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The Three Words You Must Know and Learn When Travelling to France

Eiffel Tower - Paris

You have booked your trip to France. A few YouTube videos are your last attempt to ensure you can order at the restaurant. The good news is that France, especially Paris, has evolved over the last twenty years. The young generations are eager to showcase their English and have embraced a view of the world that no longer sees France as the undiscussed better part of it. But it is still advised to learn a few words in French. You will discover that, regardless of your effort, some words will stick with you more than others. Viktoria and I have selected three and for good reasons.


The Most Important French Word to Know is "Fermé"

No matter the day or the time, somewhere in France, something is fermé, which means closed. We were in Paris during the street protests organized by the unions to repeal the increase in the retirement age from 62 to 64. The result was that some businesses were fermé due to the strike.

The word fermé literally means not moving. If one is not moving, one is resting, which means one is not working. In other words, rest assured that if something is fermé, it's because somebody decided not to work and instead took the day off to chill out and drink some wine while you, the tourist in need of some service – either a taxi or the bus to get back to your Airb&b - yes, you, is the one not moving, stuck somewhere in France.

Good news for lovers of bread and patisserie: I have never heard of a collective strike of boulangeries, and if a boulangerie may be fermé, there is always another open one. On a rainy Saturday at 7:00 am, I was waiting for the closest bakery to open, only to learn from a passerby that bakeries open at 8:00 am on weekends. I was relieved that nothing was fermé; only my grumbling stomach was on hold for another hour. I cannot blame it: bakeries in France are essential; if they ever go on strike, France will fermé, and our stomachs hope not to be there that day.

The Second Most Important French Word to Know is "Paté"

Paté de fois gras is among the classic delicatessens of French cuisine. The dish originated in Egypt more than four thousand years ago. According to legend, a farmer's goose had a colossal appetite and gorged on grains. When the farmer killed the goose, he discovered it had a pronounced liver and was delicious. The news spread and the rest is history.

French cuisine is not limited to goose or duck liver blends but to countless other combinations of meats and vegetables. Give a shoe to a Frenchman, and he will make a paté. We ordered paté many times in our dinner adventures around France, and most of the time, we could not figure out what we ate. Paté comes accompanied by a generous amount of bread; how could we complain? And if more bread was needed, I was open to asking for more. Bread seems to disappear in front of your eyes as you wonder, "What's in this paté?" The appetite grows with every bite so that by the time you get to the dessert, you feel ready to start again. Because that is the main difference between French and Italian cuisine: quantity, and I will stick with my opinion to the cost of sounding pathetic.


The Third Most Important French Word to know is "Privé"

If it is privé, you are not invited. But don't take it personally. The word privé must sound so compelling to French people that it is splattered everywhere: behind the counters of most businesses, bars, cafés, museums, and bathrooms at the airport. As I stare at the door sign, I wonder if it could be so private and exclusive behind that landmark. For a few seconds, I imagined opening the "privé" door and entering Alice in French Wonderland. I have met the Green Frog wearing a beret and striped shirt and Speedy Snail and imagined running away together from a grumbling, bitching, and moaning French Michelin Chef armed with a big shiny kitchen knife. In other instances, I could see the glitz and glamour of a nightclub, the catwalk of Chanel, Dior, and Yves Saint Laurent, and unforgettable pillars of French cinema such as Brigitte Bardot, Delon, and Belmond. If you ever go to Paris and get to peek behind that door, I am sure you will be amazed.

Fermépaté, and privé are the three words Viktoria, and I have encountered most often traveling in France, although the three words I had to learn in school while studying the French Revolution were libertéegalité and fraternité. I have always wondered how the French think that we are brothers and sisters when they consider themselves not equal to others. Upon reflection, why would they? Maybe I am taking it too personally that I was not invited to their privé party, that they fermé everything in Paris - and that I had to walk back to my Air B&B - or that I could not figure out what was in that paté. French people are French people. I will embrace their uniqueness as it is. In Italy, we say that they are our cousins. Whatever relationship I have with them, I am glad that they are different and that they make this world more fun. Can you imagine we were all French people? Who would wanna go to work?

~ Written by:

 Viktoria Rusnakova & Samuele Bagnai, authors of Enthusiastic All the Way & Tuscan Who Sold His Fiat to the Pope, respectively.

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