When you grow up in Australia, you know all about Venetian blinds. They are not nearly as popular in France and most people don’t know how to use them. We had them at the French university where I taught and I began each year with a lesson on how to open and close them! However, I had never really thought about the name until we got to Venice where our home exchange/rental flat had two sets that didn’t close properly.
Our French guide book, Le Routard, mentioned them, giving persiennes as a translation which is rather strange because persiennes are something quite different. They are what I call louvres, which is a funny word when you come to think about it as it comes from the French word open.
Obviously modern Venetian blinds are adaptations of the original ones. I checked out the windows in Venice but they mostly seemed to have wooden shutters or curtains with only a few Venetians on some older buildings. I found some slatted shutters or louvres on the Rialto bridge but they are hardly what I’d call a Venetian blind.
In fact, Venetian blind turns out to be very nebulous terminology and seems to cover various types of blinds, made of different materials (wood, metal, plastic) and consisting of horizontal overlapping slats held together with a cord so they can be rotated open or closed.
The generic term for blind in French is store which comes from the Italian stora, meaning mat. It also includes the sort of awnings you have in front of a shop or café in France. Like a blind, a store can be solid or have slats.
Those metal and glass awnings over front doors are called marquises by the way, which I think is a lovely term but I have no idea where it comes from.
Back to our blinds. Persiennes are mostly wooden but can also be metal with horiziontal and occasionally vertical overlapping slats that are fixed. They can be opened in several ways – outwards or upwards like a window, by sliding across, etc.
Some persiennes are a type of shutter or volet. A volet can also be solid and is defined as a covering over a window to block out the light from either the inside or outside. Most French houses have them and most French people prefer to sleep in almost total darkness.
This was very strange to me when I first moved to France as we only had Venetian blinds in our house and they weren’t necessarily closed. They certainly didn’t block out all the light. Once I got used to sleeping with shutters, I found it very difficult not to have them. Our flat in Paris only has roller blinds so I had curtains made with special light-blocking lining.
Our house in Blois has shutters that open and close inside and guarantee total darkness. A recent Australian visitor loved them – she said it was like sleeping in a cave!
A thought has just struck me – what is the Italian meaning of Venetian blinds is not our Venitian blinds at all, but the French persiennes? I hope someone will be able to answer me!