Friday, January 8, 2010

Kawan yang menjadi lawan

In the French language, a faux ami is a false friend.

"False friends (or faux amis) are pairs of words in two languages or dialects (or letters in two alphabets) that look or sound similar, but differ in meaning."
-definition taken from Wikipedia

Once, when I was still a student in France, I entered a shop selling organic produce. Just to have a look and hopefully practise a bit of my French. At that time I had just moved to another town to enter university there.

So I went in and was greeted by the customary "Bonjour madame. Que puis-je pour vous?".

I saw a can of lentils and was interested to buy some. The day before one of my French friends gave me a very quick and easy recipe for lentil soup. And if you can get organic lentils, all the better.

So I asked the lady at the shop, "C'est un produit organique? Il n'y a pas de préservatifs là-dedans?".

I wanted to ask if the lentils were indeed organic and that no preservatives were used in the canning process. I had simply used the English word for "preservative" in my question. Without knowing that the word préservatif in French had another meaning altogether .

So instead of asking if they had used any preservatives in the can of lentils, I actually asked her if they had put any condoms in it.

The proper word to use to translate "preservatives" was "conservateurs". How was I supposed to know that? I didn't have my pocket dictionary with me at that time.

Right up to this day I can still remember the look on her face as she replied "Je ne sais pas comment vous faites chez vous, mais ici en France tout est réglé." (I don't know know how it's done in your country but here in France everything is according to regulations). At that precise moment I experienced first-hand what French sarcasm was all about.

So my dear students, listen to the wise words of Lord Baden Powell. Be prepared. You never know, you might just have your own "lentil" moment, whatever that may be.

Blogger Templates


  1. :).....and do you remember the story about one of our seniors being asked "avez-vous du persil" (do you have any parsley), to which he responded by giving that person a box of detergent branded "Persil"?... Can this be considered as a faux amis teacher?....;)

    Par ailleurs, fellicitations pour ce blog! T'as du talent...

    "sir" :)