French-Style Primaries

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The first time I voted in the French presidential elections in 2007, there were no primaries. In 2012, the main parties held their own primaries but it was an internal vote and you had to be a party member.


This year, however, someone has thought up a new system. Anyone on the electoral role can participate in the primaires citoyennes as they call them (citizens’ primaries). The centre and right wing parties held theirs in November and the left wing and environmentalists in January.

There is no obligation to participate in the primaires on the part of the presidential candidates (Far Left Wing candidate Marine Le Pen abstained, for one) but those who do participate must agree to respect the outcome. Any political party or group can ask to be part of the primaires and the parties set their own rules about deciding who will represent them.

Voters in the right and centre primaires had to sign the following on their honour: “Je partage les valeurs républicaines de la droite et du centre et je m’engage pour l’alternance afin de réussir le redressement de la France.” (roughly, “I share the republican values of the right and centre and I am committed to the principle of alternation [of political parties in government] for France’s successful recovery”.

To auto-finance the ballot each person contributes 2 euro each time they vote. As in the presidential elections, there are two rounds. A total of 4.27 million people voted in the first round in November. The winner was François Fillon from the Republican Party with 44.1%, followed by Alain Juppé, 28.6% and former president Nicolas Sarkozy, 20.7%. The other 4 candidates obtained less than 7% of the ballots. During the second round, Fillon scored 72.89% while Juppé didn’t do much better than the first time with 27.11%. All but one of the France’s 95 départements (administrative divisions) voted for Fillon.

The left wing and the environmentalists have just held their primaires citoyennes. Once again, the far left wing did not participate. The contribution this time was 1 euro per person per vote. The sentence to be signed was “Je me reconnais dans les valeurs de la Gauche et de la République, dans le projet dune société de liberté, d’égalité, de fraternité, de laïcité, de justice et de progrès solidaire”. (“I agree with the values of the Left Wing and the Republic, in their vision of a society of freedom, equality, fraternity, laicity, justice and progress based on solidarity.”)

A total of 1.65 million people voted in the first round. Benoît Hamon came out on top with 36.03%, followed by Manual Valls, with 31.48% and Arnaud Montebour with 17.52 percent.  All three are members of the Socialist Party. The other four candidates totalled 13.66%. During the second round, Hamon headed the list once again wiht 58.37% and Valls 41.63%. Once again, all but two départements (not the same ones!) voted for Hamon.

The total number of voters on the electoral roll in France is 44.8 million. There would seem to be another 3 million who have not registered.

In both lots of primaires, it would seem that about 15% of the voters were from the other side!

Since then, right wing candidate François Fillon has somewhat tarnished his image. His wife, Penelope, was paid €830,000 to be a phantom parliamentary assistant, his children received another €84,000 as his equally phantomesquechimerical assistants while they were still students; Penelope is also said to have been paid €100,000 as a literary consultant although there is no evidence of any output. Fillon himself may have embezzled funds when he was a senator and he omitted to declare €200,000 in earnings as a senior advisor for a company called Ricol Lasteyrie. He seems to have little choice but to dip out although he has asked for two weeks to make up his mind.

Juppé, the next in line, declared yesterday that he would not be “plan B” after François Fillon. He has a somewhat shady background as well.

Meanwhile, the Socialists are seriously divided about Benoît Hamon’s politics and many are debating about whether to follow Macron, President Holland’s extremely young finance minister from 2014 to 2016 who founded a breakaway party, “En marche” in April 2016 and chose not to participate in the primaires citoyennes.

Where all this will lead to, it’s hard to say. Marine Le Pen is certainly rubbing her hands with glee. The presidential elections are scheduled for 23rd April and 7th May. Vive la France!

AllAboutFranceBadge_bisThis post is a contribution to Lou Messugo’s All About France link-up. 

For other posts about France, click here.

Posted in France, French customs | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Friday’s French – savoir-faire, savoir-vivre, savoir-être, know-how, expertise, interpersonal skills

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Savoir-faire looks like a word that should mean the same in French and in English. But it doesn’t! Savoir-faire in English is the ability to act or speak appropriately in social situations.

What do you think is illustrated here? Savoir faire, savoir vivre or savoir être and in which language ?

