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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: French joy, boulangeries and those notorious ‘false friends’

From why the French are so happy and where to find all of Paris' boulangeries to all the things you should do at least once in France, our new weekly newsletter La Belle Vie offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.

La Belle Vie: French joy, boulangeries and those notorious 'false friends'

La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter will be 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.

The annual French mood survey has been released, and this year it continued to dispel stereotypes that the French are a grumpy bunch. The 2021 results for the survey, which was produced by the Elabe Institute, found that a strong majority of French people are “happy” and about a third of respondents even said they were “very happy.”

While there were some differences amongst French people, overall the results showed that the population remained content, even amid rising fears about global phenomenons like the climate crisis.

I have some theories as to why the French are happy, but perhaps that question would be better answered by readers of The Local, who have their own ideas of what makes France so great?

Readers reveal: What makes the quality of life in France so high

My theory of why many French people are happy has a lot to do with boulangeries being so accessible, and it’s not just because of easy access to warm, fresh bread. I know that it may sound a bit silly, but I believe there is something about being nearby to community spaces where you can unexpectedly run into neighbours and have a quick chat – all within walking distance.

As an American, particularly one who grew up in a suburban area, it is easy to never see your neighbours, as we spend so much time in our cars by ourselves.

One of my favourite things about France is that no matter where you are in the country – in a large city or a small town – you can almost always a take a short stroll to the local bakery.

MAPS: How many Parisians live more than 5 minutes from a boulangerie?

For those who are travelling in France, getting a small breakfast from the nearby boulangerie is almost a rite of passage. Personally, when friends and family visit, one of my favourite things to do is to surprise them with a full spread of croissants and pains au chocolat on their first morning in France. 

But bakeries are not all that France has to offer, as you likely know. From art and culture to sport and activities, there are plenty of things you should try in France in addition to the delicious food.

19 things you should do in France at least once

And you may not have realised that you can enjoy this typically American – dare I say – holiday in France, but it has indeed crossed the Atlantic and it appears here to stay. 

Black Friday does exist in France, despite attempts to get rid of it via boycotts, but it might be a bit different. Part of that has to do with France’s relationship to consumerism, but an even bigger part has to do with how the country regulates sales – in the effort of protecting small businesses.

But don’t worry – you can still expect to see some nice markdowns.

What to expect from Black Friday in France this year

A lot of people in France like to do their Black Friday shopping online, but maybe you should avoid doing so on a computer with a French keyboard.

When I first moved to France, I was told a rumour that the AZERTY keyboard was specifically developed to be difficult, so that it would take people longer to type. I cannot say whether that myth has any merit, but I would guess that any foreigner used to a QWERTY keyboard – and has tested out the notorious AZERTY keyboard – has their own, individual horror story of attempting to type a simple sentence with the seemingly illogical key placements (I mean…why press shift to end a sentence?)

The AZERTY keyboard certainly has its quirks, and if you’re brave enough to make the switch, you should know a few things about the device beforehand:

6 things to know about France’s ‘illogical’ AZERTY keyboard

And finally, you might be very emu if someone requires you to switch keyboards before you are ready – and I’m not talking about the long-legged bird. Emu is a ‘false friend’ – it actually means “emotional” or “moving” in French. 

There are many of these false friends between English and French – and some are trickier than others. It’s best to go through the list to try to remember them – or to laugh at the mistakes you have made in the past. While in the moment it was not very funny, looking back I always chuckle at the number of times I have said “exhibition” in French when I meant to say “exposition” – the correct word for a public art display.

I’ll let you enjoy googling the difference.

From rude to mince: 21 French ‘false friends’ that look English

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