The French are known for a lot of things: wine, cheese, champagne, fashion, history, philosophy, 35-hour work weeks and 2-hour lunch breaks.
But the French are also known for their cursing. For example, take Napoleon’s frustration at losing in bowling in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
On my way home from work today, I shook my head at the outburst of some random guy who was, like everyone else at 6:00 p.m. at one of the busiest train stations in the city, was trying to make his way into the station. I guess someone bumped into him (oh, the horror – such a thing never happens during rush hour!) and he shouted out, « MERDEUUUR!!! » Basically, you sh*tty person, you. Or maybe it was « emmerdeur », which comes from the verb emmerder, which means “to cover with sh*it”. (Lovely, no?)
Heck, even the French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s famed « casse-toi, pauvre con »** comment serves as proof for my aforementioned assertion.
Ohh, but the Americans.
We’re even worse with our cursing. Anglophones (and everyone else, for that matter) all over the world are listening to songs that have more curse words in them than you’d ever believe possible. It doesn’t really bother me most of the time, but there does come a point where it’s too much, if you know what I mean. So, we Americans are not so different than the French in this matter.
Lots of non-native speakers of English know our curse words. (Side note: I think it’s a rule in any foreign language that people learn the juicy stuff more quickly and readily than they do boring grammar concepts.)
But this time I blame it on a British woman.
I had just arrived to my second class of the day to teach some 10- and 11-year-olds (CM2). The CD player I brought with me to play the audio part of the lesson broke – I’m not sure what happened, because it worked fine in my previous class.
The teacher went to borrow a different CD player from another teacher and was nice enough to help me set it up. But instead of turning on the CD player to the CD setting, it automatically came on to the radio tuner.
All of a sudden, in the longest three seconds of my life, two single words of Lily Allen’s wonderful hit song were broadcasted loud and clear: “F*ck you!”
The teacher switched the setting to the CD, but the damage was already done. Immediately, 4 or 5 kids repeated it, just the way they heard it sung.
Just when I was thinking, “Oh man, I hope they don’t ask me about that,” one kid did. I stammered a “We don’t say that, that’s bad” and then decided I had better distract them before they repeat it any more. So I began class, and that (thankfully) worked. I must admit, though, that is one of the funniest moments I’ve had in a class so far.
Kids will be kids.
My kids are already bad enough, though. In my most difficult class, a group of 9-year-olds (CM1), there are a few students who continually change my teaching into bad French words.
For example, the word “put” became « pute », which is the shortened version of the word for “prostitute.” (I’m sure you can think of the dirtier word on your own.)
The lesson on “pets” and “have you got a pet” (yes, ugh, I have to teach British English) became annoying when I realized they were giggling because the French word for “fart” is « un pet. »
I heard one kid (in that very same class) telling his classmate, « Tu me casse les couilles! », which means she was pissing him off. But a literal translation is that “she breaks his balls.” These are 9-year-olds. Come on guys, seriously? I gave him a dirty look and said, “You know I speak French, right?”
Well, in any case, voilà. A lesson in French cursing for you. (Because apparently, you can take a teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t stop her from teaching.)
* Literal translation from the French phrase gros mots, which means “curse words”
** “Get lost, you idiot.” (This phrase is tricky to translate into English, because they use “con” in so many different ways…)
***If you felt offended by this entry, please accept my apologies and my advice never to move to France. ;)