Entente cordiale: Five things to avoid saying in French

Entente cordiale: Five things to avoid saying in French

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Notice weird looks while speaking French? It may be because you just said: “I feel randy” while you really mean to say you are feeling warm.

Translating literally from English to French is always dangerous. Many French words change their meaning depending on how they are used or which verbs they are used with.

Hundreds of English and French words look similar but mean different things. They are known as faux-amis, or false cognates (more of those another time). Here are some common faux pas.

1.   Je suis plein(e)
Don’t use this phrase at the end of a meal to indicate that you’ve had enough to eat. I once said this, but was quickly put right. Plein(e) means full, but it also means drunk or, if you are a woman, pregnant. You will get some funny looks.

If you have been offered unwanted second helpings, the polite formula is: “C’était délicieux, mais j’ai assez mangé/je n’ai plus faim” (It was delicious but I’ve had enough to eat/I’m not hungry any more).

2.   J’en ai assez
This does mean “I’ve had enough”, but in the sense of “I can’t take any more!” So if you don’t want a waiter/host to put any more on your plate, say: “Ça suffit, merci”. Don’t say “Ça suffit comme ça!” (Enough of this!).

3.   Je suis fini
Still on the eating theme, this doesn’t mean: “I have finished”, it means “I am finished”, i.e. about to expire. So if a waiter asks if he/she can take your plate the correct expression is “Oui, merci, j’ai terminé”.

4.   Je suis chaud(e)
Used with the verb être, this does NOT mean “I feel warm”. It means “I feel randy”.

An English friend once asked a female visitor to his house “Vous êtes chaude?” She left hurriedly. The correct expression is “J’ai chaud”.

5.   Je l’ai baisée
Un baiser is a kiss, but these days the verb baiser means to make love (although it’s not quite as polite as that). Better to play safe and avoid the word altogether.

Faire la bise à quelqu’un or embrasser quelqu’un both mean to kiss someone.


Reprinted with permission from Life on La Lune.

Vanessa Couchman is a freelance writer living in southwest France since 1997. As well as writing research reports and magazine articles she also blogs about France, aiming to show life there as it is, warts and all.


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