Happy Bastille Day!

July 14th is France’s National Day. While Canada calls July 1st Canada Day, we casually call our National Day… le 14 juillet*. It is commonly referred to as Bastille Day by anglophone but you will be hard-pressed to hear a French person say le jour de la Bastille. What the phrase refers to is the reason why that particular day became our National celebration day.

On July 14th, 1789, the common people of Paris (as opposed to the richer or the religious classes) stormed the Bastille, which was a famous prison. The goal was partly to free up the political prisoners supposedly held there (although there happened to be none on that day) but mostly to steal the weapons and gunpowder that the building housed. That event precipitated the subsequent events of the French Revolution, thereby marking the start of a new era, effectively ending the feudal system and slowly implementing a republic.

July 14th was voted the National Holiday as a law in 1880, 101 years after the event.

Fireworks are a common way to celebrate le 14 juillet. Most towns and cities typically offer their own show. The main attraction on a national level is the military parade (le défilé militaire) on the Champs Elysées. The oldest military parade in Europe, it is attended by thousands of spectators, broadcast on TV and often features guest dignitaries from other countries.

In 2017, President Donald Trump is attending the celebrations alongside French President Emmanuel Macron. Although Macron has been very critical of Trump, he still wants to keep amicable relationships between the two countries and recognize the US as military allies and contributors to France’s freedom.

Also in 2017, Nice and the whole south east of France have cancelled their fireworks displays in memory of the 86 people killed by a truck-driving terrorist last year. 86 laser beams will illuminate the night sky to honor the victims.

Le 14 (quatorze) juillet is of course a non-working day for most people. When it falls on a Thursday or Tuesday, the French like to do a bridge (faire le pont), where they take the extra bridge day off to extend the week-end.

So to all you francophilesbon 14 juillet!







*Note that the months in French do not start with a capital letter, except when at the beginning of a sentence.


La galette des Rois

Today is January 6. If you look at a traditional French calendar, you will see the Saint of the Day. Some of the Saints for today are: Fanny, Gaspar and Balthazar. It is also the celebration of the Epiphany. Like many religious celebrations, January 6th has become a wide-spread tradition that has lost quite a bit of its original meaning. Although many French people would likely be able to tell you that it celebrates the visit of the Three Kings to Jesus, there is still quite a bit about the tradition that people don’t know.

For the most part, at the Epiphanie, the French purchase a galette des rois.

The galette is made of puff pastry, almond paste, and of course, lots of butter! Not many people bother making their own anymore. We’re all very busy all the time and puff pastry is a little tricky so most people simply purchase an industrial cake.

It’s a fun tradition. Each person gets a piece of cake and someone will find a fève (one of the French words for bean). The fève in question is now most often a very small plastic figurine, such as a baby jesus or a Virgin Mary although it now comes in many different types.

The lucky person who finds the fève becomes the King or Queen and gets to wear the paper crown that comes with the galette. That person also has the option to choose her Queen or King.

Happy Epiphany everyone!


Fireman let down

Not everything is more glamorous in France. My wife likes to tell the story that during her first year in France, in her early 20s, a fireman came to her door to sell the new calendar. Ouh la la! It is a French tradition, although a dying one, for firefighters to go door to door to sell their calendar to raise some funds. Being from Canada, let’s say she had certain expectations regarding the printing material she was about to acquire.

After paying the nice community worker, she proceeded to peruse the calendar with fairly high expectations.

Even though her copy is now long gone, it looked something like this.  Needless to say, it was another cultural learning experience for her. I must say that I too was surprised by the local calendar when we moved to Canada :). Interestingly, while searching for current calendar images of French fireman calendars, I noticed that the North American trend is starting to show signs of life over there as well.

Of week days, gods and planets

Monday is “Moon Day”, Saturday is Saturn Day, Sunday is, well, Sun day. Ever wonder what happened to Tuesday to Friday? Probably not but here’s an opportunity to find out.

While immersion learning is best, comparing two languages also has benefits: it can assist in vocabulary retention and help understand how words are formed. Following the French tradition, I will start my week on Monday.

So how do English and French compare on the names of the days?

In French, most week days are named after a planet, or to be precise, a Roman God. Monday and Sunday (dimanche) are the two exceptions. The syllabe “di” refers to the latin word dies (day).

Lundi/Monday: from “la lune” (the moon), very similar to “Mo(o)nday”

Mardi/Tuesday: mardi comes from the Latin “day of Mars”, the Roman God of war.

Tuesday also means “day of Mars” but comes from Old English “day of Tiw”, Tiw being the Germanic equivalent to the Roman Mars.

: jour de Mercure “day of Mercury”, the messenger of the Gods. He’s the one with the winged sandals.

Wednesday is day of the Germanic Woden (Odin).

Jeudi/Thursday: jour de Jupiter, who was Mercury’s father bu the way.

Thursday: day of Thor, God of Thunder, equivalent to the Rome’s Jupiter.

Vendredi/Friday: jour de Vénus.

Friday: day of Frigga, who was Odin’s wife. Frigga is the Germanic equivalent of the Roman Venus.

Samedi/Saturday: interestingly, the one day that starts with the same syllable in both languages is one that has a completely different origin. Samedi is “le jour du Chabbat”, day of Sabbath. Sabbath being the weekly holy day of rest in the Hebrew calendar.

Saturday is simply Saturn day.

Dimanche/Sunday: from the latin dies dominicus, day of God, ot represents the day of rest in several religions. The English version follows the planets (or stars in this case) theme. Sunday became the equivalent Sonntag in German.

While there can be differences in the words and their origins depending on the language, one thing is for sure: Mondays and lundis feel the same, no matter what you call them. Thankfully, there is always another vendredi around the corner!

When a goat has a gender issue

Gender issue: should you say “la chèvre” (the goat) or “le chèvre”? Well, it depends on what you want to say. The animal is designated using the feminine “la”. We use “le chèvre” when we talk about goat cheese. It is simply a quicker way of saying “le fromage de chèvre”. So “manger du chèvre” is very different from “manger de la chèvre” in which case you’re eating goat meat, not goat cheese.