What do you think is illustrated here? Savoir faire, savoir vivre or savoir être and in which language ?

Savoir-faire in French, however, means skills acquired by experience in various practical problems when doing one’s work.

Savoir-vivre in French is knowing and practising the rules of politeness and usages in social situations, which sounds suspiciously like the English savoir-faire.

Savoir-vivre in English is good breeding and knowledge of polite usages.

In French, but not in English, we then have savoir-être which is the capacity to adapt to different situations and adjust behaviour according to the characteristics of the environment, the issues involved and the type of person concerned.

That seems to correspond to some extent to our interpersonal skills in English which are the life skills we use every day to communicate and interact with other people, both individually and in groups. They are also called social skills and people skills.

How about a few examples to make it all a bit clearer.

We’ll start with savoir-faire in French and go from there. I’ve chosen “real-life” sentences from the web because the subject is a little complicated.

Les maîtres artisans expriment leur savoir-faire ancestral associant des prouesses techniques et des innovations dans leurs créations.

Rough diamonds are brought to life by master craftsmen using skill and artistry that has been passed down through generations.

So here, the French savoir-faire is rendered by skill and artistry in English.

Même s’ils ont récupéré du matériel hautement technologique, du matériel militaire américain en Irak, ils n’ont pas le savoir-faire pour mettre en place un missile.

Syria’s stockpile is potentially “like a gift from God” for militants since they don’t have the know-how to assemble such weapons, while some of Syria’s chemical agents are believed to have already been fitted into missile warheads.

Here, know-how is used in English, which is by far the most common equivalent of the French savoir-faire.

Now, savoir-faire in English.

It betrays your lack of savoir-faire, of good taste, of any sort of culinary judgement. You can almost hear the stifled gasps of fellow diners.

Il n’y a rien de pire que les chuchotements et autres bavardages à l’opéra, même si vous avez l’impression que personne ne vous entend. Vos voisins pourraient s’agacer de votre manque de savoir-vivre et vous décocher un rappel à l’ordre poli… dans un premier temps.

Certainly not know-how, skills or artistry, is it?

Next, savoir-vivre in French

Au travail, certaines interactions sociales peuvent mettre mal à l’aise. Et malheureusement, beaucoup de personnes se couvrent de ridicule car elles ne savent pas que les règles de savoir-vivre au travail sont différentes de celles qui s’appliquent dans d’autres contextes.

We all know that the essence of good manners and etiquette is to be respectful and courteous to all – all the time. But what about in the workplace, what’s expected of us? When it comes to workplace etiquette, there are written and unwritten rules.

So the French savoir-vivre corresponds to good manners and etiquette in English.

And what about savoir-vivre in English?

How can something as instinctive as the need to create your own nest or space be so unimportant to so many people? A futon just doesn’t do it. Some people have “it” — savoir-vivre — and some don’t.

Then we have savoir-être in French

La différence entre deux candidatures a priori égales se fait désormais sur le « savoir-être ». Plus le candidat est « adaptable », « optimiste », « créatif » ou « doté d’un esprit d’équipe », plus il séduira le recruteur.

To succeed in management you need good interpersonal skills, you need to understand how to deal with other people.

So savoir-être in French corresponds to interpersonal skills in English.

A little summary to end with:

French savoir-faire Savoir-vivre Savoir-être
English skills, artistry, know-how Savoir-faire, good manners, etiquette Interpersonal skills

Now, before you go, which of these concepts do you think are illustrated in the photo – don’t forget to specify the language and explain why!

Posted in French language | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Friday’s French – galette, galet, shingles, gâteau, cake, pancakes, crepes, biscuits

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It’s galette des rois time again.  This is the cake used to celebrate the Epiphany in France, the 12th day of Christmas, January 6th, the day on which the three kings reached Bethlehem. It has become an essential part of New Year throughout the country and is practised in different forms that you can read about here and here.


But I want to talk about the word itself. A galette is a flat cake, based on the word galet or flat stone, the sort you get on beaches in Normandy when they don’t have any sand and which are called shingles in English. Galet is a diminutive of gal meaning rock in Gaul.

