April, 2014

Meet a chanteur: Georges Brassens

Georges Brassens was like a singing French hybrid of Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut.

I mean that both visually:






(From left: Twain, Vonnegut, Brassens)

…as well as in terms of his personality.

He wrote hilarious, brilliant songs about the absurdity of society and human behavior. Like his moustached brethren above, his lyrics show a deep understanding of humanity, not always in a pleasant way, but always meaningful and somehow hopeful. Don’t believe me? Listen to this song. Look up a translation if you have to.

But Brassens not only got pictures with his pipe; his portraits also prominently feature cats:

Georges Brassens  June 23  1960

…is that enough? Are you convinced yet? Georges Brassens rules.



How the French see Americans: two videos for your viewing horror

“Le conseil du jour 7 – L’ancien corres’ américain” par Le Conseil du Jour sur

I can’t decide: Is this video simply not very funny or is it funny but so painfully accurate a portrayal of an American in Paris that it’s hard to laugh. You decide.

Next, let’s see what insight “travel expert Kate Thomas” can glean from her real live local friend Elise:

So there you have it: French people don’t hate Americans. If we just treat them like cats all will be well with the world.

We here at What The French?! may never have the kind of astute and nuanced socio-cultural awareness exhibited in these videos, but one thing we do know is how to help you learn French. Buy a copy of What The French?! on iTunes/iBooks, and you too can sit at a café that serves food on giant triangular plates. You too will be able to bombard locals just like Elise with your own needy questions—only you will be doing it in French.

Illustrated idiom: “casser les pieds à quelqu’un”

casser les pieds

“Casser les pieds à quelqu’un” (literally, to break someone’s feet) means to get on someone’s nerves, to annoy them. 

Dress your paper in silk stockings part 2: setting up quotes

photo by Marc Olivier

photo by Marc Olivier

In my post, “Dress your paper in silk stockings,” I gave a starter kit of logical connectors to help make your French papers have better flow. Here, thanks to my colleague, Corry Cropper, I’m going to share some advice given to [his] 300-level French students on setting up quotes in a French research paper. The fact is, writing isn’t all poetry and inspiration (especially academic writing). A lot of it is formulaic, and if someone would just give you some recipes (which they never seem to do, for reasons I won’t explain in this post), you can knock out a pretty decent paper. I’ve added rough translations in italics to help you make sense of this useful list:

• Selon Bouvard, “____” (453).

According to Bouvard, ”  “

• Comme l’explique l’historien Pécuchet, “___” (15).

As the historian Pécuchet explains, ”  “

• Dans son livre ____, Brulotte maintient que “____” (168).

In his book [title of book], Brulotte asserts, ”  ”

• Dans un article publié dans la revue ____, Bouvard se plaint que “____” (87).

In an article published in the journal [title], Bouvard contends [note: “se plaindre” is generally translated as “to complain,” but here, I would say it means something more akin to “argues” or “contends”] ”  ”

• Pécuchet s’aligne avec la pensée de Bouvand quand il écrit “___” (15).

Pécuchet’s line of thought corresponds to that of Bouvard when he writes ”  “

• Brulotte complique la situation encore plus lorsqu’il écrit, “____” (168).

Brulotte further complicates the situation when he writes, ” “

• Bien que Foucault soutienne que “____,” le texte de Bourdieu semble suggérer le contraire

en ces termes: “____” (436; 221).

Although Foucault maintains that ” ,” Bourdieu’s text seems to suggest the opposite in the following terms: ” “

• Minou évoque ce phénomène dans son livre ____ lorsqu’elle écrit “____” (725). Cependant,

cette théorie ne colle pas avec celle élucidée par Binette qui ironise, “___” (xiv).

Minou evokes this phenomenon in her book [title of book] when she writes ” “.  However, that theory is not consistent with Binette’s explanation  when she ironically conjectures, ” “

So, that last one is a bit over-the-top, and my translation is not verbatim, but you get the idea.

Foot, meet mouth

In my tireless trawling of the internet for mild amusement, I came across this very short story:


Aujourd’hui, je suis assistante funéraire et une cliente a souhaité acheter une plaque pour son défunt mari. Je lui ai proposé d’y ajouter un texte en prenant pour exemple : “Que ton repos soit doux comme ton cœur fut bon.” La cliente, effarée : “Mais… mon mari est mort d’une crise cardiaque.”


(The source is The site contains stories about unfortunate events, and as such may contain some themes which are not appropriate for all readers. What I’m trying to say is, don’t come crying to me.)

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