Maîtres mots

  • Il y a longtemps que notre pays est beau mais rude.

       --Newspaper editor Olivier Séguret, 25 January 2012

    The USA are entirely the creation of the accursed race, the French.

       --Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), writing to Nancy Mitford, 22 May 1957

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French Freedom of Speech

Today the cheminots are:

  • "À nous de vous faire préférer le train!"
    "Voyager autrement"
    "Avec le SNCF, tout est possible"
      --Former ad slogans of the SNCF (French national trains), each in turn quickly dropped

Fun French words

  • ouistiti

    (literally: marmoset)
    Etymology: onomatopoeia from the sound a marmoset makes. Actual meaning: this is what you say in France when you want people to smile for the camera.

    Selon une étude réalisée par le fabricant d’appareils photo Nikon, le « ouistiti » utilisé en France au moment de se faire prendre en photo est le petit mot le plus efficace pour s’assurer un joli sourire.

Who's en colère today?

  • Private sector

    First strike in 43 years at an aeronautics company in Toulouse, Latécoère

    Public sector

    The SNCF (toujours eux), regional train employees in the Lyons area guaranteeing unpleasant travel from the 17th-21st December
    Also yet another strike by Sud-Rail, a particularly truculent SNCF union in the south of France, this time five days in January: 6,7, 21, 22 and 23. "We have no choice." Right.

    Marseilles trams on strike until February

Go back to school in Paris!

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« Practical information for the French general strike on Tuesday 4 April. A good day to stay home. | Main | Morning of the General Strike Day; the doormat »


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I love this one ! It's so funny to reread them in english and grasp the absurdity of it ! Nice

Hi Sedulia !

/*/These are not a joke. The French really write this way./*/

Yes. (smile) Took Amerloque ages to figure out the degrees ... and he, too, keeps a book to hand when writing letters out of the ordinary (to kill a parking ticket, for example).


I know, I always think those "formules" are so funny and pretentious. I've been looking for a book like that (Fab's not the best help when writing letters) - would you recommend that particular one?

Wow, that's really good to know. I knew the French were more formal but had no idea it was THIS bad! I'm already overwhelmed by how much I don't know about French so I will file this away with all the other great tidbits I will need for future reference.

Holy cow!! ROFL!!!

Holy crap! I have been sending "sentiments" without realizing what a faux pas that is! No wonder everyone thinks I'm a slut.

Wow, how you can know all this is beyond me, how long have you studied french? all your life??? :)

"sinceres salutations" is a simple and usually sufficient in most cases... but sometimes you definitely need those "agreer" and "distinguees" and "dans l'attente"

This is so true! I make a living in the U.S., just advising clients when to send their sentiments vs. salutations, distinguished, respectful, cordial, that they get what they need/want. I was drilled on the subject by my upper-class mother, and you can find thick how-to books at FNAC. That "savoir-vivre" (nonsense?) is disappearing progressively, because web-writing kills true etiquette. Nevertheless, it's useful to have a basic understanding of it, as the right "formule" still can make your case...or break it!

Hi Samantha-- That particular book is kind of out of date. I'm sure you can find a better one in the "Savoir-Vivre" section of bookshops. The new ones even have suggestions for email. The long formulas are gradually dying out, but you certainly still need them for any kind of polite letter to businesses or schools, especially any time you are asking for something .

Kim--I have sort of been learning French my whole life. My grandparents were French speakers in southern Louisiana, and I started learning it in school down there at age 8. I grew up hearing French around me, all the old people spoke it, although it was an accent that now sounds funny to me!

I never realised how ridiculous these 'formules' look in English.

The French are truly mad. France is a large asylum.

No wonder I fit in so...

Marco's right. These days the most common formula is "Sincères salutations", when someone wants to sound civil, or simply "Salutations" though it's usually used to convey an unfriendly attitude. When people expect an answer, especially a quick one, they use "Dans l'attente".

