‘Beautiful butts and condom-free baguettes’: Readers in France reveal their embarrassing French mistakes

'Beautiful butts and condom-free baguettes': Readers in France reveal their embarrassing French mistakes
Photo: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition and Simon Godfrey on Unsplash
Learning French is a challenge and we all make mistakes, but some are more mortifying than others.

From faux amis (false friends) to words that, to a foreign ear, sound exactly the same but mean something completely different, the French language is full of traps to fall into.

Because it's nice to know that everyone gets their tongue twisted from time to time when trying to learn French – and because the mistakes are sometimes hilarious – we asked our readers to tell us about their most embarrassing French errors.

Here's what they came up with.

'Nice arse'

Evan O'Connel, who originally came up with the idea in a thread he posted on Twitter, said his French teacher used to tell him off for pronouncing merci beaucoup (thank you very much) as merci beau cul (thank you, beautiful arse).

 

Turns out, O'Connell was not alone. Several others testified to having unwittingly complimented butts when aiming for a polite 'thank you'.

 

However, that one was far from the most shameful one on the list.

'I like that it's condom-free'

Moving up a notch of shame, one recurrent mistake was committed by several of our readers, including Connie Regan's mother.

Commenting on our Facebook post, Regan said: “My mother, while waiting for a bus in France, told a stranger how much she likes French bread parce qu’il n’y a pas de préservatifs.”

What her mother meant to say, was that she liked how French bread did not contain chemicals or other substances to prolong their shelf-life.

So she translated 'preservatives' to préservatifs, which in French means ‘condom’.

The right word is conservateur, as in conservation des aliments (food preservation).

READ ALSO 11 French words and expressions that English-speakers get all wrong

From jams to cereals, several other readers said to have made the same mistake. 

 

‘I want to climb you’

Some mistakes were more aggressively sexual, albeit involuntary so.

Chatting on an online dating site, David Bizer tried to tell the woman he was speaking to that he wanted to show her something: je veux te montrer – I want to show you.

“But I said je veux te monter. She blocked me immediately,” Bizer said.

 

Montrer means 'to show', monter means 'to climb' (sometimes sexually).

Colette Daubner confessed to have made the same mistake: “I thought I told my daughter's father-in-law that I wanted to show him something but had actually said I wanted to climb up on him…”

These types of mistakes – wanting to say something but pronouncing it slightly wrong and saying something completely different – were extremely common.

'Funeral? Fun!'

Ian Curd said: “I once said 'je n'aime pas trop des conards' when refusing someone who was politely trying to serve me duck at a lunch.”

Connard means 'jackass' or 'jerk' in French. 'Duck' is canard.

Another person said he had mixed up l'habitude (habit) with la bite (vulgar word for 'penis').

 

Janet Howard recalled how in a café she said chiotte (toilet) instead of chiot (puppy).

“Stunned silence throughout the cafe and then lots of giggles,” she said.

While Patricia Howard thought her neighbour confided to her, during their first barbecue back in 2015, that her husband aime coucher avec des autres (sleeping with others) rather than causer avec des autres (chat with others).

“I got my causer and coucher muddled up. We thought we were living next to swingers. Once we told them, they thought it was hilarious,” Howard wrote on The Local's Facebook page.

Chantal Ingram had a work incident when her boss told her he had gone to an enterrement (funeral). 

“I responded “oh cool!” thinking it was short for enterrement de vie de garcon (stag due). It wasn't,” she said.

Other mistakes reported by readers included mixing up baisser (lower) and baiser (fuck), j'ai chaud (I'm hot) and je suis chaud (I'm keen/I'm horny), affirming to be raciste (racist) instead of résister (resisting), or shouting couchons (let's have sex) to cat calling construction workers instead of cochons (pigs).

But the golden crown of embarrassment was probably the one from the tweet below, which we felt we had no choice but to include in this round up.

 

Chatte is French for 'pussy' (and not the cat version). The real French word for cat, is chat. 

Je suis restée chez moi et j'ai joué avec ma chatte – I stayed at home and played with my pussy.

For the full list of mistakes, check out our Twitter thread HERE, or Facebook thread HERE or Evan Osnos' thread HERE.


Member comments

  1. I once introduced my wife to a collegue as ‘C’est mon marie’. He corrected me saying, ‘Non, c’est ta femme’.
    On another occassion I wanted to tell the guy at a takeaway that I did not want the fried egg in my taco. I couldn’t pronounce the French word for egg properly and he could not understand. So finally, I gathered all the French in my arsenal and said ‘ Sans la fille de poulet, sil vous plait’.
    He understood finally, and we had a good laugh.

  2. Some of these errors stem from the desire of some people to appear cool and with-it by using street expressions. The person that said d’habit instead d’hab – slang for d’habitude – thought he was being cool by using slang. I had my fill of embarrassing moments in English when I came to the USA, so I know what it is like. What is more, try not to use curse words either, lest your habitude has you uttering them at the wrong moment. LEARN HOW TO USE AND SAY THINGS CORRECTLY BEFORE YOU TRY TO USE STREET LANGUAGE.

    I must say that I have a bone to pick with The Local which keeps showing examples of current slang, which I deem inappropriate for people who have not mastered the French language. I would venture a guess that 80% of the time when foreigners use slang, they misuse it.

  3. «chatte» is the French word for “female cat” – unfortunate double meaning, as for ‘pussy’ in English. So, if you hear someone talking about «chatte» beware of context!

  4. Very timely, thank you! Learning some weather phrases this week, one was “Les temperatures seront on baisse”. My teacher politely corrected my pronuciation of “baisse” with the advice that “otherwise it means something else entirely. Now I know what.

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.