Just a short post this week, for reasons that will become apparent later. Before we moved here, in my ignorance I had always assumed that French was a pretty homogeneous language and that the vocabulary of Lille must also be that of Biarritz. The longer I live here, the more I realise that this is not so.
And why should it be? After all, France is a big country with strong regional and local traditions. Long after the Revolution, despite attempts to impose administrative harmony, those traditions persisted and still do.
Some of our elderly neighbours spoke Occitan – a separate language – as their first language and learnt French at school. Occitan was a spoken, rather than a written language, and the word for the same thing could vary even between neighbouring villages.
Some French singing friends and I were chatting about language during a break at the Puycelsi weekend. It turns out that only in the southwest is a pain au chocolat called a chocolatine.
Now, if you go into a boulangerie down here and use either word, they will understand. But it appears that this isn’t the case elsewhere. I have not been able to verify this, so I would be interested to know if the word chocolatine is used in other parts of France.
From personal experience, I know that the name for the same type of bread varies between regions. Once, when walking in the Auvergne, I asked for “une flûte” in a boulangerie. I was presented with a long and very thin loaf of bread, i.e. like the musical instrument. Down here, une flûte is a long, fat loaf.
One of my friends had lived in the Ardennes for a while before moving back to the southwest. She told us that when she first moved there she went to a supermarket. At the till, she asked for “une poche”, which is what we call a plastic bag down here. The hôtesse de caisse looked perplexed and carried on checking out the items. After a while, she looked up and said to my friend:
“Est-ce que vous m’avez bien demandé un sac en plastique?”(Did you actually ask me for a plastic bag?).
So there you are. It’s bewildering even for the French.
Have you come across words that don’t exist elsewhere or have different meanings, depending on the part of France you’re in?
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