French language and culture commentary from the U.S. capital

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Five Places to Practice French Online


We’ve all heard it before: Full immersion into French – or any language - is the best way to learn. And while many of us would love to just pack our bags and move to la belle France to do so, in most cases our other commitments, the expense, and the time sadly make it nearly impossible. Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to get French outside of the classroom, including a host… Read More

Artist’s-Eye-View: Côte d’Azur and Provence


As we reach the height of the summer months, France prepares to take what might be considered its national summer vacation — also known as the month of August. On rigole. In reality, thanks to French vacation regulations for employees, many families take two to three weeks of vacation in July and August, heading off for destinations in France and abroad. For those who choose a sojourn at the beach, perhaps the most popular of these… Read More

Serious Bread Business: La Guerre des Pâtisseries


Although the name better suits a baking competition, La Guerre des pâtisseries refers to the first military engagement between France and Mexico. The conflict  (also known as the First Mexican Intervention in Mexico) was the result of numerous circumstances, but gained its amusing name from the metaphorical straw that broke the camel’s back – or should we say the baguette that broke the baker’s basket? Regardless, the catalyst associated with the war remains the… Read More

An Introduction to Wine Tasting


This blog has already profiled specific wines, wine regions, and winemakers, but for those who aren’t familiar with tasting, we thought it might be useful to provide an introduction to the subject more broadly. Accordingly, this post presents a convenient framework (and several resources) for thinking about wine. We’ll start with some encouragement and theory, followed by a few brief lessons and a case study on arguably the world’s best syrah. Wine experts are not mystics, just good students For… Read More

For the Love of Nutella


Oh sweet, sweet Nutella. The chocolate-hazelnut paste that has spread its way onto tables across the globe is easy to love and has become an obsessively addictive delight to be enjoyed on everything from crêpes to croissants to bare fingers the world over. And like every great love affair, there’s a story to go with it. Nutella got its start in Italy in the 1940s as a response to cocoa rationing during World War II. It originated as a… Read More

Stromae: Belgian Maestro to Take States by Storm


On Friday, June 20th, an artist named Stromae kicked off a U.S. tour in New York, City before a sold-out crowd. Though the Belgian singer-songwriter’s name (which is verlan for “maestro”) may still be unknown to many Americans, his first single “Alors On Danse” (“So, Let’s Dance”) in 2010 captured the attention of the likes of Anna Wintour and Nicolas Sarkozy. With his new album, Racine Carée (Square Root) — which has gone platinum eight times in… Read More

How to Say “Awkward” in French


Oh “awkward.” That pervasive American adjective whose all-encompassing meaning molds perfectly to so many situations: the fit of those pants, the way someone phrased that press release, your gangly attempts at dancing, that run-in with an ex, those horrific family photos from when you were 12… You’ve searched for that supreme French word to encompass its multifaceted splendor in suggestion after suggestion from French dictionaries and friends, but to no avail. We’re sorry to tell you,… Read More

Summer of Independence: Francophone National Holidays


In America, perhaps the most quintessential summer celebration is our national holiday, the 4th of July.  But we’re not alone in our cookouts and fireworks as we celebrate our country’s independence. Numerous peoples around the world celebrate their national holidays over the summer, including a number of Francophone nations, which they customize with their own unique and vibrant traditions. June 24: Quebec A province with a strong regional identity it claims its own holiday, Québec celebrates its regionhood… Read More

Fête de la Musique : A global music fest


It’s back! June 21 marks the arrival of another global celebration of Fête de la Musique, with its countless public concerts and performances celebrating musical talent of all genres! Originally hosted in France in 1982, the Fête de la Musique is a product of the French  Ministry of Culture that is now held in more than a hundred countries across Europe and around the world. Perhaps the best and the most unique thing about the festival is… Read More

(Semi) Faux Amis: Trombone, Ticket, Escalope

faux amis

Back again at the false cognates, words that are spelled similarly in French and English, but don’t mean the same thing. Sometimes, though, these almost identically spelled words have meanings that do both: overlap and diverge entirely, making them both true and false cognates, also called semi-false cognates. Here’s another batch of semi-faux amis to help perfect your vocabulary. 1. When Trombone ≠ Trombone The French word, trombone, means exactly what you’d think: a certain brass instrument. But wait! It also has a second,… Read More