentence in french very quickly… i was saying ( Cette chatte est jolie ) many times… he then laughed at me a lot and i was confused and wondered what he laughed about… he then told me that i wasnt supossed to say such a sentence… MDR… i was ridiculous.. ???

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  17. in second year french, we were writing pen-pal letters to people in france, and i occasionally went up to the teacher to see if my sentences were correct. On one of the sentences, i had meant to write “i speak easier with girls (than with guys)”, but what she didn’t tell me was that I had accidentally written “i like to get with easy girls”! Needless to say, I was the only one without a penpal that year 🙁

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      • J’ai habité près de 30 ans en france, dont 15 à Paris et on l’a toujours dit donc je ne pense pas qu’il s’agisse d’un problème de région mais plus d’éducation individuelle et d’environnement.

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      • Just got back from a visit in Paris and this exact scenario happened – I said “Je suis plein” to a waitress at a restaurant I had finished eating at. She and some people sitting nearby had a good laugh and kindly explained “J’ai trop mangé” was what I had meant to say.

        After this exchange, I did some googling to find out exactly what was up and found this website. Too bad I didn’t find it sooner haha but just wanted to say I can confirm!

        Reply
  18. My worst one was as follows. I’d spent the day working with some french colleagues, had a great day, mix of english and french.
    One of them got up to get herself a coffee and being friendly asked if anyone else in the room would like one.
    I quickly constructed a nicely polished sentence in my best french, based on the english phrase, “Yes, could you pour me one?” Verb: to pour = couler (Although I discovered this i not really used for pouring drinks); pronouns: one of them, “en”, me, “me” etc.
    Lo and behold I came up with the following gem of a phrase, “oui, tu peut m’en couler un?”. As soon as it left my mouth I thought, that didn’t sound right. I looked at my colleague and she had completely blushed! Uh oh… the rest of my colleagues were laughing away… turns out what I said sounded something like, “can you f*** me up the a** with one” (“tu peut m’enculer un”, hmmmm, not quite what I was after!

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  19. My friend in trying to explain that she works out her biceps (pipes in english) said “je fait le pipe” to a bunch of body builders. I managed to get her out of the room unmolested.

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  20. Should I assume that our Vladimir Putin comes across in French as Vladimir Poutine (like the thousand-calorie Québec specialty) is that one wouldn’t want to mispronunce him as Putin/Putain?

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  21. The article was indeed very helpful. After reading this article, I’m so glad I mostly stuck to formal French during my stay in Nantes. I realize how many mistakes I avoided just by listening to people and paying attention to the context. Half of the time I had to ask people to translate stuff for me and it turned out to mean something very different from what I thought it was. 😛
    Thanks for this great article! Will make sure to pronounce “beaucoup” correctly 🙂

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  22. When asked my first weekend in France if I was going to find the Parisian apartments too small, I replied “No” because in my current apartment in the States our room was so small that I slept on a “matelot” that I kept under the bed during the day. Oops. “Matelas”!!!

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  23. Omg…am here reading and laughing at myself, laughing at all my errors…i interpreter at my church, we have an English pastor with french congregation..i learnt french in the street so my french ain’t that good at all. i used to say that avoir envie de quel q’un. whenever my pastor says “You envy someone” i will always interpret as..”T’envie de lui”..Thanks alot..cos just today i found your site i’ve learnt alot already…

    Reply
    • It means “I’m cold” as in “cold-hearted” not from a temperature point of view.

      To say you’re cold because of the temperature, you should say “J’ai froid”.

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  24. “je suis plein/e” means “I got drilled and inseminated”, it’s very rude especially for women to say this phrase, because être plein/e is meant for animals such cows or horses
    so definitely it’s awkward to say this after a food

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      • I’d like to be a little more flexible on this one. If you want to speak clean, polite French, then you are right. But “Je suis plein” can be used in multiple ways. To say “I can’t eat more”, to say that you are covered in something ( “je suis plein de boue” would mean “I am covered in mud”, even if the correct sentence is “je suis couvert de boue” ), and I have heard women saying “je suis pleine” to say what Lylipuk Vrn said.
        Of course, I wouldn’t use it that way, I find that kind of gross.

