Eight funny anecdotes from French language faux pas

Cringeworthy, mortifying, rude - brave readers share the embarrassing mistakes they can now laugh at

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One reason we feel shy trying out our fledgling French is the fear of making a fool of ourselves.

Perhaps it is time to rebrand these errors as badges of honour that mark our moments of bravery.

If nothing else, once the embarrassment wears off, you are left with a great anecdote.

Read more: Five steps to interact better with people in French

1. Barking mad idea

John Mainland, from Creuse, teaches English online to Chinese children. When he tried to explain this to one of his neighbours, she looked at him as if he was mad.

“She asked me to say it again, and when I did, she explained that she originally thought I had said I was teaching English to young dogs,” he explains.

Photo and credit: John Mainland

2. Blushing baker

Davinia Davies, meanwhile, a professional cakemaker from Haute-Vienne, once told a French client not to eat the sugar flowers, due to a preservative used in the manufacturing process.

“Their 11-year-old daughter did not know where to look, and from the expression on the couple’s faces, I knew I had said something wrong,” she says.

“The penny finally dropped when I realised what préservatif means in French [condom].

Luckily, we laughed about it and I still got the job.”

Photo: Davinia Davies; Credit: Neil Cooling Photography

3. Faux pas friendship

Joy Milton, from Aquitaine, asked for an unusual drink by accident.

“I was in our local and didn’t know the word pétillant, so asked for a drink with bulles.

“But I mispronounced it. Result: hilarity and lifelong friends,” she says.

Read more: How to pronounce the French words Connexion readers find hardest

4. Dead serious business

Rachel Taylor, a web designer from Paris, surprised friends when trying to explain her business model to them: “I was trying to say ‘websites that sell courses’ but my pronunciation was ‘websites that sell bodies’.”

Photo and credit: Rachel Taylor

5. Son not sun

Cathy Wills almost abandoned her son after a call she assumed was a sales pitch.

“We had been getting a lot of cold calls from people trying to sell us solar panels.

“Someone phoned and I thought they were doing just that, as I caught solaire.

“I said ‘Cela ne m’intéresse pas’ and hung up.

“A lady phoned back and said in English: ‘It is the groupe scolaire. There is no one here to collect your son.’


Photo and credit: Cathy Wills

6. Kitty cringe

If a spoken faux pas was not enough, imagine how Ameena Gorton felt when she realised what the posters she had plastered all over her village really said.

“It was 2012 and my French was not as fluent as it is now,” she says.

“I had lost my cat and decided to create a full outreach campaign with posters around my small Provençal village, as well as flyers in all the mailboxes.

“The headline was: Avez-vous vu ma chatte?

Photo and credit: Ameena Gorton

7. Holy visitor

Debbie Willis, from Normandy, was lucky not to have religious evangelists on her doorstep after telling a neighbour the ‘son of God’ was visiting, rather than simply her ‘godson’.

8. ‘I passed (I think)!’

Finally, it is worth remembering that even those who speak well can struggle from time to time, as

Prue Stoneham, from Annecy, will attest.

After an interview for her carte de séjour, she was told she had passed the language test and did not need to take extra lessons.

“I had to ask him to repeat this three times as I didn’t understand what he’d said!” she says.

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