French Vocabulary Faux Pas

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I was nervous standing backstage at The Playhouse in San Anselmo, California holding Joanne’s hand, when I got the most excruciating headache. Ughhh, someone was smoking. I have a chronic condition called sinusitis, and when I inhale smoke it causes my sinuses to swell intensely. I dropped Joanne’s hand and began my panicked search for the unidentified smoker. Joanne followed timidly behind me. I found him in the lobby…in his single-breasted black leather jacket and his thick silver-rimmed sunglasses, in spite of the fact that the sun had set over an hour ago and he was indoors. “Excuse me sir, are you smoking? Do you see the sign?” I pointed to the sign above the tall wooden double doors, my entire right arm extended with so much power it felt like it might rocket off into space at any moment. “The sign says No food, no drink and NO SMOKING! I HAVE SYPHILLIS!” Joanne elbows me. “Sinusitis.”

Seven years later, I am living in Paris, having, I hope, improved my English skills since the syphilis/sinusitis episode, and am now desperately struggling with the French vocabulary. I am under strict surveillance by my friend Laura, who speaks both English and French fluently. Unfortunately, due to the fact that Laura wakes up 2PM and is habitually at least 15 minutes late for our meetings, it is not possible for her to be on watch at all times.

I was waiting for Laura in front of the fountain at Saint-Michel when a man in a ribbed navy blue turtleneck with cheap blond highlights in his hair approached me with a dangerous smile. He leaned over my right shoulder and whispered, “Je fais peter les veines du cul,” and walked away. As it was French, I did not understand so I smiled back politely and responded with a simple, “Merci.” Laura arrived as the man was leaving and asked me what the man had said. I relayed what I could recall of his mysterious message. Laura’s mouth dropped open. She was horrified. The man with the cheap blond highlights had told me that he wanted to “explode my ass veins.” The very next morning, I signed up for French language tutorials over the Internet.

My first week of lessons with my automated French teacher was going surprising well, and I was pleased with the convenience of learning French from the comfort of my own home–in my pajamas. Also, it saves me an additional trip up my seven flights of stairs. In one week I had already learned how to order my baguette just the way I like it. “Une baguette si vous plaôt, mais pas très cuite.”

I set off down my seven flights, a little over-excited, to try out my new vocabulary at the bakery across the street from Laura’s apartment. I chose to go the extra 40 minutes out of my way to Laura’s bakery because it is here that the 6’3″ brown shaggy-haired green-eyed, slightly unshaven Baker Boy shovels the coal into the hot, steamy oven. Laura and I perch on her balcony, spying on him through the back door of the bakery, waiting for the heat to become too intense for the Baker Boy, at which point he will walk out the back door, lean against the wall, and light a cigarette.

Laura and I race down the stairs and cross the street towards the bakery just in time to smile at him before he stomps out his cigarette. Sigh. He is the ultimate proletarian, Coca Cola commercial fantasy. We enter through the two glass doors in front. Laura tells me that I am to order the bread and start putting my new vocabulary to use and reminds me to get her mother a baguette as well, sliced.

The short middle-aged woman in pink paisley blouse with the black apron tied a little too tightly around her waist greets us. I am confident and respond with “Bonjour, Madame, je voudrais deux baguettes, pas très cuites,”–I am distracted. My eyes lock on the Baker Boy, who stands behind the uptight woman in the pink paisley blouse. He’s wiping the perspiration off his brow with his right hand; this forces him to bend his right arm, causing his bicep muscles to swell. Wow. I’m staring, must keep talking, but I can’t help but compare the baguettes to the huge bulge in the crotch of Baker Boy’s faded button-fly jeans.

“Pardonnez-moi, deux baguettes, pas très cuites, mais une baguette tronché, si vous plaôt.” The woman quickly averts her eyes. Laura elbows me. “Tranché, tranché.” I am so embarrassed. I have just asked for one baguette “sexed please.” The Baker Boy looks up and smiles at me. I start to giggle uncontrollably. Laura pays the uptight, now flustered woman, grabs the bread with one hand and drags me out of the bakery with her other arm locked around my neck. I’m in trouble. I continue to smile at the Baker Boy.

Laura has prohibited me from ever returning to the bakery. I, however, refuse to believe that this slight mix-up of vocabulary was entirely my fault. The French have so many words for sex that it is impossible to keep them all straight–in fact, I am hard pressed to come up with an object that the French don’t find sexy.

