Tag Archives: French language

Friday’s French – autant pour moi – au temps pour moi

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It took me a while to actually understand what this expression is all about. Autant usually means “as much as” or “as many as”, such as prenez autant que vous voulez – take as much as you want. Autant pour moi may be short for C’est autant pour moi with the general idea being “so much for me”.

I have since discovered a more plausible explanation. It seems that the real expression is au temps pour moi, of military origin where temps is the precise moment in time at which certain movements are made and distinguished by a pause when using a weapon. It’s the same idea as “marching in time” or “clapping in time”. Saying au temps pour moi is like admitting you weren’t in time.

But the origin remains a controversy and today, autant pour moi is found at least as often as au temps pour moi. The Collins-Robert bilingual dictionary gives “It’s my mistake” as a translation, which is pretty close to the idea being conveyed.

However, the real meaning is a lot subtler than that, as I have come to realise over the years. It is actually a male substitute for an apology about being wrong.

I don’t know about other Anglophone countries, but Australia is a very apologetic nation. People are always saying they’re sorry about something, even when it’s not their fault.

It’s not very French though. Je suis désolé(e) exists of course, and is used, when a woman, in particular, wants to express commissation e.g. je suis désolée d’avoir appris que vous avez été cambriolée – I’m sorry to learn you have been burgled.

Very often, only the past participle is used, without the verb, and the meaning is much more cursory, e.g. désolé d’être en retard – sorry I’m late.

More often than not, it is used to convey exactly the opposite, Je suis désolé mais je n’irai pas – I’m sorry but I’m not going, which is also a perfectly acceptable English usage as well, the difference being that it is used more often in French.

The reflexive verb s’excuser is far more frequently used than désolé in the apologetic sense. Excusez-moi d’être en retard – literally “forgive me for being late” but more like our “I’m sorry I’m late” in terms of frequency and register.

You can also say je vous demande pardon or je vous demande de me pardonner, both of which are sincere apologies for having done something undesirable. Ditto for je vous présente mes excuses.

To apologise for being wrong is something altogether different and seems to go against the grain. This is where autant pour moi comes in. Someone makes a blatant error, insisting upon it until you prove they’re wrong. When you finally produce evidence, they say with a shrug autant pour moi.

There is another version of excusez-moi which is typically French as well : je m’excuse – literally “I excuse myself!” At least that way there is no fear of their apology being refused … It’s usually used when you’ve finally managed to wring out an apology from some one. The polite form is je vous prie de m’excuser ou voulez-vous bien m’excuser. Now je m’en excuse is slightly different and conveys the idea of “I’m sorry about that”.

There are a few other synonyms out there such as contrarié , chagriné, confus, embêté and navré, each conveying a slightly different meaning.

Je suis contrariée d’être en retard : I’m sorry I’m late, with the idea that I really did want to come on time but something prevented me that I couldn’t do anything about.

Je suis chagriné d’apprendre le décès de votre père : I’m sorry to learn of your father’s decease, with the idea of being emotionally affected. It would be a bit OTT to say Je suis chagriné d’être en retard!

Je suis en retard ; je suis vraiment confus, I’m late; I’m really sorry, gives the idea that I am embarrassed about being late. It doesn’t mean “confused” of course. If you want to say “Everyone’s telling me something different. I’m confused”, you could say Tout le monde me dit quelque chose de différent. Je ne sais pas quoi penser. Confusing, huh?

Je suis embêté d’arriver en retard, I’m sorry I’m late, meaning that I am personally annoyed about not being on time and have probably missed out on something.

Je suis navré d’être en retard : I’m sorry I’m late, but I’m polite and well-educated and sincere about it, not just paying lip service.

Sorry about all that confusion – have you got it straight now? What do my French friends think?

In search of a quincaillerie – Festival du nouveau mot – Bicycling The Burgundy Canal for 100 Euro A Day

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Three very different posts for this Wednesday’s bloggers’ round-up: Abby from Paris Weekender takes us on what seems like a wild goose chase to a large number of Paris quincailleries; LLamalady from Blog in France tells us about a wonderful competition to suggest new words in French; while Experience France by Bike describes one of her favourite cycling itineraries – the Burgundy Canal. Thank you one and all!

In search of a quincaillerie

by Abby from Paris Weekender, an American living in Paris who offers suggestions for Paris weekends, either staying put or getting out of town

I am in the home stretch of apartment renovations on my new Paris apartment. Last weekend, I had hoped to move in, but due to delays in the completion of the renovations, I found myself with a free weekend in Paris and not much desire to sit in my temporary studio wasting it away.

I thought I would make myself useful and offer to help my interior architect with any job she could give me to make less work for herself (and of course, speed up the process). She asked if I could pick up handles for my cabinets and sent me the specifications and quantities. Read more.

Festival du Nouveau Mot – OR  How to Make Up French!

by Llamalady, an Irish llama and alpaca breeder living in the centre of France, who also runs a carp fishery and a holiday gite

As an expat, I often make up French words. The word I need totally escapes me, generally because of a modicum of stress induced by trying to not appear a bumbling dimwit in front of one of the kids’ teachers or the bank manager or someone equally authoritative. There seems no quick way to find an alternative description so, since all else fails, I shamelessly Frenchify the English one I’m trying to translate. You know the sort of thing – ‘J’ai forgetté’ intead of ‘J’ai oublié’ or ‘Le steering roue’ for steering wheel (le volant). And amazingly, occasionally it actually works! Read more

Bicycling The Burgundy Canal for 100 Euro A Day

by Experience France by Bike, an American who loves biking anywhere in Europe, but especially France, which has the perfect combination of safe bike routes, great food, great weather and history

If you are looking for the perfect deviation for an upcoming trip to Paris, look no further than Burgundy, specifically the Burgundy Canal.  One of my favorite starting points along the canal is Montbard, just over 1 hour, but light years from busy Paris.  Just a few steps from the train station you can rent a bike and quickly immerse yourself in Burgundian history, enjoy cycling along car-free bike paths, eat local Burgundy specialities, and visit picture-perfect medieval towns all at a fraction of the cost of one day in Paris.  Bicycling along the Burgundy Canal is one of my favorite itineraries in France. Read more 

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