By Philippa Campsie

Paris, by Barbara Redmond

Barbara Redmond

When one’s surroundings start to look dreary, the best therapy we know is to buy a French decor magazine and read it in a pleasant café where one can fantasize about spending one’s life in a loft in Montmartre or a converted factory in Montreuil-sous-Bois or an elegant country house in Meudon.

If we specify these particular locations, it is because they are featured in a recent (April-May) issue of a favourite magazine, Vivre Côté Paris. This two-year-old magazine has just made the transition from a quarterly to a bimonthly schedule and we want to be among the first to wish it well. In fact, we want to walk into the wonderful places shown on its glossy pages, sit down, and spend the rest of our lives.

The magazine is published in French, but don’t let that put you off. The French of decor magazines is not the French of the Académie Française. For example, page 5 is the “Edito” or editorial, which refers to the 10th anniversary of “Designer’s Days” in Paris. Other articles are titled “I love Paris,” “In the Mood,” and “Nature for Ever.” The ads have lines like “I’m Made in Biguine,” “Only Authenticity” and “My Outdoor Living in Style,” and there is an announcement of the fifth annual “Salon du Vintage.”

Franglais: le relooking, le baby-boom, le weekend…

Although many French speakers are appalled by franglais, we find it fascinating. We don’t see it as a capitulation to a dominant language, but as a creative form of borrowing. The English borrow all the time, why not the French? Moreover, the French do interesting things to English words, including inventing ones that English people have never heard of.

Take a word that appears frequently in decor magazines: “le relooking.” That one had us stumped for a while. Apparently, this is franglais for a makeover or redesign of something—either a physical space or a publication. In a previous blog, we also mentioned “Le Fooding,” a peculiarly French word for a new approach to cuisine (note that “cuisine” is a French word that has made the transition unaltered into English).

Some franglais words have taken on French spellings, such as rosbif (roast beef), bifteck (beefsteak) or redingote (riding coat). These ones made the journey to France in a previous century and have hung around like slightly disreputable English remittance men ever since.

Some have gone back and forth like daytrippers. Le ticket is the re-importation of an English word derived from l’etiquette. Le mayday in an emergency was originally the anglicization of “m’aider” (help me). Le tennis (a game traditionally known in France as le jeu de paume) comes from the cry of “Tenez!” (hold!) which used to be uttered as a player was serving. Le management was once the French le ménagement.

A few imports have settled into the language as is: Le baby-boom, le bestseller, le fast food, le marketing, le weekend. You just have to learn to say them with a French accent.

But the most fascinating of all are the ones like le relooking and le fooding—words that have never existed in English, but have been created by the French to sound “exotically” English. We who are captivated by the elegance of the French and their language are amazed to find that they consider the English language exotic, but apparently they do. So we have l’auto-stop (hitch-hiking), le baby-foot (table football), les baskets (sneakers or trainers—literally, the shoes worn to play basketball), le Scotch (scotch tape), or les waters (a WC or toilet).

Franglais: le dressing, le lifting, le shampooing…

The French are particularly attracted to English words ending in “–ing.” Le dressing (a walk-in closet or dressing room), le footing (jogging), le lifting (a facelift), le pressing (a dry cleaner’s shop), le shampooing (shampoo), le standing (status). It’s not a sound that normally exists in French, and we suppose the French must find it wildly exciting to pronounce such extraordinary noises.

So go ahead, buy a French deco magazine, take it to your favourite café, and enjoy picking out familiar words (which may, however, mean something different from what you expect). We buy them mainly for the pictures, anyway, which hint at idiosyncratic lives spent in unusual surroundings.

The April-May issue of Vivre Côté Paris, for example, features a fur-lined hammock, a converted warehouse with a copper bathtub mounted high on a wall, ultramodern design in the area known as La Défense, and a glass occasional table containing a shattered chandelier. This bears the same relationship to the safe, tasteful, beige-and-taupe interiors of many North American decorator magazines as an evening at the Moulin Rouge bears to the average suburban dinner party. Not something one can indulge in routinely, alas, but certainly a springboard for the imagination.

Other French decorator magazines include ELLE Decor and L’Art de la Maison.

VOCABULARY: French to English translations

Bifteck: Beefsteak.
Edito: Editorial.
Franglais: Creative form of borrowing from the English language to form new French words.
L’auto-stop: Hitch-hiking.
Le baby-boom: Baby-boom generation.
Le baby-foot: Table football.
Le best-seller: Best selling book or publication.
Le dressing: Walk-in closet or dressing room.
Le fast food: Fast food service.
Le fooding: New approach to cuisine.
Le footing: Jogging.
Le lifting: Facelift.
Le marketing: Shopping.
Le management: French, le ménagement.
Le mayday: Emergency. Anglicization of “m’aider” (help me).
Le pressing: Dry cleaner’s shop.
Le relooking: Makeover or redesign of something – either a physical space or a publication.
Les baskets: Sneakers or trainers — literally, the shoes worn to play basketball.
Le Scotch: Scotch tape.
Le shampooing: Shampoo.
Le standing: Status.
Les waters: WC or toilet.
Le tennis: (Game traditionally known in France as “le jeu de paume) comes from the cry of “Tenez!” (hold!) which used to be uttered as a player was serving.
Le ticket: Re-importation of an English word derived from l’etiquette.
Le weekend: Weekend.
Redingote: Riding coat.
Rosbif: Roast beef.

Philippa Campsie

Philippa Campsie teaches part-time in the urban planning program at the University of Toronto and runs her own writing and research business, Hammersmith Communications. Before starting her own business, she was editor-in-chief at Macmillan Canada. Philippa lived in Paris as a student and regularly travels to Paris and Normandy. She is interested in stories of famous Parisian women throughout the ages and how they influenced the Parisian style we have come to love and know.

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Text copyright ©2010 Philippa Campsie. All rights reserved
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.