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FRENCH

How far have you assimilated into French culture?

Becoming truly assimilated into the French culture means that you not only have to ditch your own culture from back home, but you also have to adopt the French way of life, and that's no easy task. Which stage are you at?

How far have you assimilated into French culture?
Photo: Marie/Flickr
Presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy is demanding immigrants assimilate into the French culture.
 
“If you want to become French, you speak French, you live like the French and you don't try and change a way of life that has been ours for so many years.”
 
Here, we take a fairly light-hearted look at what we consider to be the three levels of assimilation in France. What stage are you at?
 
Stage 1
 
You still shake hands with people when you meet them (let's face it, the whole cheek-kissing thing is strange and embarrassing). 
 
You're glad to find your favourite cheddar cheese in the local French supermarket, where you'll grab the cheapest wine on offer that says either “Chardonnay” or “Sauvignon Blanc” on the bottle.
 
Sure, you've learned a bit of basic French, but still prefer to speak English with French people (even when they're struggling).
 
You've got a great network of expat pals who lend an empathetic ear when you discuss the nightmare administration issues you've dealt with. 
 
When someone says “fancy a drink?” you say “which pub?” 
 
When you go the pub, you walk passed the sun drenched terrace and go and drink at the bar standing up. 
 
When you go home you bring back food and drink.
 
You still wear your flip flops in the summer around Paris.
 
You are absolutely baffled by the strikes and street protests and think everyone should be grateful get on with their jobs.
 
You constantly compare things to life back home, whether it's the amount of smoking, the way they drive or what they wear. In fact  that's all you talk about.
 
Photo: Flickr/TheeErin
 
Stage 2
 
Your French is pretty good and enjoy testing it out on locals but when it gets complicated you don't hesitate to bust out the old “parlez vous anglais”.
 
When someone asks you what your favourite cheese is, you say the words “Comté, but I do a love a strong cheddar.”
 
You now prefer to “faire le bise” when meeting someone of the opposite sex, and you'll even do it with other expats because that doesn't feel so strange anymore. 
 
You don't talk about having a drink, you have an “apero”.
 
Getting drunk is starting to feel uncool.
 
You still love a Starbucks, but you never walk anywhere with it anymore. 
 
When you're out with your Anglo friends, your group is the loudest in the room, you start to get a little self-conscious knowing the locals on neighbouring tables will be irritated. You are sensitive to their ear ache.
 
You're now more comfortable driving as close to the car in front as possible. And you've used your horn to encourage the bin collectors to do their job a little quicker.
 
You'll say bonjour in the lift at work to those who share your office building and then bonne journée seconds later, but you would still love to talk about the weather with them.
 
You've grown tired of comparing France to back home, as France is starting to feel like home.
 
Photo: AFP
 
Stage 3
 
You wouldn't dream of buying cheese unless it's from your local fromagerie, where you know the staff by name and where you have over a dozen favourite fromages. You know longer hold your nose when the Pont l'Eveque comes out.
 
If you're a man, you've acquired half a dozen male French friends whose cheeks you will kiss to say hello and goodbye. 
 
When you head home, you find yourself telling family and friends how disgusting their food is, not to mention the ridiculousness of their healthcare system and work/life balance. And you insisted on kissing them twice. 
 
You despair at the lack of French spoken in the country of your birth.
 
You yawn when people talk about the administration headaches, because you've been there and done that, and you already have your files ready with all important documents and their photocopies. 
 
You speak French with your remaining expat friends, and find yourself using French words when speaking English with those back home. No, this isn't arrogance, this is assimilation. 
 
You feel mortified when a friend visits from back home and speaks too loudly in a restaurant or on public transport. You might even tell them to quieten down. 
 
You know the words to the Marseillaise and only the tune to the Star Spangled Banner. God Save the Queen makes you twitch.
 
You own several Breton sailor T-shirts, numerous foulards, and cheer for France at the World Cup. You often support strike action and have probably marched in a demonstration once or twice. Your first boy is called Kevin but your second is Jean-Luc.
 
Your car is covered in dents. 
 
You demand that foreigners assimilate into French culture like you did.
 
Sarkozy would be proud of you. Feel free to apply for a French passport.
 
