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LA BELLE VIE

La Belle Vie: How to toast in France and the essential French grammar trick

From where English is best spoken in France to a helpful French grammar trick you need to know and how to toast the French way, our weekly newsletter La Belle Vie offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.

La Belle Vie: How to toast in France and the essential French grammar trick
People toast glasses of a Rose wine (Photo by BORIS HORVAT / AFP)

La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter is published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences or adding your email to the sign-up box in this article.

If you have visited France before, you’ve likely heard the advice that you should learn a few standard French phrases to get by: how to order food, ask where the toilet is, and ask for directions. While some might say this is just a way to be polite, others argue it is a necessity…because the French don’t really speak English.

But is that true? Well, according to a recent study, France did come in last place in terms of English proficiency when compared to its EU counterparts. But France is no monolith, and there are some parts of the country that are easier to get by as an English-speaker than others. You might be surprised to hear that Paris is not even France’s top city when it comes to English proficiency.

Worst in the EU? Just how well (or badly) do the French speak English?

I can sympathise with how difficult speaking a foreign language can be – learning French is quite a challenge in itself, and I definitely would not come out on top if an EU-wide ranking on the ability to speak French were to be released. Personally, my greatest French-language foe will always be gender. 

Thankfully, there are some tricks for correctly guessing the genders of French nouns (aside from memorising a dictionary). One such tip is to look at the endings of words –  in fact, linguists at Canada’s McGill University figured out that the end of a French noun gives away its gender in at least 80 percent of cases.

Revealed: The simple trick to get the gender of French nouns (mostly) right

And if you have managed to have a conversation in French where you gendered at least a couple of nouns properly, then you should probably celebrate the accomplishment! You might even consider proposing a toast. 

You might have thought that toasts were reserved for formal events – and while that might be true in Anglophone countries, the custom is more common in France. You might even hear someone give a toast at what feels like a casual dinner party. l’Art de trinquer – or the art of toasting – might feel like a skill the French are born with, but it is definitely a talent you can hone (and impress people with). 

Bottoms up! Five things to know about proposing a toast in France

On the topic of things that can be toasted, people in France (and around the world) will be raising glasses full of one drink this week: the Beaujolais Nouveau. But this red wine unfortunately struggles with a negative reputation – with a fair share of taste related complaints (some people think it tastes like bananas) and claims that it gives famously bad hangovers. 

The Local spoke with two wine experts to get to the bottom of whether the stereotype is earned, and found out that maybe we have been a bit harsh with Beaujolais Nouveau. In fact, wine from this French region has been disparaged for centuries all thanks to one Duke of Burgundy.

Does Beaujolais Nouveau wine deserve its bad reputation?

But there is one type of wine that is universally loved in France, and that is Vin chaud. In English we might call this drink “mulled wine,” but there are many different names for Vin chaud across Europe.  As for France specifically, people have been drinking a version of Vin chaud since Roman times.

These days, Vin chaud is practically synonymous with the Christmas holiday season. As the weather gets colder, the large, steaming pots of Vin chaud come out. Whether it is walking through a Christmas market or simply strolling the streets of Paris, Vin chaud is always an enjoyable winter beverage in France. Here are the things worth knowing about this French, cold-weather tradition: 

Four things you need to know about Vin chaud in France

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LA BELLE VIE

La Belle Vie: The secret to the French love of strikes, comics and sexy accents

From the French love affair with comic books to why strikes happen on certain days and unpacking the myth of a sexy French accent, this week's La Belle Vie newsletter offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.

La Belle Vie: The secret to the French love of strikes, comics and sexy accents

La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter is published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to your newsletter preferences in “My account”.

People across France – both young and old – are gearing up for the 50th edition of the Angoulême International Comics festival – the third biggest comic book festival in the world.

To honour the occasion, I got in touch with a few experts in bande dessinée (French for comic books) to understand why French people love comics so much.

Bande dessinée: Why do the French love comic books so much?

This year for Christmas, I was gifted three bandes dessinées, and so far I have read one – the French, graphic novel version of Brave New World. Each year, I resolve to read more books in French, but when it comes down to it I either fall asleep or end up getting about halfway through before giving up and picking up a reliable English-language read. 

Oddly enough, I have found that bandes dessinées are a great way to read in French without the pressure of having to make it through dense, complex French literature. The pictures along the way help you to understand if you miss a word or two, and it feels more relaxing.

Six French ‘bandes dessinées’ to start with

The other big topic in l’Hexagone lately has been the government’s controversial pension reform plans, and the strikes to go along with them. Strikes are commonplace in France, so much so that our “Strikes” page on The Local France’s website is one of our most active tabs. (So if you find yourself in France during a strike, it might be worth bookmarking that link.)

But there is some science behind when these strikes occur. For instance, you may have noticed that they tend to fall on weekdays, and more specifically – Tuesdays and Thursdays. This is no coincidence.

Reader question: Why do French strikes always seem to be on Tuesdays and Thursdays?

If you have spent any time in France – either as a tourist or living here full-time – you have probably also found yourself in front of the Google search bar typing out the simple question “Why are the French rioting/on strike?”

The Local decided to allow Google to autofill some commonly asked questions about France, and we found that people have been pondering questions from “Why is France called France?” to “Why are the French always surrendering?” So in response, we have taken some time to dive into the FAQs about France.

Sex, strikes and surrender: The most commonly asked questions about France and the French

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a commonly Googled question – one people have been curious about for over 150 years – was “Why are the French so romantic?”

However, BBC Journalist Hélène Daouphars found herself asking a different question altogether: “Is France the home of romance or a place of rampant sexual harassment?” Daouphars made a documentary about sexual harassment in France, taking a look back at how #MeToo played out in the land of the Gauls. 

In an article for The Local, Daouphars explained why she chose this topic:

Is France the home of romance or a place of rampant sexual harassment?

In addition to France having a reputation for being the home of romance and love, the French language is also regularly named as the ‘sexiest’ accent for men, women and even cartoon skunks.

But according to linguists, there probably is not anything intrinsically attractive about the French accent, and perhaps it’s really all in our imagination.

Mythbusters: Is French really a ‘sexy’ accent?

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