        If we stick to the “être plein/e is meant for animals such cows or horses” part, then yes, what he said is absolutely false.

        I’m sorry if the way I phrased any of this was unpleasant, I only wish to help !

        Reply
        • I think you are confusing ‘je suis plein’ avec ‘je suis plein de quelquechose’ (ex: de boue), even if what comes after ‘plein’ in the second example is suggested but unsaid. ‘Je suis plein’ (also literally) alone mostly meant ‘I am full’ when talking about human beings. Nothing else.

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          • … yes, I agree. I underestimated how much a simple “de” could change the use of a verb … I’m Sorry

          • I think I do have to be sorry, because it is mine too … I live near Canada so I may have different influences or expressions, but it’s still french ^^”

  25. Going the other way, we had a lot of fun asking our French-speaking kids — when they were very young — to tell their American grandmothers the names of French animals. Especially the rooster and a baby seal, which they would dutifully and innocently report.

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  26. Nice article. Here’s one for you: We have a friend who is a vegetarian, who spend her junior with a large and friendly family in Aix. They fixed a warm and welcoming dinner for her, on her first night in town, with all the kids and grandparents and a table groaning with local delights. The gregarious dad wanted to make sure she was well fed and equally — an a somewhat masculine French way — didn’t really believe someone would only eat vegetables. He kept asking her if she would like to try the sausages… pate… etc. She felt guilty refusing his hospitality, and tried to do so by praising other things on the table. In particular, the betterave. Only, she didn’t know that word yet. So she used the English one and hoped it translated. You’ve already guessed where this is going. “Merci,” she told him, “mais, j’aime la ‘beet'” The father looked a little stunned, as if he hadn’t heard her correctly. “Pardon?” he said. “La beet. J’aime la beet.” He looked even more perplexed. She was sure she’d said it to tentatively, so she repeated it once more nice and loud, “Le beet. J’aime la BEET.” At which point, as grandmothers gasped, she figured out that… er… it might not translate the way she thought it translated. (For anybody still wondering, Google “la bite.”)

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  27. Probably not, but it makes a nice conversation starter :).I did something similar when I started learning German, I used to use “geil” a bit too much thinking it meant “cool” without knowing it was closer to “horny” 😀

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    • It’s absolutely both, it just depends on the context. ‘Wie geil’ means ‘how cool!’ and has nothing to do with horny.

      Reply
  28. Je suis excitèe.

    I joined HelloTalk and put that…..on my public bio. Apparently it is not the “excited” I was going for.

    Reply
  29. I know this article and comments are quite old, but I reeally want to share!
    Okay, this first one is not mine, an American born French teacher told us this story, and I still find it great.
    She was in France, still quite young and still learning French, and she was watching a parade that was supposed to have terrific horses but she hadn’t seen any. After working her brain very hard to construct a sentence to discover their whereabouts, she went up to a nearby policemen and in her very best French asked, “où sont les cheveux?”
    The policeman looked down at her and said in perfect English, “Horses, honey, not hair.” Hehe

    Mine was not nearly so exciting but in some ways a bit worse. I was a very poor kid and couldn’t really afford the best of school supplies, or really ANY school supplies. Heh At a garage sale or thrift store or some such I’d found a very old (late 1800’s) French-English dictionary and used it for my French classes in high school. Normally it didn’t let me down, although I can only imagine how bizarre some of my French writing sounded. Likely the equivalent of a student learning English sounding like a character from Little Women or Downton Abbey. Albeit, definitely a much less fluent version of such. Anyway, my very old dictionary finally did me wrong, I wound up using baiser very much incorrectly. I don’t remember the context of my incorrect usage, and at the time didn’t even know what it was I’d actually said, but I knew it was pretty bad and likely quite perverse as my French teacher first blushed, then tried very hard to stifle a laugh but was still unable to prevent a smirk from slipping through, then corrected me as to what word I should use in that situation instead. So, I knew it was bad, and I was quite embarrassed and thenceforth unable to trust my very old French-English dictionary.
    Interestingly, I decided to Google Translate “I kissed a girl” and it gave me this: j’ai baisé une fille.
    Makes for a far more provocative song, doesn’t it. Haha!

