travel

French Phrase Books: Slang? Colloquial?Dirty French book

Miss Bee, bless her darlin' heart, just spent an academic year -- or is that "academic" year? -- in France. I dare say her French got more fluent. She was a language assistant at a French lycée through the wonderful French Government program.

But as is the case with many young people who have fun carousing with their French peers, the language skills she acquired aren't necessarily 100% fit for polite company. The Berlitz-type phrase books didn't really give her a leg-up in conversing with other 20-somethings. On the other hand, the slang dictionaries didn't exactly help in terms of understanding the appropriateness of the language.

Her first adjunct phrase book, Dirty French, she purchased at Urban Outfitters. It is, she admits, "kind of raunchy," and doesn't give the reader any sense of the social context of when any of the phrases should be used. Witty and hip, perhaps, but "cool slang," "funny insults" and "raw swear words" were not exactly what an Merde slang bookAmerican in France needed for understanding colloquial French and, more particularly, for spouting them in la Belle France. (I remember a story told to me by a sweet American college student who, driving with her French beau and his parents to their weekend house, exclaimed, "Waouh, Christophe, t'a vraiment niquée, celle-la!" when he sped past a car on the narrow route nationale. His well-bred parents in the back seat were mortified at her foul mouth. She thought she was simply saying "Good job! You passed him!")

Recently, Miss Bee has acquired Merde! The Real French You Were Never Taught at School. This phrase book, she says, is imminently more practical and useful. It gives ratings as to appropriateness of all those phrases she learned and parroted back. Basically it gives you a rating scale of social context between being polite and bien élevé, a dweeb and having a gutter mouth: very important distinctions when conversing in France.

Good to know.

Polly is a Boston born Baby Boomer who lived on the Left Bank in Paris and is still blogging about it at Polly-Vous Francais. © 2006-2010, Polly-Vous Francais, all rights reserved.

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