Photo: jan lewandowski/Flickr
 

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Nine French words that the French just don’t use

These words are all technically correct and are in the dictionary - use them in everyday conversation however and you're likely to earn yourself a few funny looks and sniggers.

Nine French words that the French just don't use
Don't always trust the dictionary. Photo: Y-Boychenko/Depositphotos

1. Sacré bleu!

This one seems to crop up in Anglophone news headlines all the time when journalists wish to create a sense of classic Frenchness. For example a story in a San Fransisco based newspaper about an international battle over internet domain names was headlined 'French scream sacré bleu at US government'.

The reason for this is probably that it's in many French textbooks that Anglophone schoolchildren use so they grow up thinking that all Frenchmen shout sacré bleu! whenever they tread in dog muck or run out of Gauloises (and fair enough, it's probably too soon to start teaching kids about the joys of a good putain).

In reality this is very rarely used in France for the simple reason that it's very old fashioned. It would be like turning up in England and shouting 'crikey' or 'golly Moses' at people and expecting them not to smirk.

Although we should report that one writer at The Local says she heard it recently from a woman in the street who was nearly knocked over by a cyclist. She did add, however, that the woman was 'about 95'.


French tech words have a few traps for the unwary. Photo: AFP

2. L'accès sans fil a internet

This is a proper phrase that was coined by the venerable Academie Française and it means connecting to the internet without the use of wires or cable. For some reason, however, the cumbersome phrase never really caught on and the French prefer using the far simpler 'wifi' which was coined in the Anglophone world. In French however it is pronounced 'weefee' and after some debate it was decided that it should be masculine – le wifi. So if you need access to the internet in a hotel, café or meeting space you can simply ask someone Avez-vous le code pour le wifi? – do you have the wifi password?

3. Faire l'amour

Anyone reared on a diet of romance novels and fantasies about charming Frenchmen and/or sexy French ladies may be hoping to do a spot of this, but use the phrase and you'll find yourself less likely to score. In the same way that not many people really say 'making love' in English, faire l'amour is not widely used in France either. French people, especially younger ones, generally use either coucher (to sleep with), the English word 'sex' or a few slightly cruder alternatives like baiser or niquer.

4. Ménage à trois

And while we're hovering around the bedroom, this French phrase may be very well known in the Anglophone world to describe a night of fun involving three people, but is rarely used in that sense in France. If this is what you're after, you'd do better propositioning your two likely candidates for un trio.

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If you want fireworks in the bedroom, you'll need to get the vocab right. Photo: AFP

5. Nonante

Sadly, this is not used in France and you're stuck with the cumbersome quatre-vingt-dix. The practical Swiss have decided that some of France's famously more outlandish numbering systems soixante dix, quatre-vingt, quatre-vingt-dix (70, 80 and 90) should be replaced with septante, huitante and nonante. In some parts of Belgium these are used too but not in France. So if you're based here you're stuck with puzzling out that 'four twenties, ten eight' means 98.

6. Mobile multifonction

This is another one courtesy of the Academie Française. The French language enthusiasts are so concerned about the possible erosion of the French language by a flood of techy new words from America that they've recently devoted quite a lot of time to coming up with French translations for popular tech gadgets and systems. This is a translation of 'smartphone' that has never quite caught on.

In reality most French people will refer to their 'smartphone' or even just their portable under the assumption that these days it's actually pretty hard to find a cell phone or mobile phone that doesn't have internet functions.

READ ALSO OPINION France's fight against new English words is totally stupid

7. Courriel

Another tech translation that never quite caught on is un courriel – this is the correct French translation for an email, but in reality most French people, especially the younger ones, will simply refer to un e-mail or un mail if they wan to send you an email.

8. RSVP

Used in the Anglophone world to denote a fancy party invitation that requires a response Répondez s'il vous plait is a well known French phrase. The use of French, of course, indicating that this is a sophisticated affair that won't involve beer or chips. But in France you won't see that on invitations, if it's the kind of do that needs a response, the phrase used will be a simple Réponse souhaitée.

9. Mot-dièse

If you want to tag someone in on Twitter it's probably best not to use this one. Another contribution from the Academie Française, this provoked not just disinterest but hilarity on social media when it was suggested as an alternative to hashtag.

 

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