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing Tiffany 🙂

      Your mishap with “baiser” is actually quite common. The problem of dictionaries is that the definition they give tend to be the formal one, and there can be a huge difference between what a word is supposed to mean and how people understand it. That’s why it’s so important to regularly hear everyday French.

      Reply
  30. I once Sent my French teacher an email because he wanting my group to tell him what reward we wanted for winning the French Bee and I accidentally said “I don’t give a f***” instead of “I don’t care” he had to speak to me the next day. Worst. French. Mistake. Lol

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  31. My mum once told me a story when she was in France and wanted to tell her friends that she enjoyed being the centre of attention and therefore said, “Je suis exhibitionniste”, without realising she was actually saying something quite different…:D

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  32. When (about what year) did the VERB “baiser” stop meaning “to kiss” and take its present vulgar meaning?

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  33. Before heading off for a year in a French school in Brussels, I asked my French teacher how to say, “Shut up.” She gave me the tu form of the verb (which I heard as tête-toi 😉 and off I went. At a folk concert, the people behind me were making it hard to hear the music, so I quickly conjugated the verb in head, wheeled around and hissed, “Têtez-vous!” They all cracked up completely, as did my companions. “Did I say something wrong?” I asked. “Yes, you just told them to go nurse themselves.” Lesson learned: it’s tais-toi and taisez-vous.

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  34. J’aime bien lire ce genre d’articles, c’est toujours amusant de voir comment se débrouillent nos futurs francophones 😉

    Deux petites remarques :

    – On peut utiliser “bordel” exactement de la même façon que “putain”

    – À l’origine, “baiser” veut littéralement dire “to kiss” et “embrasser” veut littéralement dire “to embrace” (“prendre [quelque chose] dans ses bras” – c’est pour ça qu’on retrouve le mot “bras” dans “embrasser”).
    C’est vrai, maintenant, on dit “embrasser” pour “to kiss” et “baiser” pour “to f***.

    Mais dans un livre français, on peut lire “baiser” et ça peut vouloir dire “to kiss”. Ca dépend de quand date le livre ; à partir du XXè siècle, c’est souvent “to f**”, mais si c’est un livre qui date d’avant le XXe (par exemple, un livre de la Comtesse de Ségur), ça voudra plutôt dire “to kiss”, ou encore si c’est de la poésie (exemple : je rêve de baiser vos lèvres = I dream of kissing your lips).

    De plus, ça dépend de si on précise ce qu’on “baise” :

    “Je baise ta ch**(notfemalecat)” >> to f****
    “Il baise sa joue” >> he kisses her cheek

    Faire le baisemain = baiser (to kiss) la main de quelqu’un

    Bref ! J’espère que mon commentaire ne sera pas trop difficile à lire, et je vous souhaite une bonne continuation 😉

    Reply
    • Merci pour le commentaire. C’est vrai que “baiser” peut aussi vouloir dire “to kiss”, mais j’ai préféré simplifier étant donné que ça veut dire “to fuck” dans la majorité des situations :D.

      Reply
  35. My French teacher once told us that when he took his very first French class, he had learned a few phrases from a friend, so he wanted to show off to his teacher. At the end of the class period, he was about to head off to lunch, so he wanted to tell his teacher “I am hungry”, but instead of saying “J’ai faim” he said “J’ai femme” which means “I have women”.

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  36. Worst and first thing I did in Paris was to walk into a butcher and ask for “deux poules.” I wanted two chickens but had asked for two prostitutes!

