Creative Use of English Language in France

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In the 2004 novel “A Year in the Merde”, an Englishman is sent to Paris to set up a chain of tea rooms in France. At the beginning of the book, the British guy tries to explain his French team that “My Tea Is Rich” is not a good name for a chain of English tea rooms.

The French stand their ground against the crazy Englishman and argue the name chosen is perfect, because it plays on the first sentence of an Assimil English course and is, for French people, “a typical English expression”. Obviously, the Englishman doesn’t get it and claims it just doesn’t mean anything in English.

And he is right.

That’s how I feel when I see creative use of English in France.

For instance, a new mini-chain recently opened in Nantes. The name? “Thai in Box”. The first time, I saw it, I did a double-take. I’m familiar with the “noodle in a box” or “noodle box” concept, but let’s face it: “Thai in Box” is pretty bad English. I get it. Yet the name of the franchise is not grammatically correct and you’d think this is the kind of detail they’d checked before using it for a store.

Fortunately, most French won’t even notice and will happily eat overpriced pad thai in a box.

The way French pepper their conversation with English words drives me crazy, especially considering they generally do not use foreign words properly.

For instance, Monoprix’s store card encourages customers to collect bonus points named “S’Miles”. A creative neologism mixing “smile” and “mile”? Maybe. It guess it’s just meant to sound cool since most French don’t get the neologism anyway.

Quick, the national fast food chain, launched an online game called “le goût de la win”. When I first saw the promotion, I had no clue what it was, but apparently players can collect “wins” (bonus points?) when playing online. Why is “win” a feminine noun? No idea.

The way Québécois (or rather the Office québécois de la langue française) translate just about everything that sounds foreign can drive me crazy too. It will never be natural for me to call “KFC” “PKF” (for Poulet frit Kentucky) and I say “Bostonne”—not “Bos-ton”.

Yet, hearing and seeing the way French torture the English language is painful (and funny). From the “menu Best Of” at Mcdonald’s (supersized combos) to “la box” (the ADSL modem provided by Free), I sometimes wonder about French to English translator job opportunities in France!

(I also make mistake in English. And in French. I know. I just like to think mine aren’t as funny.)

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French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

18 Comments

    • I’d say there is more “Frenglish” in Quebec than in France, simply because French don’t really use English properly in the first place!

  1. Alan Froshaug on

    Hi Zhu!

    A good post. J’ai une question. Is it true that the Chevy Nova was not bought in France because it means it does’t go in French. I always thought that this was an urban rumour.

    Happy Easter! I have Good Friday off do you?

    • I think it was in a Spanish-speaking country, because in Spanish “no va” does means “no go” or “doesn’t go” 🙂

      In France, only Easter Monday is a bank holiday, unlike in Canada!

  2. It does bother me too. But let’s face it, it’s only “marketing” (yet another one!) language. French people, even the dickheads, doesn’t speak like that.

  3. One teacher would always speak to me in English and I could never understand what he was telling me!

    A lot of English words don’t make any sense especially since you have to prounounce them in French so that they are understood. It drives me crazy!

  4. This reminds me of the way Japanese people use English: like you said, it is done for humorous purposes, but sometimes, it’s just totally bizarre! There’s this one biscuit, they sell it with an English name, “The Caramelizer!”

  5. In Nantes, I took a picture of two businesses, side by side: Speed Rabbit Pizza (livraison à domicile), and Made in Chapon (rôtisserie).

    The pizza drivers are (hopefully) not on speed, and the roast chicken is not teriyaki style or imported from Japan, either… ; )

    All fun and games!

    • I know exactly what you are talking about, I can even see the Speed Rabbit Pizza sign in my head but I can’t remember in which part of the city it is! This is killing me… I think my best friend lived nearby.

  6. Pingback: Carnival of Europe #4 | Rear View Mirror

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