Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you have said something in French to later discover that it meant something else?
I needed a new mattress in my flat so went to the local Conforama. There was a huge selection there and as I went round with the assistant I kept insisting that I needed a firm mattress. My French is very basic but I had looked up the translation for mattress which is matalas. She looked startled when I asked but took it in her stride. It wasn't until I had purchased it and was back in the car I realised that instead of a firm mattress, I had been asking for a matelot ferme (firm sailor) ... I've never had the courage to go back to that store!
Whilst launching The South of France Magazine at Olympia this year we met a lot of interesting people. They shared their experiences, dreams and their plans for the future.
One story in particular that still makes me chuckle is of an Englishman that had entered a cycle event in the South West of France. He raced hard and fast through the villages and past the vineyards, he pushed down hard on his pedals, the finishing line calling him to push harder and faster, he wanted to win so much.
His hard work and determination paid off as he crossed the finishing line in first place. After a short period of time the presentation ceremony began, the podium was surrounded by fellow cyclists and residents of the village. Third place was awarded, second place stepped up to receive his flowers and trophy, then came his moment. The crowd clapped and cheered as he stepped up onto the first place position, holding his trophy and flowers he threw his arms into the air and shouted, "Je suis Le Champignon!"
The cheering stopped, puzzled glances were exchanged and then laughter echoed around the podium. The gentleman had wanted to announce that he was the champion but mistook the word 'Champion' for 'Champignon' and so proudly informed the crowd that he was the mushroom.
I would like to thank the person that shared this story with us at Olympia which has enabled us to share it with our readers. If you have had a similar experience please email it to us and we will publish it.
The Champion 'Fun Guy'
Whilst on holiday in France with my family I became stuck in a one way street that was getting narrower and narrower, this wouldn't have been such a problem if I hadn't have been towing a caravan. I got out of my car to assess the situation ahead and it was clear that I had to reverse and find an alternative route. A car was behind me. The other driver also got out of his car to see what was happening. Having a limited understanding of the French language I used the word "renverser" which I believed to mean reverse, so I said to the driver behind me "Je vais vous renverser" which I later found out when translated means "I am going to run you over". I now understand why he rushed back to his car looking rather scared.
Before enrolling onto a course my French wasn't very good. After a few months of living in our village I decided to pluck up the courage and talk to the locals so whenever I met my neighbour in the square I always asked "Comment-êtes vous" as the literal translation of "How are you?"
Several weeks went by and I was finally informed that I was actually asking my neighbour if she was sane. That explains why she laughed every time!
I have really enjoyed reading about other peoples faux-pas, it's reassuring to know I'm not alone.
My best and most recent mistake happened on a hot day in July whilst walking around the local market. After buying my fruit I looked at the man on the stall and wanting to say that I was hot because of the summer sun, I said "Je suis chaud!" He raised his eyebrows and gave me a funny look, puzzled by his reaction I took my bags and left. The reason for his reaction was I had unknowingly told him that 'I' was hot, suggesting to him that I was a hot babe. I should have said "il fait chaud". I've never made that mistake again.
My sister-in-law made a mistake in a restaurant that I have heard many times. As the waiter cleared the table he took her plate that still had some food on it, she looked at him and said "je suis pleine". He replied "Félicitations à vous". Through my tears of laughter I explained that she had just told him she was pregnant.
She now uses the correct phrase which is "j'ai assez mangé".
Many years ago I worked on a campsite in Île de Ré, near La Rochelle. The guests were always well behaved and those that couldn't speak French would attempt a few words.
On one particular occasion a small group had booked in for a week, as the days went by their behaviour became loud and boisterous. Having had enough of their behaviour I had a chuckle with my colleagues. After presenting them with their evening meal I cheerfully wished them what they thought was "Bon appétit!", what I actually said was "Bande d'abrutis!" which translated means 'bunch of morons!' This was quite amusing as at every meal time for the rest of the week one man in the group always raised his glass and said to his friends, "Bande d'abrutis!"
Drawings by Mark Danaher © 2016
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