    Reply
    • I made the same mistake in a hotel where i was waitressing in France years ago. We had a team of engineers who were converting the town’s telephone system staying for several months and i was a constant source of amusement to them. They would send me to the kitchen to ask for things with sexually connotated double meanings and I would retalliate by teaching them to say things in English which were simillarly open to misinterpretation, to the amusement of the English speaking guests. One day when they were getting particularly roudy I also ordered them to suckle themselves, which had the opposite effect to the one i intended. Your story reminded me of those days. Had a good laugh reading this article as i have made most of these mistakes while learning French and heard my bilingual kids make similar ones when translating literally from French while speaking English. An example: After hanging up on a rude male caller, one day,
      my daughter triumphantly announced. “I decroched him”. I also regularly told callers to wait a moment while i f##k the TV if it was on when they called. I speak French more or less fluently now, but am living in Spain so making mistakes in Spanish instead.

      Reply
  37. Il faut mettre aussi la difficulté de français c’est la prononciation et l’accent. Car, si vous lisez en different prononciation/accent ça sera different intention 🙂 Par exemple : maire (le chef dans une ville), mer (ocean), mère (maman), mêre (un restaurant à lyon), et merde (quand vous glissez). Hahahaha… 🙂

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  38. While all of this is super relevant for France, I think it’s worth noting that 4 of these sayings may not be mistakes for Canadians (10M of which speak French!).

    Tu es bonne, for instance has no sexual meaning whatsoever in Canada.

    Tu es chaud doesnt refer to being horny here but rather to say that you’re sexy.

    Ca suce is used to some extent the same way as in English

    And finally, etre plein does mean i’m full, on this side of the ocean.

    All the others mistakes apply here.

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      • I know this is an old post, but I’m commenting anyway. First, thank you for the list of mistakes. There are a couple I’m guilty of, and I’m now remembering all those times I said – or, thought I said – that I was full. Yikes.

        I find myself in a strange sort of situation with the Quebecois vs France-French. I’m English-speaking Canadian. The province I live in/grew up in has the least amount of French speaking people in it, of all the provinces in Canada. So I was an adult when I decided I wanted to learn. Well, I was still pretty young back when I first started to learn, and hadn’t bothered to think about Quebecois vs France-French vs…..basically, I was young and stupid, and just thought of French as French.

        I took night classes, and, as it turned out, all my teachers were from France, all even happened to be from Paris or regions near it, ie Normandie. So that was what I learned. I then lived briefly in Quebec, but ended up making close friends, by chance, with folks from France, not Quebec. So, more France French. Of course by that time I knew/could hear some of the differences, but I stuck to France-French, as I thought it would just be easier, in terms of learning, to stick to one thing.

        When I finally did travel to France, I often had people ask me where I was from. When I said, ‘Canada’, then almost always said, ‘But you don’t sound Canadian’. I assume this means that they associated Canada with people who spoke Quebecois.

        It sometimes feels odd to me to live here, but not speak Quebecois. I find it extremely hard to understand. There seems to be a lot of slang, a lot of terribly old-fashioned words, and times where there’s French words plugged into English grammar structure. And it sometimes seems there’s a lot of dropped letters, especially vowels, but maybe I’m wrong on that, as I haven’t looked too closely….I think a friend who was a native Quebecer told me that was common, but she was from a very small little village in Quebec, and I’ve been told there is a difference between Montreal-French and small-village-French.

        The accent also seems very….nasal, to me. There’s something almost twangy about the way they speak, that, to be honest, doesn’t sound nice to me. I don’t mean to be rude at all, but I’m just not a fan. No offense meant to the language!

        The other thing is that, understandably, people associated Quebecois with Canada, and refer to it as ‘Canadian French’. This makes sense, since Quebec is thought of here as ‘the French province’ and is predominantly French, and is the only province where French is the norm. However…

        …every province does have some French speakers, especially Ontario, and out the Maritime provinces where they speak Acadian French. Here in Saskatchewan, we have the Fransaskois. So there’s really no such thing as ‘Canadian French’, I think.

