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

A la une


Food for Thought: Five Culinary “Phrases Idiomatiques”


If there’s two things that go better than peas and carrots, it’s the French and their food. Thankfully, they’re the cream of the crop when it comes to their culinary skills, so though the cliché may be old as the hills, at least it cuts the mustard. They own world-renowned culinary schools, debate over which restaurants merit the coveted Michelin stars, and pride themselves on having some of the best chefs in the world. If… Read More

5 French Pastries That Will Make Your Mouth Water


Buttery flakes of tender, delicate pastry that melt in your mouth, with a gush of warm chocolat that evokes the very spirit of France — a perfect, just-out-of-the-oven pain au chocolat is a near life-changing pastry, it’s true. But as iconic as it is, it is by no means the only French pastry worth salivating over. La patisserie and  la boulangerie are essential fixtures of any French town, whose daily commerce in croissants and baguettes is often their… Read More

(Semi) Faux Amis Starting with “I”


We’re back again sorting through those pesky false cognates. Following on the last post, we’ll tackle a few more semi faux amis, that is, words that have a common meaning in both languages and a secondary, different meaning. Remember, in most cases it all depends on the context. So without any further ado — and because it takes more than “I,” alone, to have a friendship at all — here is a… Read More

Scents and Scensibility: A short history of French perfume


Smell is often taken for granted. Like all our senses, smell acts as an alert system for the body: Smoke indicates a nearby fire, a sour odor means the milk has gone bad, and a whiff of bad egg lets you know there’s sulfur in the tap water. On the other hand, it also serves as much more than a biological warning sign, triggering positive associations that enhance taste, stimulate mood, recall memories,… Read More

Bandol: the perfect end of summer red


Getting stuck in a wine rut is easy in summer, especially in Washington. The heat and humidity make classic seasonal food and wine pairings difficult to shake: Oysters? Muscadet. Dover sole? Sancerre. Lamb? Light burgundy. New vintages and vintners preserve a measure of novelty, but even there it can be tough to escape the ordinary. Dans ce cadre, consider Bandol, a French commune at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea and the most serious wine in sunny, coastal Provence. Bandol is known… Read More

Diving into Parisian Legend at Piscine Molitor


It may be the city’s busiest season, but at several hours’ drive from any beach, summer weather in the French capital is far from ideal: Alternating waves of heat and rain descend over the city, elements which, interspersed with thick clouds of smog and pollution, can make life in Paris pretty unbearable at times. A decade ago, just after the Millenium, former Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe fought the meteorological oppression and brought a trace of the seaside… Read More

Navigating French Liaisons


If you sometimes feel like your French doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like you think it should, then take note, because mastering the liaison is one of the crucial keys to polishing your French accent. Grammatically speaking, a liaison is the change in pronunciation of a word where a normally silent consonant at the end of the word is articulated in pairing with the first letter of the next word. In French, this… Read More

Let the good times roll: A pétanque primer


If you take a leisurely stroll through any town in the South of France during the summer months, there are a few guarantees: you will be serenaded by a chirping choir of cigales (cicadas), you will pass by bustling cafés with tables piled high with colorful glasses of rosé, monacos, demi-pêches, and menthe à l’eau, and you will happen upon a carré pétanque (pétanque court) — teams stooped over, carefully studying the boules gleaming under the midsummer… Read More

Rewinding the 2014 Avignon Festival


Every July, the southern city of Avignon — best known for its namesake childhood nursery rhyme Sur le pont d’Avignon (“On the Avignon Bridge”) and its 14th century Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) — transforms into an enormous theater, becoming home to the world’s largest theater festival. Initiated in 1947, the Festival d’Avignon has always consisted of a mainstream festival and the Off fringe festival, both complemented by street performances, art exhibitions, and film presentations. This year,… Read More

A Francophile’s Guide to Online Streaming


Surely angels sang in the hearts of every French student and Francophile when Amélie became available for instant streaming on Netflix. But as much as we love watching Audrey Tautou in character, skipping stones along Canal St. Martin or cracking the top of a crème brûlée, we have to remember that the French movie canon is full of other classics worthy of a share of our endless supply of zealous Francophilia. Lucky for… Read More