By analogy, a galet is also a small cylindrical or conical wheel used to guide or support a mobile mechanical part. Ah huh, I hear you say. We’d call it a roller or wheel in French. The photo will help you identify it just in case it might come in handy.


A galette is also a buckwheat crêpe as opposed to one made of wheat flour. They are very popular in Brittany in particular and now used almost exclusively for savoury crêpes.

A ship’s biscuit is also a galette because of its shape, not to mention the tortilla which can be called a galette de maïs.

And talking about biscuits, that’s a word that doesn’t have quite the same meaning in French and in English. You can use it to mean our biscuit, which is also called a gâteau sec (literally dry cake). A biscuit salé (salty) is a cracker or cheese biscuit (which the French would never use with cheese, I might add – bread only is the rule!).

A biscuit pour chien is a dog biscuit but surprisingly a biscuit is also a sponge cake. If you want to be precise, you can say biscuit de Savoie. And those sponge fingers (or lady fingers as they say in the US) that you use to make tiramisu (my favourite dessert) are called biscuits à la cuiller because of the fact that you use a spoon to put the pâte à biscuit (cake mixture) onto the tray to cook them.

Cake exists in French but almost exclusively means a fruit cake, but not what we call fruit cake in Australia. A French cake is always cooked in a loaf tin, is quite dry and has a small amount of dried fruit scattered through it. If it is made with olives or something else savoury, it’s also called a cake, as in cake aux olives. The main ingredients are eggs, flour, butter and baking powder (plus sugar if it’s sweet).

Except for gâteaux secs as mentioned before or gâteaux apéritif which are appetizers, the word gâteau is used for all other sorts of cake and even for rice pudding (gâteau de riz).

If you are feeling confused, don’t worry! It takes many years to get it straight. I am still calling dog biscuits “gâteaux de chien” and immediately correcting myself. We bought some recently to try and stop the neighbour’s dogs barking. I’ve yet to test them but my brother swears it will work. He says training dogs is a piece of cake. (C’est du gâteau). Now the opposite of that – ce n’est pas du gâteau is apparently the equivalent of “it’s no picnic”.

AllAboutFranceBadge_bisI’m joining Lou Messugo’s AllAboutFrance link-up today. For other contributions, click here.

Posted in French customs, French language | Tagged | 16 Comments

Happy New Year for 2017

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And there you go – another year has just flipped by. Admittedly, we did spend a whole three months travelling – first to Australia and India in the winter, then to Italy, Austria and Germany on a cycling holiday in the summer, especially the Romantic Road, and finally New York and Boston in the autumn. As usual we are starting the year in front of the fire at Closerie Falaiseau but with below zero temperatures outside.

The iconic photo in front of the Taj Mahal

The iconic photo in front of the Taj Mahal

Jean Michel is halfway through installing an automatic watering system so we can create a mini-Giverny. However, everything is taking longer than it should and the cold weather has come too soon. The back garden is full of clay which makes digging trenches deep enough to stop the pipes freezing is a complicated busines. We’re hoping it will be ready to go by spring.

The current state of the garden while the watering installation is in progress.

The current state of the garden while the watering installation is in progress.

I have just bought a studio flat in the historical quarter of Blois to rent as holiday accommodation to overseas visitors. It’s wonderfully situated and there is even access to a little garden to relax in after an exhausting day visiting the Loire Valley châteaux. Another project to keep us busy!

The view from the shared garden of the studio flat in Blois

The view from the shared garden of the studio flat in Blois

Our travel plans this year are a week in Cyprus in the spring (any suggestions about accommodation and places to see are very welcome), our usual month’s cycling in June (the destination will depend on the weather) and hopefully a week in Istanbul in the autumn (provided things have quietened down by then and our home exchange still exists).

Giant holly bush in Molineuf

Giant holly bush in Molineuf during one of our walks

The world situation is not very inspiring at the present but we believe the best remedy is to remain positive and enjoy life to the fullest. We are lucky enough to live in a beautiful region that is a constant source of discovery by bike or on foot.

Crossing the Loire with our bikes to go to Chambord

Crossing the Loire with our bikes to go to Chambord

On the professional front, as well as being a sworn translator for the Blois Tribunal de Grande Instance, I am now an expect sworn translator for the Orléans Court of Appeal. I’m still freelancing as a legal and technical translator full time, with another two and a half years to go before retirement. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to leave me much time to do much apart from cycling, gardening and travelling which explains why I don’t blog a lot these days.