        Reply
  39. It had been easily 3years since I had practiced my Spanish and a group of my friends were talking and I tripped and said “Estoy embarazada!” and my friends just stared at me for a very long moment before laughing.

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  40. Merci beaucoup pour le article. In my French class, for homework we had to look up some verbs including “baiser” which I thought meant a kiss since the year before I had come across “un baiser” which meant a kiss. I looked it up anyways and the actual meaning for it was very different and apparently my teacher didn’t know that. We also had to look up “une chameau” a while later and it also had interesting meanings.

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  41. I think what a lot of people are forgetting is that there is a mixture here. French in Canada Is very different from French anywhere else in the world and regionalisms also makes a difference. For example, etre plein in some regions of France means you are pregnant where as in French Canada (outside Quebec) it just means you are full of food. And etre chaud in Canada can also mean to be high. LEts just say within the French language between France and Canada there are some nonos such as suçon VS sucette (in one of the two it means hicky and the other lollipop) Go figure huh! Bonne chance a tous.

    Reply
    • Yeah I actually only covered the French spoken in France here, because I don’t know Canadian French. But even inside France, some words have totally different meanings depending on the region.

      Reply
  42. “Je suis excité” is a common mishap for beginners trying to express excitement as we understand it in English…. although as French speakers, we know it has a sexual connotation!

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  43. I do remember our french teacher in primary school telling us to never say ‘j’aime baiser’ if we go to France(baiser sounds like russian for meringue). It kept me puzzled for years and i couldn’t find a translation until couple decades later my french friend told me the difference between ‘le baiser’ and ‘baiser’

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    • Quite a big difference :D. Yet very few French learners are aware of it. Honestly “baiser” meaning “kiss” is rarely used nowadays.

      Reply
  44. Once, a French veteran of the Indochina war told me the troops had access to the BMC, the Bordel Militaire de Campagne.
    It was essentially a whorehouse on wheels. I didn’t believe him.
    Years later, I was reading an account of the war by a retired French general. He referred to the BMC, except he called it the Bordel Mobile de Campagne, literally a mobile campaign brothel. We learn something every day.

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  45. I was talking to two French workmen about how I protected some window trim from moisture by saying I used a wood preservative. When they both smiled I realized I had said I had applied a wooden condom.
    One phrase I still haven’t gotten used to is “What a mess!” my mind always thinks “What a whorehouse!” (Quel bordel!)

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    • Haha. Yeah thinking about “bordel” as “a mess” requires some getting used to. As a native speaker, I often think about how some words are actually constructed, and I’m like “wow this word is weird”.

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      • A French friend emailed me about how strange the English language was.
        I asked him to explain the gender of la bite and le vagin. He said he had never thought about it.

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  46. Hello! I just fing your blog, and it’s very good to read so many tips and techniques. I learn french for 4 years, but I don’t have a good teacher. I understand almost perfectly what is written and I have also a penfriend from France, but I barely can speak(mostly because I’m shy, because I didn’t practice enough yet) and I don’t understand French only when my teacher speaks very slowly. What should I do to improve my speaking and listening skills?

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  47. some are obvious… chatte = pussy, chienne = bitch, j’ai envie = I want, I have lust for. Some are weird, like je suis cochonne, because you pretend to use a noun as an adjective. I’m piggy does not mean anything either.

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    • “I’m piggy” doesn’t mean anything. But “je suis cochonne” does. It’s common in French and “cochon” is actually also an adjective.

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      • question de region sans doute. Pour moi, pour les Parisiens et les gens du Sud capables de parler un Francais decent, ca n’a pas de sens et fait totalement etranger parce que personne sauf un Americain ne le dirait.
        J’ajoute qu’on peut corriger toutes ces erreurs et beaucoup d’autres avec reverso, mais en se donnant du mal. Il faut lire les exemples proposes, eventuellement traduire en sens inverse, etc…
        Et je n’ai jamais entendu “je suis cochonne” dit par qui que ce soit. Eventuellement, ares avoir renverse un verre ou autre, “je suis une vraie cochonne” mais peu frequent.
        Manifestement, nous ne parlons pas la meme langue.

