Where’s the Fire?

This weekend, I celebrated my fifth Bastille Day in France, and I’ve done something different every single year. Back in 2007, I was en route from Marseille to Washington after a vacation in Provence: nothing too special to report from the short layover at Charles de Gaulle. In 2009, I picnicked with Michel and his friends in the Bois de Vincennes and happened to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower fireworks from the Louvre on our way home. In 2011, Michel and I trekked down to Pont des Invalides to watch the fireworks from a better vantage point. They were pretty impressive. Last year, we just stayed home … but by doing so, we got to watch from our window fireworks in four different Paris suburbs: La Courneuve, Le Bourget, Drancy, and Bobigny. This year, we kicked it up a notch. We went to my first ever …

Firemen’s Ball Continue reading Where’s the Fire?

franecdote 1688 : King William’s War

You might remember from this recent post that a “franecdote” is an interesting fact or story from “THAT year in French history” where “THAT year” is this year minus the number of Facebook fans je parle américain has every Thursday night.

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You might also recall that I’m in the process of publishing these little tidbits on the blog itself after having published them already on Facebook. Today’s franecdote is from last Thursday, in fact, when je parle américain had 325 Facebook fans. So …

The year 2013 — 325 fans = 1688, and the franecdote is …

<drumroll>

King William’s War

<cue dramatic music> Continue reading franecdote 1688 : King William’s War

franecdote 1694 : In So Many Words

Used under Creative Commons
Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic License

I started a new Thursday night tradition a few weeks ago called “THAT year in French history” where I publish a “franecdote” (an interesting fact or story from French history) on the blog’s Facebook fanpage. The key is that “THAT year” depends on the number of Facebook fans je parle américain has every Thursday night. Without going into a long explanation since you can read more about it here …

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… the first franecdote was published on June 20, 2013, when je parle américain had 319 Facebook fans, so it was for the year

1694

And now, here it is for the first time on the blog itself … Continue reading franecdote 1694 : In So Many Words

Be Our Guest

A while back, I wrote a little piece about one of the many advantages of knowing “theatre people”: getting free tickets to big shows! Well, last night, I enjoyed yet another perk: getting invited to press previews of upcoming productions. “Which one?” you ask …

La Belle et la Bête

Beauty and the Beast Continue reading Be Our Guest

“Let’s stay civil …”

I complain a good bit about the Paris Métro: despite its art nouveau charm, it’s often a crowded, noisy, and filthy experience. I usually don’t give the RATP (the company that operates the transit system) much credit either, but I have to tip my hat to the recently launched third generation of its “civility” campaign, “Restons civils sur toute la ligne” (“Let’s stay civil on the whole line”). Like earlier “seasons,” the campaign uses clever little “proverbs” and animal characters to remind passengers how to conduct themselves in the Métro … and the subtle nod to the fables of La Fontaine is so, so apropos for a French audience. The ads also integrate graphics representing transit lines into the proverbs. Only time will tell if the campaign will have any real impact on the daily transit experience, but until it does, we can at least enjoy the ads … Continue reading “Let’s stay civil …”

French Kiss: Don’t Forget Your Galoshes

From the 1995 Lawrence Kasdan romantic comedy French Kiss
starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline

This might come as a surprise to you but, before today, the French didn’t even have an officially-sanctioned word for one of their most famous romantic exports:

French Kissing

That’s right. The very practice that returning World War I soldiers nicknamed after the French has only just now gotten its own entry in the French dictionary. This racy new vocabulary word?

galocher

Continue reading French Kiss: Don’t Forget Your Galoshes

The “All Good” Law

Languages are always evolving, and the speed at which they’re doing it has only increased in recent years. Broader international travel, continued waves of migration, and the dawn of the Information Age have made cultural exchange, including the importation of words from other languages, quicker and easier than ever before. There’s a clear trade imbalance, though, and it’s English that’s the chief exporter these days. And the French are very sensitive to that. Continue reading The “All Good” Law

Le petit chapeau

Disclaimer: I’m not a linguist (yet) so, if you are one, please be gentle in your reactions if I’ve gotten something completely wrong …

As English speakers, one of the first things we notice about French is the widespread use of diacritical marks — or “accents” to be less linguistic about it. For students of the language (native speakers and non-native speakers alike) they can sometimes be the bane our existence. Accents obviously aren’t necessary — we don’t really use them in English, after all* — but they serve important functions in the languages that do use them. Sometimes, they denote a change in the pronunciation of the underlying letter. In French, for example, ça and ca don’t sound the same. Sometimes, though, accents don’t change the pronunciation at all; instead, they serve an orthographic (spelling) function to distinguish homophones. For example, la and là sound exactly the same in French but have entirely different meanings. Even though modern French is full of accents (the accent aigu, the accent grave, the tréma, etc.), they were introduced relatively late to the language. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find many diacritical marks in a text from the Middle Ages. So what explains their introduction? Well, a comprehensive account of the evolution of French accents is thankfully far too complex to go into here, but I do want to talk about one in particular that has an interesting story and implications for English-speaking students of French:

le petit chapeau … the little hat … the circumflex Continue reading Le petit chapeau

“I can’t believe it’s not butter!”

SPOILER ALERT: This post may contain spoilers for fans of Mad Men who aren’t up to date with the episode that aired on May 12, 2013.

So, I’ve been watching Mad Men pretty religiously since the sixth season debuted on April 7, but I have to be honest: I’m having a tough time getting into this season. There are a few things that are bugging me, but nothing more so than Don Draper‘s affair with his neighbor, Sylvia Rosen. I’m so over that storyline that every time I see Linda Cardellini onscreen now, I just sigh and roll my eyes. Thankfully, though, it seems the tryst may have finally met its long overdue death. There have been a few bright spots for me so far this season, of course: the wake for Roger‘s mother in the season premiere was one. The history nerd that I am, I’m also digging the show’s tangential nods to the events of 1968. It’s given me an opportunity to discuss that turbulent period of US history with Michel: from Tet, to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to Chicago ’68. But even though Sunday’s episode ended with the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, I found myself talking about a completely different history, a French history … the history of margarine. Continue reading “I can’t believe it’s not butter!”

Enter Stage Left

Molière in the role of Caesar in Corneille’s “The Death of Pompey,”
by Nicolas Mignard

If you’re a fan of je parle américain, you’ve probably noticed a recent decline in the frequency of my posts. That’s primarily because I’ve been so busy with what has to be my final semester of French language classes. Instead of writing for je parle américain, I’ve been summarizing French news articles, drafting letters to imaginary newspaper editors about the controversies of the day, outlining arguments for oral presentations, synthesizing multipage French documents into concise 100-word summaries without omitting anything essential … oh, and writing a play in French. Continue reading Enter Stage Left