It’s not possible to be awkward in France. No, really.

Mistakes. We all make them. Combine that with doing so in a second language, a foreign culture, and depending upon whom you’re interacting with, multiple foreign cultures and cross-cultural hilarity may ensue. Some concepts translate and some don’t. Blend all of the above ingredients well and the result creates the perfect recipe for those “This one time, when I was studying abroad in France . . . and it was totally hilarious!” stories that all your friends hope they don’t have to hear 100 times over.

So, here’s just a small sample of mistakes and observations made about French, the French, and France:

1. It would be a good idea, particularly when you have gone to aller boire un verre with a monsieur, ladies, to avoid saying the following:

     -“J’ai chaud”.  This phrase, when not spoken to members of your host family or friends, who will understand the context in which you’re saying it, can otherwise be tricky. Generally a harmless phrase commenting on the effects of weather or the environment, it means, “I’m hot” – as in, “It’s 100 degrees outside, I’m hot”. However, when said in the context of a one-on-one conversation between you and Monsieur, after having sat down in an overly warm café wearing scarves and coats, “J’ai chaud” when said by madame has a much more sexual connotation. Or rather, it was taken as such. *Sigh*, of course it does. It is French, after all . . .

Which in turn explains why Monsieur might follow up such a declaration by raising his eyebrows incredulously, looking shocked and trying not to laugh, while saying “You said it, not me!” To which I rolled my eyes, quickly realizing what I’d accidentally said, and clarified that I was referring to the café we were in (“Mais nooonnn, je voulais dire mon visage, enfin!”) At that point I couldn’t stop laughing. Although, after such a linguistic blunder, you should in no way and under no circumstances acknowledge the smirk by the above-mentioned Monsieur that follows, as it will only encourage him in thinking that he’s won the argument. Admitting you’ve lost an argument (as explained in previous posts) is quite rare, if not American, and unacceptable. So ‘stay French’!

*In fact, just avoid any combination of être chaud / avoir chaud. Especially if you’re a guy. Unless you’re trying to get slapped.

2. the concept of ‘awkward’ doesn’t exist.

Well, the concept does, but the word for it doesn’t! Happily. In French, my American friends and I had difficulty explaining what exactly ‘awkward’ was to our French friends. The actual nuances of ‘awkward’ in a one-word equivalent doesn’t exist in France. French does not have a word that means ‘awkward’ in all it’s connotations. They do have similar words to describe certain less-than-ideal social moments. Words that translate to ‘clumsy’, ‘uneasy’, ‘uncomfortable’, ‘bizarre’, and other synonyms, but no one single word meaning ‘awkward’.

3. LOL exists!

MDR = mort de rire. Literally, ‘death of laughing’. Or as we say in the U.S., ‘LOL’. In French, you can say or text either MDR or LOL (which often sounds like “lull” when said by French teenagers).

I’m sure more will follow one day. Bref.

Who would have thought that when I took this picture last September in the lovely Fouras, France, that the year would only improve! Apart from the side effects of homework, presentations, bureaucracy and rain. But hey, let’s stay positive. I am American, after all.


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