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  48. Le “je suis plein” après un repas ce dit 😉
    Lors d’un repas de famille ou entre amis, si vous dites “je suis plein” ça ne sera pas mal interprété, ou incompris. 🙂

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  49. My funniest was when a French friend ordered a “Schweppes sans glace” – it was a while since I had spoken French, and ordered him a tonic water by the neck (in the bottle). He looked at it, looked at me, and asked “ou est mon verre?”. Of course!!! GLASS = verre, while GLACE = ice!!!!! Have even made non-French speaking people giggle at this!

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  50. so the whole baiser thing I Google translated it I sent it to the girl I’m now seeing ! Haha I translated it from … When you see me I want you to kiss me like you will never kiss me again…. You know baiser is fuck when she told me I was like oh shit ! But it was perfect as we are now together ! ha 🙂

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  51. Thanks for this article, very useful and entertaining too. Back when I was in a French class and everyone, including myself, knew zero French, we once had to write a short story based on an image of two old people. My friend resorted to Google Translate for “Grandma kissed Grandpa” – you can imagine how that went down with the teacher when she read it aloud. Not sure whether the teacher was embarrassed or sympathetic because my friend was completely clueless about her mistake!

    Safe to say, everyone in that class steered clear of the verb “baiser” ever since…

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  52. I once said to the husband of a colleague ‘Je suis en rut’ (I am horny) instead of ‘Je suis en route’ (I’m on my way). Could have been extremely awkward, but fortunately he had a good sense of humour!

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  53. I made the same mistake on exchange… they all looked at me funny and I found out what I’d REALLY said when I got back… :/

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  54. Je suis excité. En anglais: I am excited. En francais: I am sexually excited. I learned this when my prof indicated that she understood what I meant by “Je suis excitépar le tequila” but that I should not be this excited to drink anything…the excitement comes AFTER drinking!

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  55. I apparently pronounce ‘beaucoup’ like ‘buh-cul’, which means ‘nice arse’!

    Also, ‘j’ai envie de toi’ doesn’t mean ‘I envy you’ but ‘I want you’ so be careful… I once told someone (well I thought I was saying I was jealous) that I want her as my sexual partner for her new handbag…

    Reply
      • Ok seen “bo -cuL” mispronunciation mentioned a few times on here; I don’t understand, where are they even getting the “L” sound from, there’s no L in BEAUCOUP ?
        —- Fun thread, merci!

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    • La traduction littérale est toujours risquée. Mais bon, “mon mauvais” c’est quand même moins problématique que préservatif :D.

      Reply
    • You can say “je suis excité(e)”. Although in some cases, it can really mean “I am excited”.

      But in most cases, you won’t say “I am horny”, but “j’ai envie de toi” (lit: I want a part of you”. Which basically means you want to have sex with that person.

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  56. Once I asked a French girl “as tu des pets” thinking I was asking if she had any pets, but then she told me “pet” in French means “fart” and the right word would be “animal de compagnie” ha ha.

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  57. i am kind of a ridiculous person so I would not necessarily be embarrassed by saying these things… I am actually glad you posted them because those are things I discuss in English often and now i can say them in French. Merci beaucoup pour votre aide !

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  58. I visited a girl: J’ai visité une fille. It may have a sexual missinterpretation. The proper way, of course, it’s “J’ai été chez une fille”

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  59. Don’t get me started. One time when I was doing a homestay in France I said “chatte” by accident (in front of a ten year old – oops), though I did correct myself immediately afterwards. Then there was this other time when I was in my French class at school and I had to translate a (very weird) paragraph about two people in their seventies having an affair. I had to say ‘baise’, but then I pronounced it wrong, and though nobody actually told me what it meant, I had a sneaking suspicion I’d just sworn at my teacher…

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    • I am always shocked when I hear what 10 year old kids talk about, so I am sure he wasn’t traumatized :).

