I thought I’d done another lesson on “truc” and “bidule”, but actually those were from a comment by Leon on Lesson 3 back in the heady days of 2014.

Moving swiftly on, here’s my word of the moment: “Mec” (pron: “Meck”).

It means “guy” or “bloke” in English (or “chap” if you’re of a certain age) and – like “bidule”, “truc” and “machin” – when you’ve heard it once, you’ll hear it all the time. Use it, and you may get raised eyebrows from people impressed with your slang. But be careful, or you’ll quickly get lost in a sea of “machins”.

When we first moved here, listening to the radio was like hearing one endless French word, with occasional breaks for music. After a while, you start hearing the gaps between the words – even during the legal bits at the end of commercials. Eventually, you can recognise words you’ve never noticed before, and you can go home and look them up. It’s one of these words I’m going to share with you now: “Machin” (pronounced: “mashan” – with a silent “n”).

It means “thingymajig”.

Now I’ve noticed it, I hear it every day, sometimes several times. “Monsieur (or Madame) Machin” means “whatsisface” (or “wosserface”), which I hear a lot, too. What was once just noise has become something meaningful: “hoojymaflip”.

While I’m on the subject, I’ll give you an English word I learnt last year when reading Iain M. Bank’s Transition. The word is: “susurrating”. I won’t insult you by telling you what it means. And this might be the only time I get to type it. But what a great word!

If you’ve ever learnt any French, you’ll know that some words are male (before which you say “le”) and some are female (before which you say “la”). If you’re like me, you will have looked for some logic to help you decide which is which – and you will have failed.

For words I’m not sure of, I have resorted to guesswork (with a 50:50 chance of being correct), and occasionally an in-betweeny word that sounds a bit like “lar”.


Because the other night I learnt something that will help me get it right nine times out of 10. I’ve run it past a few people and it works well enough to call it “a rule”. Now I give it to you to do with as you wish.


If the words ends in an “e”, nine times out of 10, it is female.

Gone are the days when I could walk into a room and ask a brilliant designer or artworker (aka Mac Monkey) to “just add that, will you?” Which is why I spent the first part of this morning wrestling with a couple of programmes I don’t know very well, in an effort to add a French flag to the écovallée homepage.


There are at least two things wrong with what I’ve done, which would take a competent person less than a minute to fix, but will take me well over an hour. So I’ll wait until it’s very cold again before having another go.

The flag links to the website in French, which I’ve built in yet another programme I don’t know how to use. If you’re interested in language, you might like to see how some phrases have had to be changed completely, either because they don’t translate or because French doesn’t have the same playful flexibility of English. (Neither, interestingly enough, does United Statesian.)

One question that comes up from time to time is: How did the children cope with French?

The short answer is: Better than us.

When we arrived in France, The Daughter was six and a half. Despite the best efforts of Her Outdoors, she knew next to no French. But she’s a very sociable person and we didn’t worry too much about how she would cope at school.

On the first day, it was hard to send this little person into a playground where she knew no one and had no way of communicating. But by the end of the day she had both English-speaking and bilingual friends. Before the week was out, she’d been invited back to a new best friend’s house and everything looked OK.

There were some downs as well as ups, like when the teacher (rightly) banned English speaking in the classroom, but the desire to play overcame everything and after three months she spoke French very well. By the end of the year she was fluent. And by the second year she not only spoke with the village accent, but was at the top of her class in French (where she remains, jockeying for first place with another English girl).

So it would be hard not to say she’s coped pretty well. Only her name gives her away as a non-French person.

Boy had a gentler introduction to the language. After we’d been here about a year, he went to a childminder a few mornings a week. He was going to start school in the September and we felt he should at least know what he was being asked to do, even if he couldn’t say much himself. The childminder had no English, so he had no option but to learn.

His first year at school was tough, but he was very little (his class was actually called “Very Little”) and it would have been tough anywhere. But, again, by the end of the year he was happy and competent. We hardly ever hear him speak French, as we just use English at home, but I’m beginning to ask him for pronunciation advice of difficult words (his rolled “r” is incredible), while we consult The Daughter on the meaning of expressions that don’t translate.

