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.


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.

The French habit of “backwards” talking

“Speaking backwards” would translate in French as “parler à l’envers”. The phrase “à l’envers” has been turned, well, backwards and became many years ago “verlan”, a new way of talking. Some backwards words have since been used so frequently that they are now an integral part of the spoken French language. Speaking verlan is mostly done by young people but many words are now used by all generations. Wikipedia has a good article on verlan so check it out if you want to know more about it. The purpose of this post is to present some of the most common examples of words that are now very commonly used.

un keuf: verlan for flic (cop)

une meuf: verlan for femme (woman)

beur: verlan for arabe (generally refers to people of North African descent). Interestingly, the verlan word has itself been “verlanised” into reubeu. Note that those terms are not racist in any way.


A collection of common expressions

On this page, I will share some expressions that can be used by French Immersion students and others to add colour to their French.

First expression, to get this page started:

“On n’est pas sorti de l’auberge!” Translating to “we’re not out of the woods”. The only difference is that “woods” is replaced by “inn” in the French version. As is often the case, there is no definite answer to how the expression originated. It is a very common expression in (Parisian as they say) French.

French expressions involving colours

Faire une nuit blanche: literally, to have a white night. It means to not sleep at all during the night. The origin of that expression is thought to have come from a tradition from the Middle Ages. The night before their knighting ceremony, squires had to spend a sleepless night to confess and pray. They spent their night all dressed in white.