      Your teacher must have been surprised though :D.

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  60. The female English neighbour of my French companion was doing some plumbing DIY in her house and came next door to ask if he could give her “une pipe” – a blow job. He wasn’t able to oblige on either count.

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  61. I wonder how is it better to say in french “You look good/great/cool” to a guy, when I’m talking about appearance and I want to pay a compliment?

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    • Usually we don’t directly compliment people. Most of the time you will hear “j’aime bien ton manteau” (I like your coat) or “J’aime bien tes chaussures” (I like your shoes). It’s much more rare to hear “tu es beau” (you look handsome).

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  62. Im french and i will to write a text in french for everybody, bonjour, je m’appelle Andy j’habite en France et, Putain je me suis encore trompé !! xD

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  63. I once said je suis exite(with an accent)! It does not in fact mean exited but horny… woops. Its too franco manitobaine apparently.

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      • not awkward but… my french teacher recently told me that in my french speaking exam if i ever forgot anything i shouldn’t say ‘um’ like i would in English but i should say ‘bain’ (or something similar) instead which is really unnatural to me.

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          • I used to say ‘je me sens’ when I wanted to say ‘I feel that’.. but eventually I learned it meant I smell myself. Haha!!

          • It does mean “I smell myself” if you don’t add anything afterwards. But there are cases when you can use it to say “I feel…”

            Je me sens mal => I feel bad

  64. So glad I found this article again! I was watching the Voice (French version) and the coach Mika – who’s originally British – made the first mistake talking to a contestant.

    https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1lirgv

    Video title aside, I believe what he actually said was “vous etiez tres bonne.” But this was the only article that explained the mistake – thanks!

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  65. I remember my French teacher once telling the class about how she once complimented a man’s jumper by saying “j’aime son pull” but got confused between the pronunciation of “pull” and “poule” and instead told him she liked his chicken. God knows what he interpreted that as.

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    • Not to mention that “poule” often sounds similar to “boule” said by French learners. The latter meaning something completely different in slang :D.

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  66. Thanks, this was a fun read. 🙂 Although now I’ll probably remember the things I shouldn’t say better than the ones I should!

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    • Arf, this can easily happen. At least it will make speaking French much more fun (and embarrassing, but it’s part of the fun isn’t it? 🙂 ).

      Reply
  67. I was living in Bretagne for a month on a foreign exhange. A lot of us made the mistake of pronouncing ‘faim’ as ‘femme’.

    I’m a guy and on my first night there I said: JE SUIS FEMME!!!

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  68. Now I see what they mean when they say ‘Pardon my French!’ Geesh, these are definitely different from what I learned in my French class, haha.

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  69. I’m American and taking a French college class. When asked by the professor in class this week how to say “chicken”, I responded aloud with “le coq”. Yeah….my teacher couldn’t stop laughing for several minutes. Now I know to say “le poulet”. C’était vraiment embarrassant. 🙂 I love your website, by the way!

    Reply
      • What if you meant rooster (male chicken) as opposed to hen (or poule) — in a conversation about farming or animal husbandry? Is it “poulet” regardless?

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        • If you wanted to only talk about an adult rooster use le coq, otherwise le poulet.

          If you are having a conversation about animal husbandry it goes like this:

          Les coqs – The roosters/cocks

          Les poules – The hens

          Les poussins – The chicks (when they are all yellow and fluffy)

          Les poulets/poulettes – between a chick and a hen/rooster. When a chick has started to get its adult feathers but is not able to lay eggs or crow (if it’s a male). Also, poulet=the meat on your plate and poulette is a familiar term of endearment for a girl.

          Chickens that are kept for laying are usually les poules, young chickens that you are going to eat are les poulets because they have nice tender meat when they are young. So if you keep your own chickens for egg laying you might say j’ai des poules, and if you have a rooster as well you could add et un coq.

          Not all French people are going to know the differences between un poulet and une poule, just as not all English people know the difference between a hen and a pullet.

