After seven-plus years in Paris, I’ve made my share of French faux-pas. Like the time I insisted to the salesperson at an upscale beauty shop that I wanted to be rid of my boutons (zits). He scanned my unblemished face. “Mais quels boutons, mademoiselle? Vous n’avez pas de boutons.” (“What pimples, miss? You don’t have any pimples.”) I jabbed at the faint lines beneath and around my eyes. “Les boutons! J’ai les boutons ici!” (“The zits! I have the zits here!”)
This was pre-babies and those lines were probably non-existent. Not only was my French bad, I was (still am) a paranoid obsessive when it comes to aging. We were both scratching our heads until a lightbulb went off and he said, “Ohhh, les rides.” He over-emphasized the word for me: Rides (wrinkles), the “R” vibrating noisily in his throat. And then, “Mais vous n’avez pas de rides.”
The hardest part of learning a language, though, may be its slang and curse words. Sure, there are those douchey guys who pride themselves on knowing how to say “fuck,” “pussy” and “You’re hot” in thirty languages. Last I checked, I’m not a douchey guy. I don’t know many of the French gros mots (bad words) and I definitely don’t know how to use them.
So remember back when Twilight was a thing? Edward, Bella and hordes of middle-aged moms who should have known better? I, too, was a Twi-mom yet incredibly, that’s not the most embarrassing part of this classic tale.
My daughter was a few months old, my stomach was starting to resemble a human body part again and I decided to treat myself to some new clothes. Nothing fit my giant
udders lolos — apart from a black-and-white striped tee from Zara that said “I (HEART) BITES” in drippy red gothic type. Like Twilight, I thought. I bought it and wore it often, my sly tribute to a poorly-written tween juggernaut.
(In my defense, I will point to the studies that show a woman’s gray matter actually shrinks when she’s pregnant and doesn’t grow back for a long time after.)
One day, I was wearing the top while daydreaming about Robert Pattinson/Edward Cullen (shrunken gray matter) when my husband finally decided to take a closer look. “What is up with that shirt? What does it say? I love bites?”
“Yes,” I answered defensively. “It’s cute. And very vampire. Like Twilight.”
“Babe,” he drawled with exaggerated patience. “I don’t know about vampire, but bite means cock in French. You’re walking around with a shirt that says, ‘I love cocks.'”
It had been a warm autumn — no need for jackets — and I had been happily proclaiming how much j’adore dong as I pushed the baby stroller around my neighborhood. Like some expat Amy “I Can Catch A Dick Whenever” Schumer before she even existed. At least we lived at Les Halles and not Passy where the old French biddies would have clucked me right out of the quartier. At least there’s that.
Thank you, Zara, for the French lesson.
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