Péter le feu

‘Péter le feu’ may call up images of a fire-breathing (or farting) dragon, but in French it means to be bursting with energy.

And I’m happy to report that after a long, hot summer, during which my get up and go got up and left, I’ve finally got my mojo back.

Je pète le feu.

This week there’s a definite fall vibe in the air, even though we’re currently enjoying a lovely Indian summer. All those cooler nights and early mornings have me energized and raring to go, even, dare I say, looking forward to the change of season. I love the autumn, always have, with the exception of a few weeks in November when I become convinced of my imminent demise. Something to do with the change of light after we set the clocks back. (Although the EU recently announced they would put an end to this barbaric practice, making me oh-so glad to be part of Europe).

Twice this week I woke up before the alarm clock at 5:30. I’ve gotten back into some healthier eating, drinking and exercise habits (yeah, I know…boring). But I’m exploding with ideas for several writing projects, looking forward to my next vacation and frankly, happy to be alive. It has been ages since I felt this way.

Not to brag or anything. That would be a different kind of péter all together.

‘Se la péter’, to show off, is one of those French expressions I gave up trying to fathom years ago. It is filled with pitfalls for non-natives: if you forget the ‘se’ or the ‘la’ it means something completely different. Like to actually fart. Which is not something most people brag about.

Aside from its less than noble meaning, péter also means to blow up, to explode or to crack. Like a firecracker, un pétard. And it is associated with another verb also used to describe being full of energy: gazer. ‘Ça gaze?’

How or why these explosive terms became associated with being in good health and raring to go is a mystery to me. But it seems the French are well aware of the comic potential of the word and its English cousin. The expression, ‘Salut, ça farte?’ was immortalized by the actor Jean Dujardin back in 2005 when he played a French surf bum obsessed with speaking Franglais called Brice de Nice (jokingly pronounced with a long ‘i’ as in Bryce de Nyce). The film, while silly, became a cult comedy classic.

Alors, ça farte?

A la queue leu leu

Par Halfcentury (Travail personnel) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Among the French expressions I love most is ‘à la queue leu leu’. It means to move in single file, one after another or ‘les uns derrières les autres’…

The poetry of those words! I alway imagined they had something to do with elephants, moving in their elegant yet clunky way from head to tail, but it seems the etymology of the expression goes back to wolves (‘leu’ being an old word for ‘loup’ or wolf).

‘Queue’, of course, means tail or something else which I will leave to your imagination.

‘A la queue leu leu’ is often used to describe things that come in a series, like bad news or the long lines of traffic that characterize French life during strike season.

However, it is most often associated with happy occasions and the song of the same name. You will hear it played in the salles des fêtes around France at the end of every festive event from New Year’s Eve to weddings. I’ve also seen it at school fêtes, when even the most staid and stuffy of the teaching staff gets a little silly and everyone ends up snaking around the room in a congo line.

There is something in the air this morning — Spring, I think — that makes me feel like dancing.

Go on, I dare you! Everyone, ‘à la queue leu leu!’

When was the last time you got up and danced?

Poser un lapin

You’re supposed to meet someone at an appointed time and place. They don’t show up. You sit there and wonder: is it me?

In English we call this being stood up. Back in the day when I was dating (pre-mobile, pre-internet, ie the ice age), you had little choice but to wait and wonder. Now, presumably, you phone or text.

I have never been stood up in France. Getting my wires crossed is something else. My feu (late) Belle-mère was famous in our family for les rendez-vous ratés. We would agree to meet somewhere then miss each other entirely – in one case waiting on opposite ends of the train station for an hour before eventually giving up.

The French expression ‘poser un lapin’ literally means to place a rabbit. According to my source, aka Google, this rather mysterious term finds its roots in the rabbit as a symbol of fertility and plenty. The original meaning of ‘poser un lapin’ was not to pay someone for their favours, or more generally to leave without paying. Somehow this got transformed into modern parlance for not showing up.

Rabbits are rather common in France. People raise them like they do chickens, keeping a few in a backyard hutch. Rabbit meat is in all the supermarkets. I don’t mind it, although I’m also not crazy about it. The first time I ate rabbit was, bizarrely, at Easter.

