petite anglaise

October 20, 2004

Pardon my French

Filed under: Uncategorized — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:40 am

If you look at the use of the word ‘French’ in the English language and likewise anglais(e) in French, the usage yields valuable clues as to how Brits have traditionally viewed the French, and vice versa.

Phrases in English using the word French are mostly related to food and sex. The French would argue they do both better.

Let’s start with food:
French toast – which you don’t see in Britain much, I think it’s more American. I have yet to sample any. Probably the equivalent of pain perdu in French, but I wouldn’t know, as I haven’t tried that either.
French fries (or Freedom Fries as they are sometimes known in the US) – just ‘fries’ in France.
French beans – these seem to be the only type of green beans the French eat, known to the French simply as ‘green beans’. My father, allotment enthusiast extraordinaire, doesn’t believe me when I say I am not aware of a word existing for broad bean or runner bean in French. Quite frankly I would rather broad beans did not exist full stop (that’s period to American folk).

And now for a bit of sex. It would appear that the following expressions stem from Anglo-Saxons equating Gallic culture with sexual sophistication. Whether or not this is still pertinent today is debatable. ‘French kiss’: a kiss with tongues. Following extensive research conducted on both sides of the English Channel, my humble opinion is that the Brits actually have the edge (Mr Frog being the exception, naturally). Then we have the ‘French letter’, disliked unanimously by both French and English gentlemen, which confusingly goes by the name of un préservatif in French, thereby belonging to the category of ‘false friends’. ‘Cette confiture contient-elle des préservatifs?’ I think not.

I am told that the verb ‘to French’ means to perform oral sex. Likewise the seemingly innocent manicure/furniture restoration terminology, to have a ‘French polish’. I do not intend to develop this paragraph any further as I wouldn’t want to give the worrying numbers of people who arrive on my site via the search terms ‘petite porn’ any reason to come back.

Swiftly moving on, the following are expressions using the word ‘English’ in the French language.

Culinary terms using the word ‘english’ are rather evocative of English cuisine as a whole, I think. Crème anglaise is what the French call custard, that staple of stodgy British puddings and trifles. The French version of this is thinner and served cold, a little more refined than warm, gloopy English custard. I like both and will not be made to choose. Cuit à l’anglaise means boiled. Several of my French acquaintances associate English cooking with overcooked boiled food, even going to far as to suggest that we boil most of our meat. I for one have never boiled a piece of meat, but I must admit that the French expression conjures up memories of soggy sprouts in the school canteen.

Les Anglais ont débarqué is a somewhat old-fashioned expression to describe the bane of every woman’s life, menstruation. Something to do with the Napoleonic wars and the undesirable arrival of the English who wore red uniforms. Prior to that, another phrase commonly used was recevoir un courrier de Rome, as Cardinals also wore red robes. So the idea behind the phrase would appear to be more about colour, and not derived from ‘English’ being synonymous with pain, PMT and hot water bottles.

Finally, there is an expression meaning to go AWOL which the French and English ascribe to each other. Filer à l’anglaise: ‘to take French leave’. The Germans are with the English on this one sich auf französisch verabschieden, but the Italians are with the French filarsela all’inglese. So opinions vary, but basically both the French and the English are associated with impolite behaviour.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to bugger off now and do some work. Pardon my French.


  1. I spent an enlightening year in France where, as soon as someone discovered my Englishness, they would proceed to inform me that “les anglais ne mangent pas bien”, “les anglais mangent le steak à la confiture pour le petit déj”, “les anglais mangent le pudding”. That “pudding” thing used to really annoy me – they would make out that this was an English thing, and yet I had never seen or tasted such an item until I went to France…

    My personal view is that, in England, we are much more open to influence from international cuisine – many people don’t eat traditional English food at all – I very rarely do. Much of the food I ate in France in the family context was rather bland…

    Comment by witho — October 20, 2004 @ 11:32 am

  2. Ah, french toast. Basically, you make a batter which includes eggs and cinammon (I think, I never made them but have eaten plenty), then you dip a thick slice of sandwich bread into the batter, and then cook it in a skillet until it’s nice and crispy on the outside. Serve with butter and syrup.

