Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, Stereotypes /

As most of you already know, “Pardon my French” or “Excuse my French” is a common English language phrase ostensibly disguising swear words as words from the French language. The phrase is usually used in an attempt to excuse the speaker of profanity, swear words and the likes in the presence of those offended by it, under the pretense of the words being part of a foreign language (French, of course!)

As I happen to be French (what can I say?Nobody is perfect, right?), whenever somebody says ‘Excuse my French’, he/she usually laughs and takes even more pleasure in using the phrase.

Been there. Done it. Don’t find it funny any more. Yawn.

Here is a newsflash for you: a French word isn’t a swear word. I know, I know, it’s all a joke. It’s the British sense of humour. In the olden days people said “excuse my French” because they said something deliciously French and sophisticated, and they were showing off their knowlege, so using that expression when you used a bad word or profanity sounded funny. What I am trying to say here is that, to an extent, using such a phrase is a way to make fun of pedantic people.

Despite my British passport, I feel caught in an old conflict that I can’t control. It’s too deeply ingrained in the British psyche. I just have to shut up and let it go. Easier said than done. Come to think of it, the main swear words in English come from the German language. Why don’t they say: excuse my German? So unfair…

Incidentally, several expressions are used by both the English and the French to describe the same culturally unacceptable habit, but attributing the habit to the other people. Here is a selection:

  • “to take a French leave” (to leave a party without taking polite leave of one’s host) is referenced in French as filer à l’anglaise (or “flee English-style”).
  • “French letter” (a condom) is rendered in French as capote anglaise (“English hood” – I find this one hilarious).
  • During the 16th century in England, genital herpes was called the “French disease” and “French-sick” was a term for syphilis. Some things never change, right?

Si here we are, in this day and age, still making fun of one another. When will it stop?