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.
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).
Remember being corrected by a teacher in my teenage years and told: “it’s pronounced ‘merci beaucoup’ not ‘merci beau cul’”
— Evan O’Connell (@evanoconnell) November 17, 2020
Turns out, O'Connell was not alone. Several others testified to having unwittingly complimented butts when aiming for a polite 'thank you'.
being told by French head of production, after I’d finished one of MANY phone calls to our warehouse in Paris that whenever I said “merci beaucoup”, I pronounced it more like “merci beau cul”. …Thank you, nice ass!
— ✨Hells Bells✨ (@h_bomb_84) November 17, 2020
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).
From jams to cereals, several other readers said to have made the same mistake.
Love it. Heard similar, that a couple were entertaining & learner wife said she preferred French jam because less préservatifs. French speaking husband muttered grimly ” not so lumpy”.
— Pam Kelly ?️ (@PamKelly) November 18, 2020
‘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.
On an online dating site in a chat. I wanted to say “I’d like to show you” je veux te montrer BUT i said je veux te monter. She blocked me immediately. ?♂️
— David Bizer (@bizer) November 17, 2020
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.
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').
Explaining to a colleague “J'ai perdu l'habite (la bite)” Instead of “J'ai perdu l'habitude”
— shmed (@marky_shmed) November 17, 2020
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.
Not me but once in French class my friend responded to a question about what she did over the weekend with “je suis restée chez moi et j'ai joué avec ma chatte” ?
— Megan Clement (@MegClement) November 17, 2020
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.