Right now in France les chasseurs are out in force. Presumably hunting for Peter Cottontail among other small game in the fields and forests.

Let’s hope he gives them a run for their money. Or places a rabbit.

Have you ever been stood up?

Mes oignons

My onionsI am here today to tell you all about onions. Mes oignons that is – mine, not yours.

Yours would not be at all appropriate. According to French wisdom, I must mind my own onions, which is to say my own business.

So here are my onions. Rather cheeky, no? There they were, all tressed up so prettily, until I started using them up and – voilà! Was inspired to take a photo that set them off in all their glory.

Ah, the onion. Such a wonderful member of the Allium family. So humble, yet so strong. Along with leeks, garlic, chives…this family is one like my own. Outspoken, atypical, memorable – if at times rather overpowering. The French favour the shallot, l’échalote, for its gentler, more subtle flavour. At least it doesn’t make me cry.

I love how the onion has all those intricately packed layers, hard yet soft, and a papery outer skin. I love its bulbousness. I love how it melts, how it browns and most of all, how it caramelizes. I love the onion in so many ways: pissaladière, onion tart, with tomatoes, potatoes, eggs, fish and, most memorably of all, cheese.

My favourite onions are red. Most often enjoyed raw, they’re also lovely on the barbeque, in a stir fry or combined with other kinds of onion. Here they are featured in one of my favourite winter dips – when it gets cold, I am a still a North American at heart.

I also love the French expression for minding your own business: Occupe-toi de tes oignons. Why onions? I looked it up and, lo and behold, there is a reason. It would seem that the French woman was first given a small measure of independence in being allowed to cultivate a portion of the garden as an onion patch, which she could then take to market and sell to make a bit of money. You can read all about it here (in French).

And let’s not forget that sometimes onions produce beautiful flowers.

Do you have a favourite onion? Or it that any of my business?

 

The naughtiest word in French

639px-Lodoicea_maldivica_seed
Sea coconut, popularly known as ‘coco-fesse’

I will have to preface this one with an apology to readers of delicate sensibility. (Although it is doubtful that I have any such readers, given my penchant for foul language.)

You may be forgiven for thinking that the naughtiest word in the French language isn’t really very bad at all. After all, it has three letters, not four. And it has a legitimate meaning and place in the dictionary. Literally: the posterior of the human or animal anatomy, or the base of a lamp

Have you guessed?

Cul. More politely, le derrière, les fesses. English equivalent, depending on your origins and upbringing: backside, bum, butt, arse or ass.

It can be perfectly innocent, which is also why it’s naughty. I once heard a woman at the office describe a coworker as being ‘un peu cul-cul.’ She said this in a low voice, so at first I thought she meant something sexual. Then realized it just meant ‘niais’ which is rather silly or stupid.

There is a whole series of French expressions in which ‘cul’ plays the leading role. Some are perfectly polite but in most cases overly familiar for professional situations. Some of my favorites are: Etre faux-cul (to be fake), tomber sur le cul (to fall over in surprise) or even avoir le cul entre deux chaises (to hesitate between two choices).

And my absolute favorite: ‘cucul la praline.’ If anyone can explain why a candy-coated nut should be the epitome of the ridiculous, please enlighten me.

Here’s one of my beau-père’s favorite expressions: ‘Tu tournes en rond comme une poule qui a mal au cul.’ Literally: You’re turning around like a chicken with a sore butt. I don’t know why a chicken would do this (perhaps after laying too many eggs?) but it does call up an image of someone who doesn’t know what to do next.

In popular terms, however, ‘cul’ is most frequently used to describe a porn film, an extramarital affair, or a sexy something.

I banned this word from my vocabulary years ago, after telling people we lived on a cul-de-sac and being laughed out of the room. Seems living ‘on the ass-end of the bag’ is not as desirable as I’d thought.

That will conclude my insider tour of the seamy underbelly of the French language – at least for now. Feel free to share your own (mis)adventures or favorite faux pas!