French Friday: When Your Born-American Toddler Swears in French

From Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay

I envy my son’s exceptional memory. Maybe all these music sheets he has to memorize because he’s a musician help. No, it’s just natural, I think, since he has always been able to remember anything and everything since he’s very little. Including stuff his mother didn’t ask him to remember.

The youngest in the family, my son was with me most of the time before he started kindergarden. He didn’t talk much, but I knew it was his personality and not a language issue since he understood absolutely everything whether in French or in English. At home, I only spoke French with him.

In the car too.

Where we spent quite some time, either dropping his sisters off at dance class or at a friend’s for a playdate or a birthday party or still picking them up after gymnastics or a piano lesson.

We had left Massachusetts where my son was born and had returned to the San Francisco Bay Area. I immediately noticed that people drove far less courteously in 2000 than they used to in the early 90s. Due to the recent massive migrations toward this compact area, traffic was horrendous. Since I always carried a precious cargo I was prudent and intended to keep calm under all circumstances.

When I had been surprised and amused to notice drivers using the fast lane while applying makeup or browsing through the morning edition of the San Francisco Chronicle in my early American days, I was now shocked to see so many tailgating, cutting, and even giving the finger, a gesture that is used with more parsimony in France than in the US. On the other side, French drivers cuss more often than their American counterparts.

I didn’t. Much. Remember, I had always at least one child in the car with me. So if I did use a bad word I muttered between my teeth. Always in French, naturally.

One day, as I was driving through packed streets, my son buckled up in his car seat right behind me, my mother-in-law next to him and my father-in-law riding shotgun, a driver passed my car only to slam right in front of me to avoid the path of an oncoming car.

My son exclaimed in a clear loud voice, “Connard!”

My father-in-law stiffled a laugh and said, “Right, petit. That driver was very rude. And dangerous too. He didn’t even use his blinker.”

My mother-in-law leaned over and said, “Tell my son to watch his language or his own son will soon swear like a sailor.” Which in French is like a charretier or a carter.

“Our grandson is only repeating what he hears,” my father-in-law went on. “And it doesn’t come from his mother for sure.”

My son had remained silent since his expletive. I peeked in the rear mirror to check on him and caught him staring straight at me with an angelic smile.

“Maman,” he said.

One word was enough to prove my husband innocent.

From Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay

Later that night, when the kids were tucked in bed, my in-laws begged me to tell the “funny” story that happened in the car.

“Evelyne never uses this word,” my husband said.

“But how could he have heard and memorized it?” I said, partly to keep my husband from listing the other bad words I could have used, mostly embarrassed to see that he was taking full responsibility for our son’s choice of language. “After all,” I insisted. “He’s always with me.”

“Don’t underestimate those Sunday rides,” he concluded.

In the end, we’ve never known for sure who taught our son this French cursing word.

What we do know, though, is that he has expanded his French vocabulary in this particular field. No doubt due to his soft spot for French cops movies but also to his exceptional memory.

If only he could stop memorizing what his mother didn’t ask him to remember.


P.S. Although the author of this recent blog post is right: the French expletive “connard” is crude, some American equivalents are as vulgar.

As any cursing word, it depends on the context and circumstances, right?

From Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay




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