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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

French slang: The everyday words they don’t teach you at school

It might be International Francophonie Day but forget all those French words they taught you in school like toilette, voiture and vin, because once you get to France you'll find you'll need a whole different set of vocabulary if you want to get by.

French slang: The everyday words they don't teach you at  school
Photo: Francisco Osorio/ Flickr

If you're looking to improve your French, memorize this list. 

Sex

Where better place to start than “making love”. In school (or at least growing up) you'll no doubt be told “faire l'amour” is the term to use for having sex in French. But in reality if you listen to French people, at least the younger ones talking about love making (and they often do) you'll likely hear the slang and fairly vulgar terms “baiser” or “niquer”. There are also plenty of nicer expressions to use. SEE ALSO: French expressions for having sex you won't find a dictionary

Obviously like in other languages the world of sex in French comes with its own slang lingo. So while you might learn the body parts “penis” and “vagin” in your French text books, you are more likely to hear “bite, zizi or queue” for penis and “chatte”, “foufoune” or “zezette” for vagina. But bear in mind these are pretty vulgar and should be used with caution if at all. You can find an incredibly exhaustive language of French sex vocabulary HERE.

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Car

The French love (and hate) their cars as much as Anglos do and have bestowed upon their four-wheeled conveyances a tonne of nicknames like “la bagnole, la caisse, la tire.” In formal settings “voiture” is the correct word to use of course.

Photo:Pedrosimoes7/ Flickr
 
Toilet
 
Obviously in school we learn the word “toilette”. It couldn't be easier. But in reality once in France you are as much likely to hear people use the slang word “chiottes” to refer to the loo, bog, john…
 
(Gregory Tonon)
 
Money
 
This word has scores of slang terms in every language and French is no exception. When you talk about cash you may hear “le fric, le pognon, le blé, la thune, l’oseille”. But remember the proper word here is “argent.”
 
Photo: Scris/ Flickr
 
Wine
 
No surprise that a country known for its great wine would have tonnes of words for it. The funny thing is many of the slang terms like “le pinard, le picrate, le pive,” refer to cheap vino. Yes, bad wine is even possible in France. The proper word for wine of course is ‘vin’.
 
Photo: Neil Conway/ Flickr
 
Children
 
France saw its lowest birth rate last year in over a decade, but its number of slang words for children is doing just fine. In the street you’re likely to hear “la gosse, un/e gamin/e, le môme” for little ones. “Enfant” is the proper word. And for kids you're likely to hear “les gosses” in more informal settings.
 
Photo: Pascal Pavani/ AFP
 
Criminal
 
The criminal underworld is awash with jargon, presumably in order to cloak its nefarious activities. Here are just a few of the French slang or informal terms for crooks: “le voyou, le truand, la racaille, le malfrat (from malfaiteur)”, although some may not be considered as slang. The proper term is “criminel”.
 
Photo: Victor Casale/ Flickr
 
Police
 
Cops seem to employ just about as much slang and jargon as their criminal counterparts. Civilians have taken up the practice of not always flatteringly referring to police as “les flics, les keufs, les poulets, les schmitts” in France. Just remember “policier” is always polite.
 
Photo: Boris Horvat/ Flickr
 
Work 
 
When it comes to work the French are often keen to call it anything but the normal word for it. They will frequently use “le boulot, le taf, le job, la bosse” to talk about their occupation. The formal word is “travail”.
 
Photo: FortuneLiveMedia/ Flickr
 
Food 
 
Many, many French expressions use food to paint a picture, which is perhaps some manifestation of the country’s obsession with what’s on the table. However, when referring to food in general you are most likely to hear “la bouffe” or its cousin the verb “bouffer”. When you want to impress, better use the word “nourriture” for food or “repas” for meal or “manger” (to eat).
 
Photo: LocalJapanTimes/ Flickr
 
Boyfriend
 
As affairs of the heart can be complicated, it’s perhaps fitting that there is a slew of words to describe one’s male romantic partner in France. There is “le mec, le copain, le loulou”. If in doubt the term “petit ami” is always safe.
 

Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP
 
Girlfriend
 
French ladies are known in the Anglo world for their trim figure, effortless style and top notch parenting skills. But in France their boyfriends often refer to them with the not always respectful words such as “la nana, la copine, la gonzesse, la meuf, la loulotte”. If you want to be polite “petite amie” is a sure bet.
 
Photo: Francisco Osorio/ Flickr
 
Hello/Goodbye
 
The first Frech words you'll be taught are Bonjour and Au revoir. Don't us wrong they are useful, in fact “bonjour” is probably the most important word in French.
 
But in informal situations in France you are much more likely to hear “salut” which can also be used to ssay goodbye or even “Coucou”. For goodbye you'll often hear peple just sat “A Plus” or even “bisous”, which means kisses.
 
This is by far the most important word in French
 
 
A drink (of the alcoholic kind)
 
The French are avid drinkers, behind only Russians and Brits for the title of world’s biggest consumer of alcohol. When a French friend invites you out for a drink it will be a “le verre, le pot, le coup”. These phrases are generally OK in polite company.
 
Photo: Malias/ Flickr
 
Sleep 
 
The working Frenchman’s refrain of “Metro, Boulot, Dodo” (Metro, work, sleep) takes its third part from this slang term for shut-eye. However, “dodo” is primarily baby talk, so it’s not quite as street tough as some of the slang you’ve seen here. 'Pioncer' is more grown up, and refers more to having a nap. The world “sommeil” is just fine when talking to adults.
 
Photo: Agoode/ Flickr
 
School 
 
With kids being behind most slang words it's not surprising that there is a slang word for school, which is “bahut”. And it's the same for university, which you will probably hear students refer to as “le fac”. “Ecole” and “université” are the formal words to use. It's worth noting that “bahut” is also slang for taxi and truck as well. It's pronounced [bah u].
 
Photo: Rune Mathison/ Flickr
 
Clothes
 
If you hear a French person talking about their clothes, which you will do a lot in Paris, your likely to hear the word “fringues”, which is the slang version of “vêtements”. And there's also a slang verb for “to get dressed” – “se fringuer” – that you can use instead of “s'habiller”.
 
Photo: Harika Reddy/ Flickr
 
Cigarette
 
And finally it will come as no surprise to anyone that the French, famous for their smoking habits, have a few different words for cigarettes. Whereas we would say “fags”, “ciggies” or “smokes” they will say “clope” or “sèche”. Best stick to “cigarette” if you are in formal surroundings.
 
Photo: Denis Charlet/ AFP
 
Family members
 
Members of family: There are plenty of slang names for family members in France: “frangine” for sister (soeur), “frangin” for brother (frere) or frérot, which would be used like Anglo 'bro', and extends to casually greeting friends, too.
 
Then there is the slightly derogatory “les vieux”, which is used to refer to parents, to the distinctly derogatory “belle-doche” which is an alternative to “belle-mere” for mother-in-law. Warning: only use if you're certain she's not around! Oh and you might hear the family dog referred to as a “clebard” rather than a “chien”.
 
Photo: Hammiam/ Flickr
 
To express that you like something
 
And lastly, if someone tells you that they “kiffe” your new hair cut, take it as a compliment. “Kiffer” means “to like” in a cool, hip way. However, don't bother telling an elderly person that you “kiffe” anything of theirs. The likelihood of them knowing what you mean is slim.
 
Another way you might hear French people describing things they like, is by calling it “chanmé(/e)”. Like a lot of French slang, it came from another word being inverted, in this case “méchant” and means “wicked”. So you will understand why older people may not view this as a positive word, either. 
 
Photo: Nestor Galina/ Flickr
 
An original https://www.thelocal.fr/20140415/everyday-slang-you-need-in-france version of this story appeared on The Local in April, 2014.
 
Photo: RedBat/ Flickr
 
 

An original https://www.thelocal.fr/20140415/everyday-slang-you-need-in-france version of this story appeared on The Local in April, 2014.

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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