Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Funny French Sayings

I know, I know. You’re all thinking that I should have titled this post ‘Funny French Phrases’ to get the alliteration. I thought about it. I really, really did. Only… If I’d called them phrases that wouldn’t have had the same connotation, you see. ‘Sayings’ imply that they are used with some sort of generality, and that if you have a French sense of humour (or Canadian, or Russian, or Ugandan, etc.) that you’ll get the implication of the sentence in whatever language it is said. Phrases are just… phrases. No joke necessarily implied.
Anyway, that’s not what I’ve got for you today. What I have for you today is a feast of funny French sayings that I’ve been collecting over the last three weeks. Once I learned of the ‘rabbit in the house’ saying that Catherine explained to me, I wondered what other sayings I could find, and if any of them were similar enough that they had a match in English. Well, this is what I’ve found.  

1. C’est un equipe avec de bras casses.
This translates as ‘it’s a team with broken arms’ or ‘the players have broken arms’, and it’s used when (in something like a football match) one team is just destroying the other. For example, Team A shows up and plays hard, they score many, many points and run circles around Team B. Team B, despite how hard they try, just can’t keep up. They have ‘broken arms’ and are kind of useless.
            The best translation I have for this in English is ‘The other team wasn’t on the field.’ or ‘They (Team A) ran circles around them (Team B).’ I’ve also used ‘That wasn’t a game, that was a massacre.’ The last one is typically used when Team A beats Team B with a shut-out, or a really outrageous score. For example, the Canadian Women’s Olympic Hockey team when it played Turkey in Italy. The score was something like 16-1 for Canada. For all you non-hockey-watchers out there, a typical hockey score is something like 2-3, or 2-1. I have nothing against Turkey, and they played hard, but that wasn’t a game... that was a massacre.

2. Il n’y a pas un chat.
Apparently this one is quite common in the French speaking world. It translates as ‘There wasn’t a cat.’, meaning a place is so abandoned that there aren’t even alley cats to prowl around. 
That never happens at the Forquins house. There's always at least a cat around. In fact, her new favourite place to hang out is my bed. We hang out and do homework together, it's pretty exciting, I have to tell you.
            Anyway, I couldn’t think of an English saying to match this really. The closest thing I came to was actually a saying that implies the exact opposite; which is that a place is very, very busy. ‘They’re packed in there like sardines in a can!’ or ‘Everyone and their dog was at…’ are both English sayings I’ve heard to make a statement about how busy a place is. The first implying that people are stacked one on top of the other, shoulder to shoulder; the other implying that it wasn't good enough to just bring the whole family, the dog had to come too. It's kind of like saying 'They brought the kitchen sink.' 

Grissette, Asleep on my Bed
3. C’est bien, c’est mort!
            I laughed so hard when I heard this one; it translates to ‘It’s good, it’s dead.’ This saying is in reference to tourists when they eat at all of the big chain restaurants in a place like the Place de la Comedie. Like most tourist destinations, there are places in Montpellier where the locals eat, and places where the tourists eat. In all fairness, some of the food at these places is probably good. For example, my favourite little sorbet shop from 3 years ago is now one of those big chain restaurants, and their sorbet is still excellent; notably more expensive, but excellent. Other places… not so much.
            So, this saying is referencing the tourists who arrive in France, expecting to eat amazing French cuisine, but then frequent the tourist restaurants with their comparatively bad food and exclaim about how delicious it is. The joke then being that for a tourist, so long as the food served to them is dead, it’s considered delicious. How very French, no? They’re serious about their cuisine here.
            In English, we call those restaurants and places that price their commodities for tourists instead of locals (which is to say, very expensively) ‘tourist traps’. The idea being that tourists are kind of like herd animals, so they're easy for hunters (or shop owners) to trap. 

4. A Taille-Humaine
            This one is usually tagged on as part of a sentence, ex: Montpellier est une ville a taille-humaine. The literal translation is that Montpellier is a ‘human sized’ city. Well… initially I just kind of looked at this one funny. Aren’t most cities human-sized? It’s not like we build entire cities on the scale of elephants, or mice. Of course they’re human-sized, humans occupy cities! No no, what this expression means is that the city is small enough that you aren’t lost in the crush of humanity seen in metropolitan centers, but that the city isn’t so small you know everyone’s business. The city is ‘human-sized’ mentally and socially.
            We have a saying with a similar sentiment in English, which is ‘At …, you’re a person, not a number.’ So for example at many major Canadian universities, there are so many undergrads that students are reduced to being identified by just their student ID number, and whether or not they’ve paid tuition. It’s very impersonal. In contrast, at a smaller university where students have an opportunity to get to know their professors and the other students more intimately, students are perceived as people.

This last one is slightly less than PG. So be warned.

5. Faire le Pipe.
            Tonight at dinner, the Forquins and I were having fun naming different instruments, and talking about them. We covered the stringed instruments, and then it came out that Alexandre (my host brother) played the flute in the French equivalent of jr. and sr. high school band. You have to understand, Alexandre is a bit of a bigger fellow, with a friendly, round face and a bit of a friendly, round body. That being said, he’s also very tall. He has to duck to get through the doors in the house here. So he’s a big man, playing a little instrument. It was a very comic image.
The action Michel matched with the word ‘flute’ though was more reminiscent of a clarinet. I double-checked. Nope, it wasn’t a clarinet, they reassured me it was a flute. Ok, now I needed to establish whether or not I’d missed anything, because my limited vocabulary and the actual word in French weren’t matching. I brought my hands up beside my face and asked about a silver flute. Ah, they understood the disconnect. What they meant was that Alexandre played a pipe in band. Like a piccolo or a penny-whistle. Ah! That made sense. I very logically then tried to say ‘oh, he played the penny-whistle’, which came out as ‘Ah, tu fais le pipe.’ with my meager French. I want it noted that this made perfect sense in my head.
The whole family burst out laughing. Alexandre actually nearly fell out of his chair, and Michel choked on his olives. Catherine was initially very giggly, but then became very serious. “Kendra,” she started, “do not ever tell someone that you ‘fais le pipe’.”
… what? Oh no. What did I say this time? It turns out that ‘playing the pipe’ in French translates to ‘giving a blow-job’ in English. Just for the record, that’s nothing like playing a piccolo, which is what I was aiming for. On the bright side, I’m really glad that was sorted out at the dinner table instead of in the street, or on the tram with some random bystander. That could have been… notably more awkward.

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