How far to Pétaouchnok?

IMG_3218It’s as foreign and far removed as Timbuktu, and as unpronounceable as any four syllables in French can be. And just where is Pétaouchnok you ask? Theoretically somewhere in Russia or the Ukraine, although it’s an imaginary place. Also known in French as le trou perdu, le bled or le patelin. Pretty well everywhere in provincial France outside of Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Marseille, Toulouse and Nice. I exaggerate, if only slightly.

Just as bizarre and foreign sounding are most of the place names that appear on the signs of French towns – their sister cities or twin towns as they call them over here. Twinning or jumelage in French is a kind of socioeconomic mentoring between towns of different places and cultures intended to foster better understanding and economic ties. The European list is here if you’re interested.

Our current town is too small to have a twin, but nearby Evian has two. I am still waiting to see one that says ‘Ville jumeléé avec Pétaouchnok.’

The twinning program in its current form began after the second world war, which explains why so many French towns are twinned with German ones. There was certainly a need to bridge the huge gap between European countries in the post-war period. As one of my all-time favorite television programs so brilliantly spoofed:

I wonder whether twinning exists on a different level.

The street was used to live on was called Le Couchant, referring to the sunset. We had been living there for ten years when, on the other side of town, they built a new development with a street called Le Levant, or the rising sun. One day my daughter asked if we thought that there was a family living there who were just like us, only opposites. Where the Dad was always giving orders and the Mom was really happy all the time. Out of the mouths of babes.

Does your town have a twin? How do you say ‘trou perdu’?




  1. Osyth · April 16, 2015

    Like you, we are too small to have a European twin but we do have a twin in Brittany … every year they visit us with truck loads of oysters and every year a bus load of ours go the other way – presumably carrying something equally enticing (hopefully not Tripe, though) … Last year there was a sort of exchange with the primary schools and most excitingly a dance-exchange. All rather endearing, really.

    • MELewis · April 16, 2015

      Osyth, you are right: there is something endearing about the whole twinning thing. I’ve never actually participated in any of the activities, but it’s fun to imagine the lost-in-translation moments during exchanges between European or more exotic locales. And yes, you can keep your tripe (although my husband will take it!) 🙂

      • Osyth · April 16, 2015

        In fairness, I think living here even Brittany is considered exotic 😉

  2. Suzanne et Pierre · April 16, 2015

    Interesting point Mel. I have often wondered what twinning cities actually meant on a daily basis. I have seen the signs in all of the cities we have visited during our stay in Europe and found some to be quite funny but always wondered what it added to a city except putting a sign at the entrance of the town. I have checked for Montréal</a and it seems that there are different kinds of twinning but I still don't know what it really means other than having a long list of towns you are supposedly friends with. (Suzanne)

    • Suzanne et Pierre · April 16, 2015

      Oops…sorry, it seems I didn’t do my link properly and now I can’t edit it…just hate it that I can’t edit my comments…The link works fine but I didn’t intend to have the whole line in red…

      • MELewis · April 16, 2015

        Thanks for sharing that link, Suzanne. (And I agree it’s frustrating not to able to edit your comments!). It provides more detail about twinning than I have so far been able to find on the EU programs. I get the feeling that in the majority of cases, the twinning thing is more symbolic than concrete, often amounting to cultural exchanges between schools and groups.

  3. Mélanie · April 21, 2015

    @”Does your town have a twin? How do you say ‘trou perdu’?” – as far as I know, Toulouse has no twin, but I did walk in Toulouse street, in New Orelans, Louisiana… 🙂
    * * *
    “trou perdu” -> Trifouillis-les-Oies… 🙂

    • MELewis · April 22, 2015

      Ha, ha…never heard of Trifouillis-les-Oies. Its sounds even more lost than Pétaouchnok! I am glad Toulouse has a sister street in ‘Nawlins.’ But if it has its own sausage, it must have a twin town! 😉

      • Mélanie · April 26, 2015

        la saucisse de Toulouse n’a pas d’égal… 🙂

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