February Potpourri: News and Noteworthy Nonsense from France

Here are a few of my favorite news stories and humorous highlights of French buzz from February 2023.

Mitigating Machismo

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.

Navigo transportation pass

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.

Lady Liberty in Envy cartoon
“Abortion is being enshrined in the French constitution.” “So lucky!”
By Coco of Charlie Hebdo.

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.

Linguistic Trivia

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”.

Origins of French verb "baragouiner"

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.

Postal Trial Cartoon
Postal Trial—The End of Daily Deliveries “Let’s hope the bakeries don’t try the same thing.” “Nor the homecare providers.”

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.

Les plus modestes tweet

Coming Soon

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.

Cast of Marie Antoinette
The cast of Marie Antoinette, by BBC and Canal+

A Series of Memes

Meme: What was it I came to do?
Rare photo of post asking itself what it came there to do.
Meme: Meanwhile in Tobleronistan
Meanwhile in Tobleronistan
Mom knows what to do
Or give it to your mother * She knows what to do.
Saint Valentine meme
The actual Saint Valentine was tortured and decapitated in the year 273. On February 14, therefore, we celebrate the death of a martyr. I hope that I’ve lifted the spirits of lovesick singles with the aid of these few historic details.
What is this?
How to say “What’s that?” in French
A note to cyclists
To all cyclists that run red lights without bike lights, thank you for authorizing the donation of your organs.

About Carol A. Seidl

Serial software entrepreneur, writer, translator, and mother of 3. Avid follower of French media, culture, history, and language. Lover of books, travel, history, art, cooking, fitness, and nature. Cultivating connections with francophiles and francophones.


  1. I have to say on behalf of the Bretons that Bara Gwin is use for a small resto with tapas style eating here, and the old bread and wine is because as very Catholic, bara bread is His body and gwin wine is His blood. Cheers

  2. As for the language as above, when we have foreign visitors who try to speak our language and badly we say they massacré le Français. And many pubs on the subject such as Jean Maillet arrêtez le massacre

  3. There’s an Eddie Izzard joke, “Potpourri?! £50 a jar, what a bargain!” VS “Sack of pot poury, $1 a sack!” I choose the pot poury, ta!

  4. An interesting and fun melange, Carol. Wonder how that all-in-one transportation ticket will do; it sounds like a fine idea to enhance use of mass transportation. Reading about “toxic masculinity” reminded me of a snippet I saw of Jonathan Capehart interviewing our Second Gentleman (whom I’ve found impressive whenever I’ve heard him speak) on that topic. It will air on Capehart’s Sunday MSNBC program. Emhoff said he finds it deeply troubling and offered his explanation of masculinity: offering assistance to those who need it and standing up to bullies. And thanks for the heads-up about the Marie Antoinette series!

    • Thanks for the heads up on Capehart. Unfortunately, I only caught the tail end of the show. Nice recap of yesterday’s SNL’s parody of Fox.

      I didn’t have time to look for traffic stats in the US that would show how men and women drivers compare in this country. I’d like to believe we fare somewhat better. But, our men are heavily armed so perhaps far more lethal.

      If you watch, let me know what you think of Marie Antoinette. I’m looking forward to this one too.

      • I, too, turned on the TV too late! I’m hoping that interview will be available elsewhere.

        I had also intended to comment on the abortion issue. I read the blurb about the article but couldn’t figure out how to click on the story. I echo Infidel’s observation about France’s approach.

  5. The universal transport pass will be especially useful for visitors to the country. When I went to Japan, they has a pass like that for all trains, which was very useful — it would have been even better if it had also covered buses, as the French one will (I had a disagreeable experience involving a short-tempered bus driver and the fact that I got confused between the words for “twenty” and “two hundred”). Buying train or bus tickets can be daunting for someone who doesn’t know the transport system and is limited on the language, and it’s easy to get the wrong thing and get in trouble.

    Nice to know there are still places where access to abortion is being expanded, as opposed to people having to struggle to stop it being taken away.

    Interesting that French uses “bread” (du blé) as slang for money, as English does.

    Given the recent news of vandalization of Roald Dahl’s novels by his UK publisher, one can hardly blame people for thinking that the news about Les Misérables was real. If people were “riled” by the claim, one can hope that any publisher contemplating such desecration in reality will think twice.

    The apparent elaborateness of the phrase for “what’s that?” reflects the fact that, as in many languages, standard spelling reflects an older form of the language rather than the modern pronunciation. “What” is actually just keske-sé, which is neither overly complex nor overly long; spelling it as qu’est-ce que c’est is what makes it appear as over-elaborate as one of Marie Antoinette’s outfits.

    Loved the Tobler train. What an odd design. I guess it prevents people inside from leaning on the doors.

    • Yes, I would really love to see that universal transport pass. I usually buy a Navigo for Paris if I’m going to be there for at least a week. One caveat is that they run Sunday to Sunday. So if you arrive on a Thursday and stay for a week, you need two passes to cover your stay and that isn’t usually worth it. I think it’s intentionally designed for the local population and tourists that aren’t in the know pay more to get around.

      Oh my! I can’t imagine trying to conduct such exchanges in Japan. If I ever go, I’m planning to accompany my daughter who is quite proficient in Japanese.

      Technically, “blé” means wheat but yeah, it’s very similar—a basic staple that most people heavily rely on.

      You probably know of Poe’s Law: On the Internet, any parody of extreme views can be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of the views being parodied.

      Bon fin du weekend!

  6. Awesome! And you taught me the origin of baragouiner, thanks!

  7. “baragouin”, confirmed by my (late) Breton mother.
    La Poste. One should note they have a little more than a third the volume of post, yet, the same number of civil servants…
    “Enfin”, the one I prefer is by “Épicétout” (Et puis c’est tout). Cyclists are a menace in France. Anne Hidalgo (or so I heard) has actually authorised them to burn red lights…
    Et voilà…
    (Great post about my increasingly nonsensical country…)

  8. You really cover a lot of ground! So much to learn!

  9. Haha really enjoyed those memes. Especially the ask your mother laundry one. That one made me chuckle. Lots of interesting news too.

  10. I’ve never heard “avoine” or “croûton” in the slang sense … though I am not fallen form the last rain. Actually, “Pain” can also be the shape of the thing. There are “pain de sucre, pain de beurre, pain de glace …” for sugar, butter, ice …
    Many thanks, Carol, and have a great day.

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