My Early Assumptions About France

* more enlightened

* better food

* less restrictive attitudes about sex and gender

* mastering the language would take a few months tops

* the lifestyle of the writer is amply rewarded

* it’s pretty much like the film Amélie

* but with painful taxes and secret social codes

* and citizens who sometimes get stuck in the past

* and believe the world turns around their country

My Wife’s Early Assumptions About America

* can do spirit alive and well

* a better place to hold a job

* less restrictive attitudes about sex and gender

* casual warmth and generosity smooth over rough edges

* it’s pretty much like the Robert Redford baseball movie “The Natural”

* but with school shootings and political correctness

* and citizens who sometimes lack critical thinking skills

* and believe the world turns around their country

Things I Remember About My Flight When I First Crossed Over

* provided with menu and free wine selection by Air France attendant before meal

* two young French girls giggling over own private jokes for duration of flight while their father futilely tried to shush them

* unable to stay awake while watching the Daniel Auteuil film “Après vous” without subtitles

* hoping the border control officials in Paris wouldn’t ask me about freedom fries

* or how long I was actually planning on staying

Words French Grammar Categorizes As Masculine

* airplane

* breast

* day (as marked on calendar)

* kiss

* disaster

* baby

* vagina

Words French Grammar Categorizes As Feminine

* car

* sword

* day (when told to have a good one)

* hug

* catastrophe

* adult

* erection

Things My Father-in-Law Asked Me To Which I Responded “Yes” Having Not Fully Understood the Question

* Would you like to see my collection of daggers and swords from travels around the world?

* How long are you planning on staying?

* Would like some cognac to go with that?

* Have you ever eaten sheep brain before?

* Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?

* Would you like to drive my motorcycle?

Anglos Whom I Was Surprised To Learn Speak French Fluently

* Oliver Stone

* Tony Blair

* the lead singer of the band Placebo

* Playboy Playmate Victoria Sivlsteldt

*New York Times Columnist Roger Cohen

* Senator John Kerry

Awkward American Film/TV Series Translations

* The Hangover – “Very Bad Trip”

* Die Hard – “Crystal Trap”

* The Bourne Identity – “The Memory in The Skin”

* Knocked Up – “Expecting, Users Manual”

* Mean Girls – “Lolita In Spite of Myself”

* Love Boat – “The Cruise Ship Has Fun”

* Dukes of Hazzard – “Sheriff, Please Scare Me”

* The Natural – “The Best”

* The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain – “Amelie”

Words That Became Easier To Say In My Adopted Language

* it is


* push

* diaper

* baby bottle warmer

* drool

* favorite bedtime plush toy

American Things Labeled French Which Are Not Necessarily

* fries

* toast

* Brett Favre

* Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

* coffee presses

* hors d’oeuvres

* health care reform

French Things Labeled American Which Are Not Necessarily

* fridges with full vertical door for freezer (refrigerator américain)

* hammers with prongs in the back (marteau américain)

* playground ball-toss game known as Spud (américain ball)

* lobster sauce with chopped tomatoes and spices (sauce américaine)

* rich people (from common expression “riche comme un américain”)

* baguette bread sandwich stuffed with chopped beef and fries (sandwich américain)

* The President (Sarko l’Américain)

English Phrasal Verbs That Confuse Second Language Learners

* back up

* stay up

* break in

* slip up

* fill in

* fill out

*call off

* do in

* egg on

Ways to Deal With Jet Lag

* drink lots of water before, during and after flight

* walk around in sunlight

* force yourself to stay up late the first night

* hang out with the locals

* eat chocolate

* hopelessly fall for one of the locals

* remain

Best French Cheeses

* Saint Nectaire

* Comté

* Brillat-Savarin

* Cancoillote

* Crottin de Chavignol

Best American Dreams

* a pot for melting

* optimism that is less foolish than it looks

* The Louisiana Purchase

* free refills

* the Redwood National Forest

* the homerun

* New York City

* renewal that arises from catastrophe and chaos

* that most of it all remains unfinished

* the one where you can fly

Things My Daughters Now Correct Me On

* pronunciation

* matching the socks to the blouse

* the tune and words to “Sur le Pont D’Avignon”

* the distances between where we are and where we’re going

* trying to be a smartypants

* my futile shushing during flights to and from

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NATHANIEL MISSILDINE lives in Dijon, France with his wife and two daughters. He is the author of the 2012 travel memoir SAVE FOR FIREFLIES as well as a recently completed novel. Online writings, by turns comical and puzzling, are on display over at nathanielmissildine.com.

