A letter to the French

Dear People of France,

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Emily (Mustard). I have been living in your beautiful capital city of Paris for three years in total. I work, I contribute to the economy, I’m interested in French politics, I read Le Canard enchaîné. So please don’t judge me as a tourist.

I really love living here. I love the food, the wine, the architecture, the way that you jump the turnstiles of the metro because you don’t care. I respect your ability to never admit you are in the wrong, and I am constantly awed by how much you can express with the sound “baaaaaaah“.

But, and here is the reason for my writing to you, on the subject of language, I have something to say. And you won’t like it.

I have been learning the French language for nearly 20 years now. It’s complicated. You have rules that are ABSOLUTELY UNBREAKABLE, and then you have rules that are always broken (a nice summary of the French perspective). Your language is like an in-joke. But anyway, I’m getting there. I’m now at the three-phrase plateau. This means that I pass as a Parisian for the first three sentences. Then WHAM, a little slip, a mis-rolled Rrrrrr, and I’m spotted “Eh oh, ça vient d’où ce petit accent?” (Oi oi, where’s that accent from?). But it’s ok, because I’m not French, and I never will be.


Someone from France, about 50 years ago, went to England. He stayed for a few months, maybe even a year, and then came back to France. With him, he took his understanding of the English language. He hadn’t paid a great deal of attention, probably tried too many jaegerbombs and cornish pasties, but he kept a few linguistic souvenirs that he passed on to his friends, who thought it trop cool, and who started using these words as a means of showing off genre je suis tellement bilingue. These words caught on, and before you could say franglais, they cemented into French culture.

Et voila the problem.

The gentleman who brought back these words misunderstood a vital component of the English languge. It’s called the gerund, and it is formed by adding ING to a verb. It can be used in many different tenses, and is predominantly used to express the continuity of an action, for example “I am writing a blog post”. But, while a gerund can act as a noun replacing a verb, this does not mean that every English verb becomes a noun by adding those three letters.

I hate to break it to you all, but not a single English-speaker would understand the following sentence:

Je vais me faire un brushing ce week-end mais faut que j’organise mieux mon planning car moi et Pierre allons faire du footing plus tard. Et toi, c’etait bien le shooting hier?

Brushing: Haircare. For example, every hairdresser’s in France offers a “coupe” and “coupe + brushing”. Definition: Do you just want the scissors or a bit of styling after? Real English: NOT A NOUN. Of course I want you to brush my hair, Mr Hairdresser, does it really have to be 30 euros extra?

Planning: I have to use this every day at work and it hurts me. Un planning = An agenda. A schedule. Real English: NOT A NOUN.

Footing: Perhaps the most ridiculous of franglicisms. That Frenchman I mentioned earlier, well, he heard the word “foot”. He then saw people jogging. He had a moment of inspiration and decided to use his new vocabulary to describe the associated activity. For the French, footing = going for a jog. Real English: DOESN’T EXIST.

Shooting: Ah. Well, shooting as a noun does exist. but I doubt you’d ask your friend if it went well, unless you happen to hang out with Anders Behring Breivik. Un shooting in French: a shoot (music/film/photo). Real English: An event where a gun is fired.


I getting a haircut this weekend, but I need to organise my schedule because me and Pierre are supposed to be going for a jog later on. How did the film shoot go yesterday?

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t want you to think I’m a smug. It’s not to do with an obsession with grammar. I make terrible mistakes myself. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to pronounce the difference between brouillard and bouilloire, for example. It’s out of respect for a language that I love. French is beautiful. I’ve devoted time and a lot of money trying to learn it. But, I beg you, please stop mutilating both our great languages by misusing our words. And, I promise, I’ll do my best to explain to the English that “a bedroom with an ensuite” actually means “a bedroom and next”….

How about if I started saying I’ve got a Rendrevous
at the Doctorat? How would you like that?! 

Take that in your baguette and….

Yours Sincerely


This entry was posted in anglophone, being foreign, cultural observation, Culture, expat, France, french people, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, language, Paris, problems abroad. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A letter to the French

  1. Ha, brilliant! After spending the weekend just gone in Paris and noticing the 'brushing' thing I wondered what that was all about. Thanks for the education…and I hope the French get the message too!


  2. Flaoua says:

    Not very surprising that you can't pronounce “brouilloire”, as it's not a French word :p (maybe you meant “bouilloire” which is a kettle)
    On teh subject of English words being integrated in the French language and then “tortured”, I think it's one of the ways any language evolve. We “steal” words from other languages and twist them to make them fit better in our grammar/way of constructing sentences. Also, we call this “Franglais” for a reason, it's neither French, neither English 🙂
    One last thing, “planning” IS an English noun, at least according to the Cambridge dictionary :p


  3. Hi Flaoua, thanks for the comment. Spelling error shall be corrected!
    Regarding your last point, whilst Cambridge might have planning in the dictionary as a noun, in common usage this is not understood as such.
    I understand your opinion on language evolution, as there are some very fun franglais that has come out of our two languages' marriage. I do not like the misuse of ING in particular. I find it ugly in such a beautiful language. But this is a personal opinion, and each to his own. It's nice to have feedback though!




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