C’est la Vie

It is a full time job to be an immigrant. Really.

The acquisition of a new language and the decoding of a new culture can be exhausting. Exciting and funny, too. But definitely challenging.

And when the immigrant has finally reached a decent level of comprehension something unexpected happens.

Keeping up with the native language.


When I was a little girl growing up in France, there were only a few words that didn’t sound too French.

Un bifteck (a beefsteak)

Un bouledogue (a bulldog)

Un chéque (a check)

Une banque (a bank)

Fioul (fuel)

Un shampooing (a shampoo)

Back then I had no idea that the French loved to change the spelling of the words they borrowed and sometimes their meaning, too.

Un smoking (a tuxedo)

Un break (a station wagon)

Une paire de baskets (a pair of sneakers)

Un body (a baby’s onesie)

Un pressing (a dry cleaning store)

But all that was fine since I was French living in France.

Things got a little more complicated when I moved away and only returned to my native land for a few short weeks every other year.

By then the French said:

Un icetea for an iced tea. Une firme for a firm. Un dressing for a piece of furniture used to store anything, from dishes to clothes. Un forcing for being pushy.

Although a curriculum vitae, CV for short, is the exact equivalent of a “resume”, the French favor “pitch.” If la joie de vivre is a French expression and a way of life, the French now use “life” when they talk about their lives. They also say: night, fun, smile, makeup, people, mug, cupcake, lunchbox, bling-bling, private joke, to name only a few.

Of course all of these words have perfect French equivalents.

Entrepreneur is a French word, but in France an entrepreneur is a building contractor. So when the French are entrepreneurs they create start-ups. And they became big fans of the Do It Yourself.

You would think that this linguistic melting pot has transformed the French into unconditional supporters of the Americans.

Actually they still have mixed feelings about the States. Ouch.

The French are on a roll. In fact they have added so many American words to their conversation that I have a hard time to keep up. I thought that only people like my family mixed two languages. Not anymore. But unlike us who know the rules – after all we have created these strange sounding conversations – the French have not kept us posted.

Their weird conversations obey to cryptic scenarios they make up while I’m gone. So when I go back or watch a French TV show I have the uneasy feeling to be once more lost in translation.

But since I like happy endings, there is good news.

A young French woman or man won’t need to buy the New Dictionary of American Slang I used to plow my way through these big United States.

They might need the delightful Euphemania though.

Otherwise, just like me, they will have the hen bumps when they read an American menu:

Petites Short Ribs Provençale served with Sautéed Wild Mushrooms aux Herbes.

As for me, I knew since day one that being an immigrant was a full time job.

Like the Americans say, “C’est la vie.”

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