24 responses to “Cheese and Optimism”

  1. Irene Zion says:

    Okay, Nathaniel,

    I’m with you on everything here, but I am loathe to believe that hors d’oeuvres are not French!

    I especially liked the words that were masculine and those that were feminine. Is there any rhyme or reason to that? How can anyone possibly learn the correct gender of words, when these examples prove that the French don’t want anyone else to be able to learn French.

    • I don’t know where “hors d’oeuvres” came from, but it’s the Anglos who now seem to use that term more, which is strange because it’s such a mouthful for us and invariably pronounced wrong, what with all the Rs. In France the snack before the meal usually gets called “aperitif” or “amuse bouche.”

      Also, the masculine feminine stuff is always a headache, since it has nothing to do with object but rather how it sounds.

      Thanks for the comment, Irene.

    • Uche Ogbuji says:

      @Irene Yeah, “hors de gestion”, “hors de combat”, and the famous Joan of Arc “Il faut bouter les Anglais hors de France” (“We must kick the English out of France”) — French. “hors d’oeuvres?” Well if it used to be French, ‘taint no more.

      @Nathaniel that was a fun romp, although I’d maybe nitpick your characterization of le jour versus la journée. I’d tend to think of the latter more as a duration than a part of an greeting. That is a very odd gender distinction, though, isn’t it? Same with l’an / l’année. I never get those right when trying to parler couramment.

  2. Matt says:

    Ah, that was fun.

    I doubt I’ll be alone in thinking those mistranslated movie titles are pretty damn awesome. I think my favorites are “The Memory in the Skin” and “Lolita In Spite of Myself” both because they sound like actual, interesting dramas. Also, “Sheriff, Please Scare Me” is alone funnier than the entire Dukes of Hazzard movie.

  3. Richard Cox says:

    Fries aren’t French? French toast isn’t French?? Now you’re going to tell me French dressing isn’t…

    I enjoyed this a lot. Interesting how both you and your wife believe the adopted country has less restrictive attitudes toward sex and gender.

    Also, I couldn’t tell if your early impressions of France turned out to be correct or not. Is living there not like film Amélie?

    (Lie to me if you have to.)

  4. Indeed, fries were invented in Belgium and french toast is much more common in the US and rarely in France considered as a breakfast item. French dressing? I’m not sure, it probably depends what’s in it. Worcestershire sauce is right out.

    Also, there is an ever present Amelie aspect, but much to my disappoint, Audrey Tautou doesn’t walk around playing adorable tricks on everyone in town. Though maybe I’m not being patient enough.

  5. Zara Potts says:

    Cute post!
    Lots of things I didn’t know – given that I come from a country that is a traditional enemy of France (!)- it made for very interesting reading as well as entertainment!

  6. I love the “Awkward American Film/TV Series Translations.” I don’t know a lick of French. But I sure wish I did. Sen. John Kerry does?

    Fun stuff.

  7. Thanks for the comment. Yeah, John Kerry has French cousins and spent time in the country as a kid. That, I believe, was a Rove bullet point in ’04, where Bush would greet supporters by saying “Hello, or as Senator Kerry would say ‘bonjour'”

  8. angela says:

    what a fun read. i love the way you tie your giggling daughters back to the giggling girls on your flight over.

    and sandwich américain sounds amazing!

  9. Simon Smithson says:

    Brian Molko speaks French?


    There you go.

    C’est incroyable!

    Ah, ma francais. C’est tres mal. Je… uh… ashamed.

    Bien, Nat!

    • Yeah, Brian Molko maybe barely qualifies as an Anglo because I think he’s lived in French-speaking countries. Still when he does an interview on French public television, he speaks the language with a British accent. Or maybe that was just the black nail polish talking.

  10. Marni Grossman says:

    You are the official TNB French tour guide for Americans. And you’re so damn good at it!

    Meanwhile…”Lolita in Spite of Myself”? I think that’s a good title for the inevitable Lindsay Lohan biopic.

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