French Word of the Day: ‘Douane’ (a smuggler’s worst nightmare)

French Word of the Day: 'Douane' (a smuggler’s worst nightmare)
If you're planning to bring goods into France from abroad this is a word you need to know.

Why have we chosen 'douane' as le mot du jour?

Douane is a word that pops up frequently in French news headlines about trade, taxes, drug trafficking and now more than ever – Brexit.

France’s Transport Ministry has been up in arms in recent days following an EU proposal to drop the current UK-EU douanes in northern France and instead connect Ireland to the Benelux, even though the French ports are much closer.

Le Parisien headline reading “How French Customs is preparing for a hard Brexit”

So what exactly does 'douane' mean?

'(La) Douane' is the French word for customs, pronounced ‘dwan’ if all those consecutive vowels are confusing you.

You may be surprised to hear that 'douane' actually has a place in the Oxford Dictionary of English, described as a “custom house in France or other Mediterranean countries”. 

Its origins are Persian (dīwān, ‘office’) and its first usage in France dates back to the 13th century, which gives you a rough idea of how much weight this word has had in trade throughout the centuries.

France of course has its own official body in charge of customs, la Direction générale des douanes et droits indirects (DGDDI), which dates back to before the French Revolution.

Can you give me some examples of how to use douane in French?

You use it in the same way as in English to describe going through customs at the airport:

Les passagers vont passer à la douane. 
The passengers are going to go through customs.

There’s also using it to describe the authority that controls imported/exported goods:

La douane a saisi mes cigarettes. 
Customs has seized my cigarettes.

When talking about the taxes on imports and exports:

Les frais (ou droits) de douane sont élevés pour ce produit.
Customs duty is high for this product.

There’s also the derivative verb dédouaner, which has several meanings, not all related to customs.

To pay customs:

Il faut dédouaner les marchandises reçues de l'étranger.
You have to pay customs duties on goods from abroad.

To clear one’s name or get oneself off the hook (se dédouaner):

Quelle chance j’ai eu de pouvoir me dédouaner dans cette affaire!
I’m so lucky to have been able to clear my name after this incident!

It can also be used to say 'free oneself of responsibilities/accountability'.

Le président cherche à se dédouaner de ses responsabilités
The president is looking to rid himself of his responsibilities

Headline by L'Obs reading “Benalla: Collomb claims no responsibility, blames police commissioner and Macron's cabinet.”

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