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

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Laughter: It’s the Best Lesson


With all the rote of verb exercises and memorizing gendered nouns and complimentary modifiers, it can sometimes feel like la langue française is a crotchety old sourpuss sitting on a bench intent on spouting insults at passersby in the park. Fortunately, there’s more to this old dame than meets the eye. French has a rich and vibrant linguistic tradition that ranges from the serious and philosophical to the wry and imaginative,… Read More

Finding Red in a White Wine Capital


In Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, a cocksure Ewan McGregor turns down a nice-looking pour with, “White wine — never really seen the point of it.” Despite its cheeky air, the quip conveys a preference that many probably find forgivable. Measured economically, on a global basis red wine outweighs white in terms of both volume and price. Yet the Loire Valley turns this law on its head. Along the banks of… Read More

7 Things French Kids Say Better than You


How many of us have said it? I know my French will never be good enough. Even a four-year-old French kid speaks better than I do – and I’ve been learning for [insert #] years! —Not to mention how stinkin’ cute they sound doing it, too. They may always be one step ahead, but that doesn’t mean you’re totally out of luck. Here are a few phrases French-speaking kids know that come… Read More

Un défilé Chanel dans un supermarché à Paris

chanel shopping center

Jump to the English version L’on ne présente plus Karl Lagerfeld, figure emblématique de la mode et directeur artistique de la maison Haute Couture Chanel. Et pour cause, le célèbre couturier sait se démarquer des autres avec ses idées avant-gardistes…La dernière en date : un défilé de mode* dans un supermarché… Oui, certes, mais pas n’importe lequel : un supermarché entièrement créé dans le Grand Palais de Paris pour les besoins du… Read More

Mayotte: France’s 101st Departement


A former outpost of the French colonial empire following its purchase by France in 1841, the island of Mayotte nevertheless always enjoyed a relative degree of independence. Though the country gained administrative autonomy as recently as 1946 as a collectivité d’outre-mer (overseas collectivity) — similar to the administrative status of other French DOM-TOM entities such as Saint Barthélemy and French Polynesia — in a 2009 referendum the island voted to reverse this decision and change its status… Read More

Le Canard Enchaîné: Ruffling Feathers for 99 Years


Le Canard enchaîné (“The Chained Duck”) is a satirical French newspaper founded in 1915 and published every Wednesday. Best known for focusing on government and economic scandals and publishing insider political knowledge and administration leaks, it pokes fun at political figures from all sides and is peppered with satire and irony. The paper has become a weekly institution for many readers, with more than half a million French readers picking… Read More

French engineer aided generations of Eastern Shore watermen


Washingtonians know well that an easy drive to St. Michaels on Maryland’s Eastern Shore whisks them to sites couched in wonderful local lore and Americana. Among these is an exemplar of the “screwpile” lighthouse, which were raised above the ground by pillars driven into the silt, and that enabled nighttime navigation of the Chesapeake Bay throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. To Francophiles, this might not sound all that old,… Read More

Changing Cultural Policies Demand New Expertise


With the release of Creative Europe, the new European Commission Framework for 2014-2020 from the European Commission, a new vocabulary is defining the goals of the role and impact of culture in Europe. The initiative comes as part of the Europe 2020 Strategy to promote “smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth.” Its terminology alone has already generated controversy, using phrases such as “competitiveness” and “service,” terms that bring the touchy subject… Read More

Gender Confusion in French Nouns


As an anglophone, the whole idea seems murky and overcomplicated, but you’ve accepted the facts: knowing which words are masculine and feminine in French is a pain in the fesses. Little did you know the heads-is-feminine-tails-is-masculine coin you’ve been flipping has a third surface. One that means the noun in question can be masculine or feminine. Fun, right? Depending on which article you choose, the word’s definitions are entirely different. The full list… Read More

Mr. Hublot: Sole French Film to Win an Oscar


Mr. Hublot is a delightfully eccentric animated short film that takes place in a mechanical, futuristic world. Make no doubt, this is no bright and cheery paradise like so many animated cities. Quite the contrary. Mr. Hublot’s home is loud, chaotic, nearly devoid of colors —excepting the cold greys of pipelines and turbines  — and dominated by mundane, machine-driven routine. Life is of the Artificial Intelligence kind and moves by at a delirious… Read More