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  70. I have just stumbled upon your website and loved every bit of it. Hope this post will keep me from awkward situations! Please do more, I can’t get enough 😀

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  71. We have an old house in France with wooden beams… oh look at the lovely old
    prostitutes on the ceiling we gaily remarked! (putres: beams, pute: whore)

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  72. Je suis plein(e) can also mean ‘i’m pregnant’! It’s only used for animals not humans, so it’s not a nice way to refer to a human pregnancy but you’ll get some funny looks especially if you’re talking with country folk!

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  73. Another I learned living in France: Never be possessive about pleasure! Pleasure is something outside of oneself, e.g., “Il etait un vrai plaisir!” versus “Il etait mon plaisir,” which would be sexually suggestive.

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    • To be honest, I don’t really understand what you mean here. Do you talk about someone or about an experience?

      We would rather say “c’était un vrai plaisir”.

      Reply
      • Exactly my point: when accepting compliments for hosting a dinner, for example, the pleasure of the host is “exterior” to themselves. i.e., It’s never one’s own pleasure, as in, “C’etait mon plaisir.” Maybe my expressing the rule in English was confusing.

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  74. Mouais, je suis pas tellement d’accord pour “je suis chaud”. Ça marche tout autant pour un mec de dire ça quand il est excité.

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  75. Hate to be a party pooper, but the earliest use of the “V” sign with the 2 fingers dates way after the 100 years war – the archers fingers thing is just an old wives tale – it was stated on QI, straight from Stephen Fry’s mouth. Sorry :0)

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  76. I made the mistake of Je suis chaud. when I was learning, I got some very odd looks and had no idea, when I found out I laughed so hard. And good article, even though I knew it all already 🙂

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  77. Knew that we tend to say “putain” a lot but never thought this much ! That’s fun. 🙂

    Else, well, it’s not a word actually, but it’s a gesture french people won’t understand.
    For the context, I’m part of an england-france twinning since like… 25 years !
    Every year, I met my english sisters, one year in their country, the other in mine. One of my english sister always put her 2 tall fingers (index/major) in a V shape, like victory, on photos (it’s actually the challenge each year to take a photo of her without her making that V shape).
    I thought it was cool, so I begun, too, with her, to do that on photos… My first attempt was however to do that, but with the back of my hand towards the photograph.
    Oh their shocked faces at that moment, that was an hilarious culture confrontation ! 😀
    In France our “finger” called “doigt d’honneur” (litteraly honor finger, which is absolutly not honorous btw, who said we don’t have a sense of humor? ^^ ), it’s the major raised, only.
    They explained me after, what was the meaning of this*, we laughed so hard. We still can’t remember that episode without laughing. 😀 (I also suddenly get why Spike did that in the generic of Buffy, I remember how it sparkled in my mind that day, I was understanding until that day he was like ordering 2 things, never get it why that picture in particular was choosen for the generic)

    So if you’re very angry in France and want to act like a very nasty punk, don’t bother to make the V shape, french people will not get it, do the major one (and be sure to run fast enough if the guy/girl front of you seems to be stronger and angry too, some people, like everywhere, are very touchy). 😉

    *they’re actually 2 possible roots for that gesture. One is it’s an imitation of “U” letter, like in “up yours”, and the second, my favorite (my english sister’s dad told me this one) is that in the 100 years war between english and french, french captured archers were amputated of their “bow fingers” and english soldiers agitated them front of the french army as a “delightful” provocation. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks for this very interesting comment Kerdekel :).

      The fact they used to cut archers’ fingers would explain the name “doigt d’honneur”, Ah British humor :D.

      Having an English sister is an awesome way to learn the language and cultural differences in a fun way. It’s funny how we can do things and think it’s totally normal, and then realize it actually has a completely different meaning in another country. Putain :D.

      Reply
    • tht is great. You will have to explain it to 59,999,990 French people who don’t know the weir meaning you give to your inverted victory sign

      Reply

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