I've decided to start an occasional series called 'Fun with French', to feature the curious and entertaining aspects of learning French. I haven't suddenly made a great leap to total fluency – indeed my ability to form a complete, grammatically correct sentence, hold a conversation or craft an email in French remains stubbornly and pathetically inadequate (mainly because I don't get the chance or don't make the time to practice – although I have just written my first report in French, of which no doubt heavily edited excerpts will appear in due course in the Réserve Naturelle de la Chérine's annual report, but my bit's about flies, so no one will read it anyway...).
I still translate everything from English into French to speak and from French into English to listen (making composing my responses even more challenging). However, I read in French nearly every day, and can now do so almost as quickly as in English (note I read quite slowly in English – it drives Simon to distraction that I read all the words. He is a superfast skim reader.) So, I am picking up snippets that engage or amuse me all the time, which I would like to pass on. Also, I am hoping that our French speaking readers will be moved to contribute via the comments section, and it could be quite a lively addition to the blog.
Today's word is queue. In English, of course, this is the word describing a great national sport, an activity with rules that are simply too subtle for the foreigner to pick up (read Kate Fox's 'Watching the English: the hidden rules of English behaviour' if you want some insight). In English it is pronounced 'kyew', and I had no reason to suspect it was any different in French, although I did know it meant 'tail' and I didn't think it was used to describe an orderly line of patiently waiting people. (Actually, I'm not quite sure what word the French use for this – probably just ligne or maybe file I suspect.)
One day Simon and I were sitting having a beer in their kitchen with Sylvie and Pierre-Yves, who are our neighbours across the road. Pierre-Yves is a pianist and Simon was telling him that we want to buy a grand piano. As Pierre-Yves speaks English, but Sylvie does not, I was quite pleased with myself that I knew the French for grand piano – piano à queue. (At this stage of the story, I imagine all you French speakers know what is coming...)
Sylvie's reaction to this piece of information was to nearly fall off her chair laughing and start slapping her rather shapely behind. Queue, in French, is apparently pronounced 'keh' – and, you guessed it – the word that is pronounced 'kyew' is cul, which means 'backside'. Fortunately for my self-esteem, Sylvie is such a nice person that I didn't have the least problem being the butt of the joke and there was a bonus – I immediately realised that the French drinking salute, cul sec, must mean 'dry bottom' i.e. the equivalent of 'bottoms up'.