Our French isn’t terrible. And maybe with eight hours of lessons a day, four days a week, we would have been fluent after a year. But I doubt it. For adults, I think it takes a little bit longer.

I bought what I thought was a duck breast last week. It certainly looked like it from the outside. (And it was in the right fridge in the supermarket.)

But when I opened it, there was no skin. Not a hint. Equally unexpectedly, the meat was in strips. I looked at the label on the packet for the first time and discovered I had bought some aiguillettes.

Not having a clue what these were, I turned to our biggest French-English dictionary and found this definition: aiguillette (cul) aiguillette.

Being none the wiser, I turned to our biggest English dictionary and found: aiguillette [2] a variant of aglet.

Obviously I wasn’t letting it go there. And, beginning to feel like there was only one word in all our dictionaries, I found this on the previous page: aglet [2] a variant spelling of aiguillette.

I put the packet back in the fridge.

I mentioned my problem on Sunday at a friend’s house. She, her husband, a friend and her husband all said: “Aiguillettes! They’re delicious, they are.” I was even given this recipe:
Pan fry the aiguillettes for a couple of minutes on both sides, then remove to a plate.
De-glaze the (very hot) pan with brandy, set on fire and reduce.
Add crème fraîche and reduce again, before returning the aiguillettes to the pan.
Serve with rice.

I did this on Sunday evening for me and Her Outdoors. I still don’t have a clue what we ate, but it was bluddie delicious.

People in both countries call crisps “chips”.

Although in France, this is pronounced “sheep”.

I’ve probably said it before, but this lifestyle teaches you a lot about the origins of English – words (like the scared meaning of ‘chicken’) and expressions (like ‘eats like a pig’).

The other day, I came across another one.

Her Outdoors was making lard (a process that takes a helluvalongtime, I can tell you), which was used to preserve food in Days Gone By. You (or someone like you) would put food in a suitable container, cover it with lard to keep out the air and store it in the… pantry.

Having been here well over a year, you’d think my conversational ability in French would have improved dramatically. I clearly do, despite some evidence to the contrary.

A couple of weeks ago, my dentist asked me if I was having any more trouble with the tooth he’s in the expensive and involved process of fixing. I smiled reassuringly and said: ‘No, not at all. I have pretty much forgotten the pain.’

Or rather, that’s what I thought I said.

What actually came out of my mouth was: ‘I’ve made a mistake with the bread.’

The people I work with are bilingual to varying degrees; the resulting Frenglish resulting in the occasional ms understanding.

For instance, on Monday I was telling a fully fluent-in-French English colleague why I’d been so brutally hungover the day before.

‘Saturday evening’, I explained, ‘turned into a bit of a band-member reunion drinkathon, with me, my last bassist, our drummer and a friend of his from England who was keen to experience a typical evening in France.

‘It began’, I began, ‘with Ricard and nibbles; followed by a surprisingly offensive drinking game involving gin, tonic and an olive strapped to a cube of sugar (I won’t explain – probably ever – but j’ai gagné!); then a sampling of this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau; followed by a very good red; and some Bergerac I brought with me.

(All accompanied by an excellent selection of music on youtube – I saw Deep Purple and Uzeb for the first time!)

‘At around midnight’, I went on (we all did), ‘we had some freshly made and seriously garlic-y soup, and then l’eau de vie.’

She looked at me. Shocked by the last bit and, I thought, slightly awed, with tinges of new-found respect.

(Now I know eau de vie – a brandy-cum-Polish-jet-fuel-like substance, in this case made from prunes – is strong, but it doesn’t warrant that kind of expression. Maybe I was misreading her and she was wondering why such piffling quantities of booze would render me so nostalgically hungover.)

‘I think,’ I said, ‘it was the l’eau de vie that did for me. I really shouldn’t drink the stuff.’

‘Oh’, my colleague said, much relieved, leaning on the table in the kitchen for support. ‘I thought you said a load of e.’