Our children make fun of my French grammar mistakes all the time. Our son Olivier jumps on me: “Mom, can't you get it right?? It's LA grenouille not LE grenouille!” OK, so a frog is female. Our soft-hearted daughter Alexia is kinder to me: “Mom, remember that table is always feminine; it's LA table, not LE table.” I've told them that my brain has cooked in the errors and they'll just have to live with them.
I got a good laugh out of my latest faux pas yesterday! I was booking a one way Eurostar ticket from Paris to London — stupid me for doing it on loudspeaker. The Eurostar reservationist asked if it was a round trip: “un aller-retour, Madame?” I replied: “No, sens unique s'il vous plait.” Everyone present started to giggle and I realized my mistake. Sens unique literally means “one way” — but as in road signs and one way streets.
That's not how you say you say a One Way Ticket! I should have said “Un aller simple” or “A simple go.” So now the team is calling me “Madelyn du Sens Unique” or “One-way madders” …
These phrases are called “Faux Amis” in French or False Friends. It's fascinating how many there are!
Here are a few common mistakes I've made over the years:
1.) A classic mistake we make in restaurants is confusing the word for entrée with the main course.
- In French an entrée means the first, or starter course of a meal –(or hors d'hoeuvres — but that is an old fashioned phrase).
- So say entrée for your first course and say plat principal for your main dish!
2.) To order dinner, you would say “J’aimerais commander” or “Je voudrais commander” and not “Ordonner.” Ordonner means to command.
3.) Éventuellement means possibly, not eventually or finally: “J'irai éventuellement au supermarché” — “I'll possibly get to the supermarket.”
To say “I eventually cleaned out the closet” it's “J’ai finalement rangé mon placard.”
I found an interesting article about French Faux Amis here. Have you made similar “lost in translation” mistakes? If so, please share them with us!