Here are a few of my favorite news stories and humorous highlights of French buzz from February 2023.
According to a French road safety study, male drivers were responsible for 84% of traffic fatalities in 2021. Men also represented 93% of drivers who were caught operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. In addition, the study found, when stopped for a traffic violation, men rarely admit to having made a mistake. Instead, they offer excuses for their erratic or erroneous piloting.
French psychologists claim that lecturing men on what they’ve done wrong fails to affect their behavior. For men, the road is like a playground and cars are simply the toys that they’ve been “navigating” since childhood. In their minds, they possess the instincts and reaction time necessary to avoid a crash.
As a result, France’s road safety agency, la Sécurité routière, launched a series of public service announcements that aim to help men chillax. The program hopes to raise awareness of the problem and demonstrate that toxic masculinity has little to do with strength or power. The ad below shows several fathers being protective, yet gentle and cautious, with their newborn children.
A Ticket to Ride n’importe où
In February, the French Minister of Transportation announced France’s intention to create a single transportation pass that works on all methods of public transport in the entire country. Testing is set to begin in a limited number of territories before the end of 2023, with a full implementation completed within two years.
Such passes already exist in large regions of France. For example, in the greater metropolitan area of Paris, a Navigo card allows you to board any bus, metro car, RER train, tram, or Transilien commuter train.
Expanded Access to Abortion
In February, the French parliament passed two pieces of legislation expanding access to abortion. During the first 7 weeks of pregnancy, French women no longer need to visit a doctor’s office in order to obtain an abortion pill. Such visits can be conducted via telemedicine. And, the federal legal time limit to have an abortion, regardless of circumstances, was increased from 12 weeks to 14 weeks.
Last summer, an Ifop poll showed 83% of French people in favor of France’s federal law guaranteeing women access to abortion. Yet, organizations such as the Jerome Lejeune Foundation remain staunchly opposed.
By the way, if you’re interested, the January issue of the bilingual magazine France-Amérique provides a nice summary of the differences between the U.S. Supreme Court and France’s Constitutional Council.
Origin of the French verb « baragouiner »
In the Middle Ages, when entering an auberge, Breton pilgrims that didn’t speak French would cry: “Bara! Gwin!”. They were asking for bread (bara) and wine (gwin). Throughout France, people started to refer to Bretons as “the baragouyn”. Over time, the term became a xenophobic insult. Today, we have the verb “baragouiner”, much nicer, that means “speaking a language incorrectly”.
Neither Snow nor Rain Every Other Day
As in the United States, the French postal service has seen a steady decline in people sending mail. In 2008, for example, La Poste handled 18 billion letters. In 2022, only 7 billion. In an effort to reduce costs and improve efficiency, this month a trial is underway in 68 postal zones that will reduce deliveries to every other day.
A Quick Lesson in French Bread Slang
I ran across the following on Reddit.
- Un pain is bread, but also slang for a punch.
- Une miche is a round loaf of bread and also slang for a butt cheek.
- Une baguette typically refers to a long-shaped loaf of bread, but it’s actually the name of the shape so it can refer to several kinds of rods, sticks, or wands. (It’s also the word for chopstick.)
- French toast in English is called pain perdu in French, which is literally translated as either wasted bread or lost bread.
- Un four is an oven, but also slang for a flop.
- Un pétrin is a machine for kneading dough, but also slang for a mess of problems.
- De l’avoine means oats, but une avoine or une avoinée is a punch or a beating.
- Du blé is wheat, but also slang for money.
- Un croûton is a small piece of hard bread, but also slang for an old fart.
- Une croûte is a crust but also the word for scab, and slang for a bad painting.
- De la brioche is a kind of sweet, buttery bread, but also slang for a fat belly.
How to Rile a French Person
Sadly, bad news spreads faster than good news and parody is often mistaken for truth in our 8-second-max-time-for-reflection e-world. As a result, online content that was originally intended as a joke is transformed into fact after a few re-transmissions. Such was the case last month when a satirical news site announced that future editions of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables would bear the new, more politically correct title of Les Plus Modestes. What sacrilege! The story went viral and was soon repeated as truth with the original source completely lost in the shuffle.
On March 19, PBS stations around the United States will begin airing a new series from BBC and France’s Canal+ called Marie Antoinette. I’ve always felt that history has been overly critical of the extravagant queen who was forced to leave her native Austria at the age of 14 to marry the French dauphin Louis XVI.
The publicity photos for this production remind me more of 21st-century fashion models heading to a Hollywood masquerade than of the actual portraits and scenes that document the royal family and friends whose heads were severed during the French revolution. After reading a review in The Guardian, however, I’m eager to watch.
The screenplay is by Deborah Davis, who also wrote The Favourite, which was nominated for ten Oscars in 2019, and won Best Actress for Olivia Colman’s portrayal of a frail Queen Anne of England. I loved that movie and according to The Guardian, Marie Antoinette (the series) employs the same strange, bordering on grotesque, levity.