Standing in front of the Appeal Court of Orléans before being sworn in

Standing in front of the Appeal Court of Orléans before being sworn in as an expert translator

My second blog, Loire Daily Photo, gets a bit more attention because it only takes about 10 minutes a day to post a photo and a short text in French and English. It also continues to get me out and about on days when I might tend to stay inside too much.

Homemade foie gras and champagne in front of the 400-year old fireplace

Homemade foie gras and champagne in front of the 400-year old fireplace

We are continuing our intermittent fasting twice a week and it is very much a part of our normal routine. With our homemade foie gras on the menu every evening from Christmas to New Year, our fast days brought welcome respite! We certainly feel it helps our general state of health.

We have definitely shelved our “little house” project and have received our demolition permit. Now we just have to move every thing out of it that we have been storing since we bought Closerie Falaiseau. But the second barn needs to be fixed up first :). A lot of things will be going to the next garage sale.


In the meantime, I’d like to wish all my readers a very happy and fulfilling 2017. Thank you for following me and sharing through your comments.

Posted in Accommodation, Blogging, Flowers & gardens, Food | Tagged | 13 Comments

Friday’s French – gigue, gigot, gigoter, jig, leg

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Susan Walter from Days on the Claise was wondering recently about the use of gigue and gigot when referring to a leg of venison or lamb.

Photo courtesy of Susan Walter

Photo courtesy of Susan Walter

I was not aware of the term gigue as I don’t often buy venison! So I checked on the etymology and learnt that it comes from Old French gigue (1120-1150) meaning a musical instrument with 3 strings, which in turn comes from high German giga, a stringed instrument.

The shape of the instrument appears to have led to the use of gigot to describe a leg of deer or lamb which was then used jokingly to describe a person’s leg, particularly when dancing as in remuer le gigot, literally to shake a leg which, in English, of course, means to get a move on.

There seems to be no real explanation for the modern use of gigue instead of gigot in the case of venison (gigue de chevreuil), first attested in 1838, while gigot is reserved for lamb and mutton.

The term gigot also appears in the expression manches à gigot to describe mutton-leg sleeves which were first seen in the 1820s and early 1830s. By the time Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837 however, they had completely disappeared in favour of a more subdued style. They came back in again towards the end of her reign in the 1890s more overblown than ever – much to the ridicule of the media – until 1906 when the fashion once again changed.

Although it looks very similar, gigoter is a bit more complicated. Gigoter means to wriggle around. You’d use it for a baby moving its arms and legs all the time, for example, or a little child who can’t stay still:

Il n’arrêtait pas de gigoter dans mes bras – He wouldn’t stop wriggling when I picked him up.

Arrête de gigoter. Il faut manger maintenant. – Stop wriggling about. It’s time to eat now.

Etymology-wise, there are two possibilities. It is either a derivative of gigot or it  comes from the Old French verb giguer meaning “to kick” (1694) or “to move its legs around” (1718, when speaking of an animal in agony). It also used to mean “to dance” but has lost that meaning now. Guincher, which is slang for “to dance”, may be derived from the same word though.

Which (naturally) makes you think of jig, a form of lively folk dance which developed in 16th-century England, and was quickly adopted on the Continent where it eventually became the final movement of the mature Baroque dance suite (from French gigue; Italian and Spanish giga).

My apologies to Susan for not coming up with a better explanation!

Posted in Food, French language | Tagged | 6 Comments

A Christmas Day Walk above Montrichard

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It’s 25th December and overcast. The sun has obviously decided not to waste its energy on people about to tuck into Christmas lunch inside their homes where they won’t know if it rains or shines. We celebrated Christmas with just the two of us last night as our four adult children are all elsewhere this year, which is not a problem of course. We need some rest! We’ve had our brunch and are ready to go for a little hike. Despite the lack of sun, it’s really quite balmy at 9°C. Our recent walks have been a lot chillier.

The ruins of Montrichard castle

The ruins of Montrichard castle

I’ve chosen Montrichard as our starting point because there is a GR hiking trail high above the Cher River and it seems there are even troglodytes. We try to hike in winter in places where we can’t cycle in the winter.