    Dang, now I have to go look for a proper recipe…

    Comment by ViVi — October 20, 2004 @ 1:16 pm

    French toast is always better if your bread is a little dry — a day or two old, or leave the slices out overnight. Serve these crusty slices with bacon and warmed maple syrup, jam, or marmalade, or sprinkle them with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.

    3 eggs, slightly beaten
    1/2 tablespoon salt
    2 tablespoons sugar
    1 cup milk
    6 slices bread

    Mix the eggs, salt, sugar, and milk in a shallow dish or pie pan. Soak the bread in the mixture until soft, turning once. Cook on a hot, well-greased skillet or frying pan, turning to brown on each side.

    Comment by ViVi — October 20, 2004 @ 1:18 pm

  4. Thank you Vivi. Even I can probably manage that. If I can shift the washing up off the temporary work surface which is placed on top of my cooker hobs. I have approx 2 metres squared of kitchen, and this is one of the reasons I do not cook a great deal. Laziness is the other.

    Comment by petite — October 20, 2004 @ 1:23 pm

  5. You forgot the “capote anglaise”, often shortened to “capote”, which is a “French Letter”. Obviously.

    Comment by Suziboo — October 20, 2004 @ 1:32 pm

  6. It’s thought that “French Toast” was called “German Toast” in the US before WWI. Here’s a link to the phrase’s history:

    Comment by Karl — October 20, 2004 @ 1:37 pm

  7. They call it ‘pain perdu’ because it’s made with yesterday’s bread which would go to waste if it wasn’t used up that way :)

    Comment by corrinne — October 20, 2004 @ 4:14 pm

  8. i can’t believe that you haven’t yet had pain perdu … my kids started eating it at a very early age and we all love it. and it’s an excellent way of getting rid of stale bread.

    what about mange tout ? they’re beans – or don’t you get them in france ?

    Comment by zed — October 20, 2004 @ 4:57 pm

  9. sensible americans have never referred to french fries as freedom fries. calling them freedom fries was a fluke caused by an atmosphere of hate and ignorance. it was not the united states’ finest moment to say the least.

    Comment by maryse — October 20, 2004 @ 5:35 pm

  10. Then there are the wonderful American stereotypes in France:
    -Americans eat ketchup on everything.
    -Americans only eat at McDonald’s.

    Comment by Nigel M. — October 20, 2004 @ 6:30 pm

  11. Before I reveal how anal and boring I can be, I just want to tell you that I’ve only just discovered your blog and that I really really like it.

    Did you know that French Fries are actually Belgian? *Apparently*, the Americans weren’t able to distinguish between the French and Belgian landscape, both derelict and ruined by years of bombing and destruction.

    *puts on a funny hat in an effort to remain ridiculous and frivolous.*

    Comment by Jezebel — October 20, 2004 @ 7:34 pm

  12. Is it safe to come back yet? Have all the pictures of cakes gone?

    Sex, condoms and custard on the same post? The google hits are going to go through the roof.

    Comment by Watski — October 20, 2004 @ 8:20 pm

  13. Having lived in Belgium, those guys *really* know how to make chips/fries/French fries/whatever…

    Comment by witho — October 20, 2004 @ 8:47 pm

  14. you’re right there, witho :)

    Comment by zed — October 21, 2004 @ 6:19 am

  15. I have to concur with witho and zed on the comment concerning chips (unapologetic British useage). As soon as you cross the Belgian border, from any direction, after a few hundred yards there is guaranteed to be a friterie. The Belgians are very proud of their chips, frying them twice (the first dip in oil partially cooks them, the second leaving them wonderfully crisp). One of the compensations of exile in Waffleland is that its capital boasts more restaurants per capita than any other major European city. To conclude on a historic note: I recently read an article which demonstrated that the unfortunate “Freedom Fries” episode has a historical precedent: apparently the Hamburger was briefly rechristened the “Liberty burger” to avoid ruffling sensibilities (tainted by association with its country of provenance).

    Comment by Chameleon — October 21, 2004 @ 8:02 am

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