But basically yes there are a lot of pompous pricks here, especially in public service jobs where people like to view their role and stature as more important than they really are.

However when you ask a favor to the french IRS, or to a judge, someone who can make your life miserable if he feels like to, well, you've got to give in to that. And i would add that there's a politeness formula at the beginning of the letter in those cases. Something like, Dear Mister the president, i am honored to humbly sollicitate your high benevolence... bla bla bla.

However i was a bit puzzled by what you say about "Sincerely" being used in all non-personal correspondence in the US. In my case, and i've worked with Americans for almost 20 years, Best Regards is used almost everytime. When there's no civility, it's simply Regards. When the other person is a woman and the correspondence lasts for a while and the tone is warmer while remaining strictly professional, it can turn into Kind Regards. In contrast, i get sincerely in a good deal of personal correspondence but it's not the most common formula. Care to enlighten me on that ?


Sedulia is correct. "Sincerely" is used customarily.

"Regards" and "Kind regards" would not be commonly used. "Best regards" might be used a little more often.

But "Sincerely" is the norm.

From Sedulia:

Sincerely is normal for almost all business letters, but Regards is used for someone you want to seem friendly to-- but real friends wouldn't use it!

it is always funny when you translate French into English exactly as it is written.

Williams, thanks a lot, this is really helpful. I just cant believe i only discover this after so many years. And it's a bit embarrassing too, i've spent most of my life trying to get the deepest aspects of the American culture and i believe i've come a long way, only to find out i am still clueless when it comes to such basic stuff !

LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE your blog. It's my new favorite. I'm linking to you and visiting every day in the hope that some of your wittiness will wear off on me.

Lol :),

The worst is that we are aware that all of this is more than ridiculous... But since it's a kind of custom, it's not that easy to change and this nonsense remains.

An other weird thing is that you must HANDWRITE the letters when applying for a job. Send one made with word and it go right now in the bin. Too bad.

Too, when we are writting an essay, our scheme (sorry I'm unsure of the well fitted word) but I mean that :

I] - title 1
1)subtitle 1
2)subtitle 2
3)subtitle 3
II] - title 2
1)subtitle 1
2)subtitle 2
3)subtitle 3
III] - title 3
1)subtitle 1
2)subtitle 2
3)subtitle 3

the content written under Title 1,2 and 3 should have *almost* the same lenght (number of lines)
and the content written under subtitle 1,2 and 3 should have *almost* the same lenght (number of lines)
and the content written under Title 1/subtitle 1 should have *almost* the same lenght (number of lines) that Title 2/subtitle 2

This has been some pain for me for years at school.

All these so-called polite formula, illustrate how conventional languages are. Each one has its own requirements and learning a language thus equals abandoning (at least for a while)some previous rules and embracing new ones. It's all a matter of deconstruction and reconstruction, n'est-ce pas?

Hi everybody,

I am french and I just wanted to say how foolish you can be to laugh at french politeness!
It is normal I think, when you apply for a job or anything else and you do not know the person, to show your respect and consideration to him/her. How could it be otherwise? "thank you dude, bye"? Plus, finding a job is very difficult in France, and the impression you will give to your employer is essential.
Moreover, please notice that you american people are far from having a good reputation in France. Being american is to us, and I'm afraid to the rest of the world, very often synonymous of being a rude, dumb and impolite person, even if this is a cliché.
So, instead of laughing at the french polite formulations, maybe you should take example of all this to build you a better reputation.

I guess we should become polite, like you.

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Today's quotation

  • In Paris, the purest virtue is the object of the filthiest slander.

      –Honoré Balzac (1799-1850), in Scènes de la vie privée

    À Paris, la vertu la plus pure est l'objet des plus sales calomnies.

Le petit aperçu d'Ailleurs

  • Annual Geminids meteor shower (shooting stars!) coming this weekend, if it's not too cloudy out at night.

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