One of the Renaissance buildings

One of the Renaissance buildings – this is Hôtel d’Effiat, 16th and 17th century

We park in Montrichard and there is not a soul in sight. It’s easy to take photographs with no one around – not even cars! The ruins of the mediaeval castle are omnipresent. We hadn’t realised how many Renaissance buildings there are in Montrichard.

Colourful half-timebered houses

Colourful half-timebered houses

There are also several brightly-coloured 15th century half-timbered houses.

The 11th century preacher's house

The 11th century preacher’s house

Our GR trail takes us up a hill past the 11th century Preacher’s House, the only house that survived when Philippe Auguste ordered the town to be razed to the ground by fire in 1188 to get rid of the English invaders.

Montrichard from the highest point

Montrichard from the highest point

We walk up steep winding steps until we reach the highest point where the castle stands.

Walking up the forest path

Walking up the forest path

The path then takes us through a little wood and down another steep path.

An unexpected little boat

An unexpected boat, looking very bright in comparison with the dismal day

A little blue boat seems a little far from the river today.

A Touraine vineyard

A Touraine vineyard


Around the next corner we come to a vineyard.

Walking through the wrong forest

Walking through the wrong forest

We walk through another forest and come to a bitumen road just after two picnic tables and several mounds of beer bottles. This can’t be right – we must have missed the signs, so we back-track and find ourselves overlooking a village with more troglodyte houses.

Troglodytes during our teabreak

Troglodytes during our teabreak

After a teabreak halfway down to the village, we start heading home. The sky brightens a little and then it starts spitting lightly.

The Cher River from the walking track

The Cher River from the walking track

We walk around the castle but there’s a fence to keep trespassers out of course.

The ruins of Montrichard castle

The ruins of Montrichard castle

We end our walk along the Cher. We can see a couple of people on the “beach” where we enjoyed a welcome ice-cream the summer before last after a hot ride along the river.

Walking along the Cher River

Walking along the Cher River

Our path back to the car takes us past the town hall, looking very festive. Joyeuses fêtes, it says, “Happy Holidays”. May I wish you all a happy Christmas as well!

Happy Holiday wishes at the town hall in Montrichard

Happy Holiday wishes at the town hall in Montrichard

Posted in Architecture, Loire Valley, Walking | Tagged | 3 Comments

Friday’s French – Chantier, mess, roadworks, construction work

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Chantier is an interesting word. The photo below is a perfect illustration of its three main meanings. Un chantier is a place where some sort of construction work is going on. It is also the construction work itself while the third meaning is related to the mess produced by the construction work.

The work being carried out here is for the installation of an automatic watering system - Le chantier en cours est l'installation d'un arrosage automatique

The work being carried out here is for the installation of an automatic watering system. What a mess!  Le chantier en cours est l’installation d’un arrosage automatique. Et c’est un vrai chantier!


So what would we call a chantier in English? If it applies strictly to where the construction work is being carried out, then we can talk about a worksite or building site. That’s the most straightforward.

Il y a deux grues sur le chantier – There are two cranes on the building site.

If you’re talking about the place where you were doing a job, you’d probably say “on the job”.

J’ai oublié mes outils sur le chantier – I forgot my tools on the job.

When you’re talking about the construction work itself, you can no longer call it a worksite.

Ils ont démarré le chantier il y a deux semaines – They started construction two weeks ago.

By extension, the expression en chantier means that work of some sort is going on:

La maison est en chantier depuis trois mois – We’ve been fixing up the house / having the house fixed up / having alterations done on the house for three months.

J’en ai marre du chantier – I’m sick of alterations.

Elle a deux livres en chantier – She’s working  on two books at the moment.

Quand est-ce que tu vas te mettre en chantier – When are you going to get going?

Chantier meaning a mess is not just restricted to construction work.

Ta chambre est un vrai chantier – Your room is a complete mess.

There are other specific uses of chantier such as chantier naval which is a shipyard and chantier d’exploitation forestière which is a lumber site.

There is also chantier interdit au public which literally means worksite prohibited to the public but in English we would probably just say “No entry” or “No admittance”.

