Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

After the Norman Conquest of 1066, Anglo Norman (old French) became the language of the elite in the UK. I’d like to think that this is the reason why, when I moved to London, I was hearing so many French expressions. Mind you, some words were supposed to be French, but I had never used them. Sacrebleu, for instance is a stereotypical and very old fashioned French curse, which is rarely used by we French these days. In fact, I didn’t understand why my British colleagues were saying it all the time. Maybe they were trying to impress me. I will never know. But I digress. There is a French expression that I love, it is having a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’. According to the dictionary, ‘having a certain je ne sais quoi’ means ‘having a pleasing quality that cannot be exactly named or described. What’s not to like? Now we are talking, right…

A certain Je Ne Sais Quoi

Let’s say, for instance, ‘although she’s not conventionally attractive, she has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes her popular with the boys’. Now, can you hear the sexual innuendo here? I certainly can.

Let’s face it, whenever French words are used this side of the Channel, there is a sexual innuendo. As some of you like numbers, I will take the plunge and make an assessment: when a French word (or a French expression) is used, in 80% of the cases there is a sexual connotation. Shame nobody had told me before, it would have saved me some embarrassing quid pro quo.

For instance, I used to always be late to catch the bus the go to school. I remember saying to my daughter, on the street:

‘ Oh la la! We are going to miss the bus, let’s hurry up!’ In French, Oh la la! is more an interjection than an expression. It can indicate surprise, disappointment, commiseration, distress, or, in my case, annoyance because we were late again. There was no connotation of sexiness or impropriety (or whatever else) at all, this much I know (try running after a bus with a shirt full of baby’s puke and you will understand where I am coming from).

Little did I know that, over here, ‘Ooh la la’ conveys a sexual message just because it is French. I remember noticing the funny looks of well-to-do lawyers (I was living next to a magistrates court), and I couldn’t understand what was going on. Honestly.

Now I get it: even when covered in barf, I has having a certain je-ne-sais-quoi because of my French accent, and the fact that I had said ‘Ooh la la!’. What can I say? Life is seriously unfair.

On the bright side, when my British colleagues try to speak French, I can usually get my revenge. Recently, the big boss told me that he wanted ‘jouir pendant ses vacances’ when he meant that he wanted to enjoy his holidays. I am not sure that he understood why I burst off laughing. Just don’t say it.

On this note, I leave you with this video…