SHARE
COPY LINK

LA BELLE VIE

La Belle Vie: The French you never learned in school and all about Christmas

From strange and surprising festivals and discussions around finances to all the French expressions you'll need this Christmas, 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: The French you never learned in school and all about Christmas
Marseille fans cheer in 2019 (Photo by Alex Edelman / 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.

The first time I went out for drinks with French friends, I confidently walked up to the bar and said “Puis-je avoir une pinte de blonde, s’il vous plaît?” As soon as we walked away from the bar, one of my new friends started laughing. At first, I though the was laughing because of my accent, or perhaps I had misgendered beer…though I was pretty sure “une pinte” was correct.

Once we sat down at the table, he told me (and everyone else) that I had spoken some of the most formal French he had ever heard. Perhaps he was exaggerating a bit, but after that experience I never used the phrase “puis-je” again.

There are a lot of French phrases and formalities that are treated as essential in school, but once you get to France you realise that no one actually uses them. For me, the most glaringly evident was “puis-je,” but there are plenty of other expressions whose only use is inside an English classroom. 

Zut alors! The French phrases you learn but don’t really need

If you are travelling around France, there is a good bit of regional slang that you likely never learned in school as well. For example, if you decide to see a football match in Marseille, you might hear people chanting “On craint dégun!” Even those who have become fluent in the French language might find themselves scratching their heads after this one. That is because “Dégun” in the south-east is slang for “no one” – so the expression means “we fear no one!”

Unsurprisingly, a decent amount of the regional slang has to do with food, though pétanque certainly has its own special vocabulary.

The regional French slang you’ll need for travelling around France

Among the other things you likely missed learning about in the classroom are France’s nine strangest festivals. One involves testing the best and most authentic sounding cri de cochon (pig squeal), while another tests contestants ability to eat as much tripe as possible with their hands tied behind their backs.

My personal favourite takes place in the Pyrenees mountains and involves a man dressing in bear skins and eventually being caught and “skinned” by the villagers to commemorate the start of spring. 

Bears, lemons and pig-squealing: 9 of France’s strangest festivals

But there are some traditions you may have been taught in school – perhaps the importance of the delicious Christmas desert – a Bûche du Noël (Christmas log) – a chocolate or chestnut roulade covered in festive decorations. Christmas in France is a special time, with illuminated garlands spelling out “Joyeuses Fêtes” along the boulevards, and Christmas trees decorating the entrances to buildings from offices to apartment complexes.

5 things to know about a traditional French Christmas

If you are preparing for Christmas celebrations in France, you may have been warned to avoid chatting about some topics, such as money, with French people. Discussing finances and personal wealth is still seen as a bit taboo in France, though that might be changing with the younger generation, according to Ilana Levy, a bilingual freelance journalist living in Paris.

There is some interesting history behind the French tendency to avoid outward, flashy signs of wealth, preferring to associate money with refinement.

Is it true that the French don’t like to talk about money?

And if you are wondering what you should say during Christmas festivities, The Local has a helpful guide of all the phrases you will need during the holidays. From asking about finishing off leftovers and what your niece or nephew got from Father Christmas to hoping for a white, snowy Christmas, these are the expressions you’ll need.

Vive le vent: The French phrases you need at Christmas time

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

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?

SHOW COMMENTS