In Los Angeles, we have more or less two terms for sex: sex and the four-letter word. However, the French have infinite ways to communicate their animalistic desires including, baiser, troncher, tirer un coup, sexe, and of course faire peter les veines du cul. I think it presumptuous of the French to use the same word for to kiss, baiser, as to have sex. No wonder men in the mètro view eye contact as a sexual proposition.

In Los Angeles there are basically three short phrases used to describe oral sex–simple. Just easy enough for a ditzy blond to remember and land herself a bit part in a movie. These roles are also known as “tit” parts because the actresses hired to play these roles tend to be rather large breasted. Though I’d love to indulge your imjagination and tell you what those three phrases are, if you don’t know, you should probably stop reading now; and frankly, I’m too busy trying to learn the French phrases to remember the English. In France, one might chomp a carrot, suck a dart, or smoke a pipe. To “hit on someone” in France is chasser — to drive out. Other French terms meaning to hit on include chopper (to chop) and prèdateur (to prey on). This makes perfect sense because last night while I was riding the mètro home to Argentine the tall skinny man with the black goatee in the purple vest to my right tried to bite my neck–basically attempting to prey on me, and definitely driving me out of the mètro car.

In Los Angeles sex, there are 69 positions, while in France there are only 68 positions because 69 is cleaning the dishes. This perplexes me because I wouldn’t normally clean with my mouth, unless I was a cat–oh… got it.

It is no wonder I asked for my bread sexed instead of sliced and why I thank men when they offer to do you know what to me from behind. And I will certainly think twice before I ask my date to help me do my dishes. How is a Los Angeles blonde living abroad expected to keep it all straight? And why had my automated internet French instructor neglected to cover these terms in last week’s lesson?

In French vocabulary books there should be one column with the word and its meaning and then an additional column next to it of all the dirty phrases that either include this word or are spelled or pronounced similarly. Hmm…maybe I could start giving French tutorials myself, sort of like a self-defense class for all of the clueless non-French speaking blondes living overseas–a sex-defense class. One thing’s for sure, the next time I’m on the mètro and the man next to me asks me “to smoke his pipe” I’ll tell him I have syphilis–sinusitis–hey…either works!


I was nervous standing backstage at The Playhouse in San Anselmo, California holding Joanne’s hand, when I got the most excruciating headache. Ughhh, someone was smoking. I have a chronic condition called sinusitis, and when I inhale smoke it causes my sinuses to swell intensely. I dropped Joanne’s hand and began my panicked search for the unidentified smoker. Joanne followed timidly behind me. I found him in the lobby…in his single-breasted black leather jacket and his thick silver-rimmed sunglasses, in spite of the fact that the sun had set over an hour ago and he was indoors. “Excuse me sir, are you smoking? Do you see the sign?” I pointed to the sign above the tall wooden double doors, my entire right arm extended with so much power it felt like it might rocket off into space at any moment. “The sign says No food, no drink and NO SMOKING! I HAVE SYPHILLIS!” Joanne elbows me. “Sinusitis.”

Seven years later, I am living in Paris, having, I hope, improved my English skills since the syphilis/sinusitis episode, and am now desperately struggling with the French vocabulary. I am under strict surveillance by my friend Laura, who speaks both English and French fluently. Unfortunately, due to the fact that Laura wakes up 2PM and is habitually at least 15 minutes late for our meetings, it is not possible for her to be on watch at all times.

I was waiting for Laura in front of the fountain at Saint-Michel when a man in a ribbed navy blue turtleneck with cheap blond highlights in his hair approached me with a dangerous smile. He leaned over my right shoulder and whispered, “Je fais peter les veines du cul,” and walked away. As it was French, I did not understand so I smiled back politely and responded with a simple, “Merci.” Laura arrived as the man was leaving and asked me what the man had said. I relayed what I could recall of his mysterious message. Laura’s mouth dropped open. She was horrified. The man with the cheap blond highlights had told me that he wanted to “explode my ass veins.” The very next morning, I signed up for French language tutorials over the Internet.

My first week of lessons with my automated French teacher was going surprising well, and I was pleased with the convenience of learning French from the comfort of my own home–in my pajamas. Also, it saves me an additional trip up my seven flights of stairs. In one week I had already learned how to order my baguette just the way I like it. “Une baguette si vous plaôt, mais pas très cuite.”

I set off down my seven flights, a little over-excited, to try out my new vocabulary at the bakery across the street from Laura’s apartment. I chose to go the extra 40 minutes out of my way to Laura’s bakery because it is here that the 6’3″ brown shaggy-haired green-eyed, slightly unshaven Baker Boy shovels the coal into the hot, steamy oven. Laura and I perch on her balcony, spying on him through the back door of the bakery, waiting for the heat to become too intense for the Baker Boy, at which point he will walk out the back door, lean against the wall, and light a cigarette.

