My Misadventures in Learning French Abroad

A song, a conversation, a class, a sign in the metro— when living in a new country with a foreign language, your surroundings become your textbook and teacher. Words and languages provide a beautiful ways to share our memories. They allow us to express our adventures, emotions, and feelings that we learn while living in that foreign place. Here are a few of my favourite French words and expressions I have learned thus far while studying abroad in Lyon, France:

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1. Coucou : A super cute and playful way to say hello to friends and family

The first time I heard coucou was when the girl I babysit saw a friend on the street and said it. The word may also refer to the cuckoo bird, the cuckoo clock, and wild daffodils. French is definitely a very poetic language!

2. Faire du stop : To trust and travel with the help of someone owning a car

As a language presents a whole new way to express yourself and to relate to others, it also provides a whole new way to get lost, providing for some funny road bumps along the way. Accompanying friends on a journey to the Caverne du Pont D’arc proved to be one of these challenges. After we arrived at the caves, we realized our taxi driver didn’t have a credit card machine so we gave her all of our cash. Apparently shuttles from this area don’t run in the winter, so we very quickly learned the word for hitchhiking. As there was no ATM at the Caverne du Pont D’arc, and we were in the middle of nowhere, the guides at the caves advised us to faire du stop to get to the nearest town. In Quebecois French, it’s faire du pouce.

3. Du coup : Used sparingly as um, ah, so, as a result, so that means

I picked up this word through repetition; my history of cinema professor would use du coup all the time. I believe when you integrate little words like this, it helps you sound a little more French despite your overtly Canadian accent.

4. Hop là : Fun way to say “here we go,” “there we go,” “that’s the end”

At first, I was so confused about how hop là was spelled and what it meant, but I kept hearing my host family say it. Upon asking them, they said it’s hard to describe, so straight from Urban Dictionary (which is an exchange student’s best friend) I learned hop là!

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5. Gourmande : a foodie, a lover of eating

Not to be confused with gourmet, which describes a connoisseur of good food or expert judge of good taste, a gourmande is one who simply enjoys eating. Living in France with the pastries, the amazing meals, and the cheese and wine that accompany them quickly makes one a gourmande.

6. Les chiens ne font pas des chats : A French expression meaning the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

Expressions that aren’t literal can be super confusing to any language learner. However, once you learn a few of them, they make understanding conversations a lot less confusing and a lot more fun. Incorporating these into your homework is oh so satisfying.

7. Bêtise : A faux pas, a silly thing. These are numerous in the life of an exchange student

From studying French and spending time in Québec, I thought I would be ready for a new country. Well, everything in France is new and even the simplest systems are totally different over here. I have had many funny and embarrassing French mishaps as a result. My bigger mishaps include not ordering poutine at the one poutine restaurant in Lyon out of fear of accidentally saying putain (which means “fuck”). There’s also the time when someone asked me if I knew of any good boîtes in Lyon, to which I replied, “No, I don’t know of any good boxes in Lyon, I’m sorry!” Later, I told my friends, to which they explained the person meant boîtes de nuit (boîtes de nuit or discothèque : a club), not a box. My bad.

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8. Liberté, égalité, fraternité : Directly translates to: freedom, equality, fraternity. The national motto of France

The French people are a strong, passionate, and brave bunch. I consider myself very lucky and grateful to have the opportunity to live in their beautiful and amazing country. In the words of Joann Sfar, a cartoonist for Charlie Hebdo, “Our faith goes to music! Kisses! Life! Champagne and Joy! #Parisisaboutlife”

9. Lyonnais(se) : an inhabitant of Lyon, one who enjoys markets along the Rhône and knows the difference between the Rhône and the Saône, one who rides the velo’v, one knows how to get to the major city areas such as Perrache, Bellecour, and Hôtel de Ville

After 7 months here, I think I can successfully say I am a little bit closer to Lyonnaise.

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Yours Creatively,

Caitlyn McTavish, Online Contributor

Images: Rosemary Nastia Bornstein, Instagram: @rosemary_bee