False friends, not people but words

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Craig McGinty

The one I still have to think twice about is 'magasin' as I am forever mixing it up between a shop and a magazine!


Oh dear, this makes me cringe. I made the "preservatives" gaffe at my daughter's nursery. Safe-sex raisins anyone?
Here are some more:

Frances Penwill-Cook

I am going to print this off - thank you! The safe-sex raisins made me laugh!

Reading through it I realised that I called my horse, Olga, a 'pond' the other day.

General Pepper

if you type "faux amis" into French Yahoo, you ll get dozens of lists, and be surprised by the many unsuspected false friends!
In the 60's i worked at the classified desk at the Paris Herald Tribune. It often amused me to have to explain to French advertisers that "Importante Société recherche employée..." is not "Important society researches employee.." but "Large company seeks..."

Craig McGinty

Those 'faux amis' can work both ways, OUCH!


The French use beau-père for both father in law and step father as they use belle mère for mother in law and step mother, how they do like to confuse!

Susan Walter

I did tell our neighbour only last week that we would be making a garden where he parks his car 'éventuellement'. I had this lurking feeling it didn't mean 'eventually' but ploughed on regardless. Never mind - not too hideously embarrassing - he will have got the message that he can't expect to park in front of our barn for ever. This is a really useful list of the sorts of words we use frequently. I'm pleased to say I knew most of them, but a few new ones for the spreadsheet (yes, I too keep a list :-)

Anne V.

Should you decide to marry a French person, he or she will be told that you, as a foreigner, need to provide a "certificat de célibat". It does not mean that you your embassy has to vouch for your chastity, only that you are unmarried ("celibataire"). I learned this the hard way:-)


I used to live in France and I remember a party when some delightful English guests arrived calling out LES ANGLAIS SONT ARRIVES! (In French, this means something totally different: it's that time of the month for ladies... More interesting would be to discover where the expression came from!). Needless to say our friends were mortified and never forgot!


I too gave the advice to an Englishman always to try the English word with an accentuated French accent,,! Result? He decided that his favourite meal of sausages was orderable in France by the use of "sausaache" with the waiter!
I noticed on the comments above the mention of "magasin" - in fact somebody who works in the store section of a company is called a "magasinier(e)" implying that they work in the magasin, but they're not sales people!
Another interesting "baff" is to talk about "Lettres Anglais" - If you don't mean the colloquial French for a "French letter"(condom) then talk about a "lettre EN Anglais!" Funnily enough, the Germans call a condom a "Pariser" - wonder why?
Don't forget the most famous one - "Je vais vous tuer" ("I am going to kill you") instead of "tutoyer" (meaning "I am going to use the personal - tu - instead of vous"). Leads to all sorts of problems and amusement..!
But the French tend to be so pleased to hear you at least TRYING, that they "overlook" the errors - generally!


A common Brit gaffe in wine areas is:
grape: un raisin
une grappe: a bunch (e.g. of grapes)
but in the Lot & Garonne our staple industry gives rise to:
prune: un pruneau
une prune: a plum.
and the whole of the l'Hexagone knows that "un pet" is not a favourite animal!

Phillip Carr

What a rich furrow we plough! A friend recently caused consternation when she referred to an Austrian as an "autruche" (ostrich) rather than the more usual "Autrichien". My own recent attempt at conversation with a young waiter met with bemused looks until my wife spotted my gender howler. We had just come from a walk on the beach with our greyhound and stopped off for a drink. The waiter was giving the dog a stroke and was surprised to hear me explain that "il n'aime pas le maire". Of course, it was "la mer" that the dog wasn't keen on. Tant pis.

Craig McGinty

Some great stories here, many thanks all.


Hello there !

An answer to Carol : the french expression "Les Anglais sont arrivés" refers to the bright, blood-red color of the uniform worn by English soldiers during the 19th century.

Craig McGinty

Hi Pierre-André, now that is interesting! Many thanks, Craig

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