Laura and I race down the stairs and cross the street towards the bakery just in time to smile at him before he stomps out his cigarette. Sigh. He is the ultimate proletarian, Coca Cola commercial fantasy. We enter through the two glass doors in front. Laura tells me that I am to order the bread and start putting my new vocabulary to use and reminds me to get her mother a baguette as well, sliced.

The short middle-aged woman in pink paisley blouse with the black apron tied a little too tightly around her waist greets us. I am confident and respond with “Bonjour, Madame, je voudrais deux baguettes, pas très cuites,”–I am distracted. My eyes lock on the Baker Boy, who stands behind the uptight woman in the pink paisley blouse. He’s wiping the perspiration off his brow with his right hand; this forces him to bend his right arm, causing his bicep muscles to swell. Wow. I’m staring, must keep talking, but I can’t help but compare the baguettes to the huge bulge in the crotch of Baker Boy’s faded button-fly jeans.

“Pardonnez-moi, deux baguettes, pas très cuites, mais une baguette tronché, si vous plaôt.” The woman quickly averts her eyes. Laura elbows me. “Tranché, tranché.” I am so embarrassed. I have just asked for one baguette “sexed please.” The Baker Boy looks up and smiles at me. I start to giggle uncontrollably. Laura pays the uptight, now flustered woman, grabs the bread with one hand and drags me out of the bakery with her other arm locked around my neck. I’m in trouble. I continue to smile at the Baker Boy.

Laura has prohibited me from ever returning to the bakery. I, however, refuse to believe that this slight mix-up of vocabulary was entirely my fault. The French have so many words for sex that it is impossible to keep them all straight–in fact, I am hard pressed to come up with an object that the French don’t find sexy.

In Los Angeles, we have more or less two terms for sex: sex and the four-letter word. However, the French have infinite ways to communicate their animalistic desires including, baiser, troncher, tirer un coup, sexe, and of course faire peter les veines du cul. I think it presumptuous of the French to use the same word for to kiss, baiser, as to have sex. No wonder men in the mètro view eye contact as a sexual proposition.

In Los Angeles there are basically three short phrases used to describe oral sex–simple. Just easy enough for a ditzy blond to remember and land herself a bit part in a movie. These roles are also known as “tit” parts because the actresses hired to play these roles tend to be rather large breasted. Though I’d love to indulge your imjagination and tell you what those three phrases are, if you don’t know, you should probably stop reading now; and frankly, I’m too busy trying to learn the French phrases to remember the English. In France, one might chomp a carrot, suck a dart, or smoke a pipe. To “hit on someone” in France is chasser — to drive out. Other French terms meaning to hit on include chopper (to chop) and prèdateur (to prey on). This makes perfect sense because last night while I was riding the mètro home to Argentine the tall skinny man with the black goatee in the purple vest to my right tried to bite my neck–basically attempting to prey on me, and definitely driving me out of the mètro car.

In Los Angeles sex, there are 69 positions, while in France there are only 68 positions because 69 is cleaning the dishes. This perplexes me because I wouldn’t normally clean with my mouth, unless I was a cat–oh… got it.

It is no wonder I asked for my bread sexed instead of sliced and why I thank men when they offer to do you know what to me from behind. And I will certainly think twice before I ask my date to help me do my dishes. How is a Los Angeles blonde living abroad expected to keep it all straight? And why had my automated internet French instructor neglected to cover these terms in last week’s lesson?

In French vocabulary books there should be one column with the word and its meaning and then an additional column next to it of all the dirty phrases that either include this word or are spelled or pronounced similarly. Hmm…maybe I could start giving French tutorials myself, sort of like a self-defense class for all of the clueless non-French speaking blondes living overseas–a sex-defense class. One thing’s for sure, the next time I’m on the mètro and the man next to me asks me “to smoke his pipe” I’ll tell him I have syphilis–sinusitis–hey…either works!



Kirsten joins Bonjour Paris from Los Angeles, California where she recently graduated from the University in Southern California with a  BFA in Acting. Last year Last year she co-wrote the book and lyrics to a new pop musical which expects to open in Los Angeles next spring. Two years ago, while studying at a conservatory in London, Kirsten fell in love with Paris and decided that she was destined to return for some time. She’s thrilled to experience this dream come true.

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