Although roadworks are usually just travaux, when they are finished – when we would say “road clear” or “end of roadworks” -the French signs usually say “Fin de chantier”.

Chantier used in a wider sense means the start of a major project. A famous example is Chantiers de jeunesse, an organisation created in 1940 by the Vichy government  to occupy newly drafted recruits. For more, very interesting reading on the subject, click here.

The origin of the word is also interesting and very complicated. It comes from the Latin cantherius meaning gelded horse or a poor work horse. By metaphor, it came to mean “support”, particularly (1261) the pieces of wood on which barrels were placed and by 1611, it also meant the wedge supporting a piece to be crafted, which gave the expression mentioned above mettre en chantier meaning to start work.

By the second half of the 17th century, chantier had come to mean a place where building materials were stocked and then an open-air construction or demolition site. The shipyard meaning comes from the fact that chantier was used to designate the wooden support used when boat-building.

I hope this explanation is comprehensible. My sources are a bit confusing and use lots of linguistics terminology.

Now, over to you – what other uses of chantier do you know?

Posted in French language | Tagged , | 5 Comments

A Walk Along the Cisse to Coulanges

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It’s Sunday and we are continuing our walk along the GR track starting at Chouzy-sur-Cisse, first to Coulanges where we have never been before, then to Chambon sur Cisse. The sun gradually comes out but it remains quite chilly. We walk about 10 km which is quite a lot for me.

Moss has taken over may of the roofs as winter approaches

Moss has taken over may of the roofs as winter approaches

The door looks as though it's some sort of religious building. It's only later on that we realise it's an abbey.

The door looks as though it’s some sort of religious building. It’s only later on that we realise it’s an abbey.

The side of the old abbey.

The side of the old abbey.

The church in Coulanges

The church in Coulanges

We don't know whether this pump was originally in this spot.

We don’t know whether this pump was originally in this spot.

The town hall in Coulanges, surprisingly large for such as small town.

The town hall in Coulanges, surprisingly large for such as small town.

There are no shops so the bread is delivered from Chouzy-sur-Cisse 4 kilometers away.

There are no shops so the bread is delivered from Chouzy-sur-Cisse 4 kilometers away.

Many former openings are now bricked up.

Many former openings are now bricked up.

it's hard to know where the roofs stops and the vegetation begins

it’s hard to know where the roofs stops and the vegetation begins

And this one is a complete shambles!

And this one is a complete shambles!

The view of the Cisse from the bridge

The view of the Cisse from the bridge

View of the bridge from the walking tracks along the Cisse

View of the bridge from the walking tracks along the Cisse

Obviously a popular place in summer!

Obviously a popular place in summer!

The pumpkin on the landing probably has something to do with Halloween

The pumpkin on the landing probably has something to do with Halloween

Looks like a great place to spend a summer day

Looks like a great place to spend a summer day

And suddenly, the sun comes out!

And suddenly, the sun comes out!

Another watermill

Another watermill

A Christmas tree waiting for December

A Christmas tree waiting for December

Santa having  a little rest before the hard work of Christmas

Santa having a little rest before the hard work of Christmas

I'm always surprised to see palm trees so far north but it shows how mild the winter must be next to this part of the Cisse

I’m always surprised to see palm trees so far north but it shows how mild the winter must be next to this part of the Cisse

Posted in Loire Valley, Walking | Tagged | 8 Comments

Friday’s French – pêche, nectarine, brugnon, peach

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There is a popular belief in France that nectarines and their cousins, brugnons, are combinations of peaches and other fruits such as plums and apricots. Jean Michel was quite adamant before I was able to prove the contrary. He even flatly refused to accept the definition in the Larousse dictionary but he says that he has always been told that they were a hybrid.


The Larousse dictionary says that a nectarine is a peach with a smooth skin whose stone does not adhere to the flesh. A brugnon is a variety of peach with a smooth skin whose stone adheres to the flesh. My personal experience is that nectarines have a yellowish-orange flesh and are sweeter than brugnons whose flesh is pale and tastes a bit tart. I don’t actually like peaches because of their fuzzy skin but I can eat nectarines if there isn’t anything else.

The adherence/non adherence of the pit has given the terms “clingstone” and “freestone” in English.


It’s the wrong time of year to be able to use one of my own photos so I’m borrowing them from Wikipedia.

So where do the words pêche, peach, nectarine and brugnon come from?

Peach (and pêche) come from Old French pesche meaning “peach, peach tree” (Old North French peske), and directly from Medieval Latin pesca, from Late Latin pessica, a variant of persica “peach, peach tree,” from Latin malum Persicum, literally “Persian apple,” translating Greek Persikon malon, from Persis “Persia”.

In ancient Greek Persikos could mean “Persian” or “the peach.” The tree is native to China, but reached Europe via Persia. By 1663 William Penn observed peaches in cultivation on American plantations.

Its meaning in English of “attractive woman” is attested from 1754; that of “good person” from 1904. Peaches and cream in reference to a type of complexion is from 1901. Pêche in French does not have any of these meanings. The most common metaphorical meaning is avoir la pêche which means to be full of beans or in top form.

The word nectarine dates from the 1660s and means “of or like nectar”. It was probably inspired by German nektarpfirsich “nectar-peach.” It first appeared in English as nectrine before becoming nectarine.

Brugnon, on the other hand, is borrowed from the Occitan (southern French) prunhon from vulgar Latin “prunea” meaning plum. It first appeared in French as brignon (1600) then brugnon (1680). Maybe its origin partly explains the hybrid belief I mentioned earlier.

In the middle of the 19th century, brugnon was used for all smooth peaches and the stone-adhering/non-adhering was introduced later on. 

Did you know about the brugnon/nectarine hybrid belief?

Posted in Food, French language | 10 Comments

Friday’s French – châtaigne, chestnut, marron, brun, brown

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It’s roast chestnut season. If you come from Australia, you probably think there is only one kind – the edible sort you read about in English novels. Not so! In French, there are two different words: marron and châtaigne and the distinction is rather complicated.

Des marrons dans une poêle à châtaignes

Des marrons dans une poêle à châtaignes

There are basically two sorts: an edible sweet chestnut that is easiest to spot if it is still in its husk, which is spiny and needle-sharp. Its scientific name is Castanea sativa. It’s very distant relation, the toxic, inedible chestnut, also called the horse chestnut, has a husk that is much smoother, with only a few warts. Horse chestnuts are the ones commonly found in forests and backyards. Its scientific name is Aesculus hippocastanum.

So you would imagine it would be easy in French. Let’s start with the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). The tree is called a marronier d’Inde or marronier commun. It actually comes from the Balkans and has nothing to do with India. The fruit is also called a marron.

That’s the easy bit. Now we have the tree called châtaignier whose edible fruit is called une châtaigne. But people talk about eating marrons chauds and marrons glacés. Why? It’s because there are two kinds and the larger (and (tastier) cultivated châtaigne is called a marron!

The cultivated marron only contains one fruit in each husk whereas the wild ones have two or more, with an annoying skin called a pellicle between them. The ones in the photo as the wild ones. We had to discard half of them because they were too hard to eat. Next time we’ll make sure we buy marrons!

Marron is also the usual word for the colour brown.

Marron has, of course, given the colour maroon in English, which is not brown at all, but a dark brownish red colour, what the French call bordeaux. It you have ever seen a 20-year old bordeaux wine, you’ll understand where the colour comes from!

What about brun? I can hear you saying. Yes, you’re right, it also means brown. You say des cheveux bruns (brown hair), des yeux bruns (brown eyes), une peau brune (a swarthy skin), le tabac brun (dark tobacco), un ours brun (a brown bear) and bière brune (brown ale).

But brown shoes are chaussures marrons and a brown shirt is une chemise marron. Marron can also be used for eyes and hair. Some people argue that les yeux marrons and les yeux bruns are the same thing but others disagree. The same applies to les cheveux marrons and les cheveux bruns.

I’ve even heard les yeux noisette used to mean brown eyes, even though une noisette is a hazel nut. The problem with hazel eyes is that they are a mixture of green, brown and amber and the mix can vary according to the person, so two people can have hazel eyes that are very different.

What other examples can you think of? How do we say a brown dog in French? What about a brown horse and a brown coat? Or a brown car?

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