Useful French expressions Ep. 1 “La gueule”

Girl you look good on that #shamelessselfie of yours, but why you look so busted up in them tagged pictures?
That, my friends, is the spirit of today’s useful expression, or, “La gueule” (/ɡœl/).

La gueule is everything having to do with, well, your face: from a funny expression deliberately made for the camera, to the inevitable BRF (Bitch Resting Face) on your commute to work on el expressway.

But where does the term stem from?
Well, the “gueule” is simply the french word for snout.


El hocico, la trompa, (or la cara de burro amarra’o, if you will).

So, when do we use it?
There are infinite ways in which one can use la gueule, as it is a very handy word for nearly all situations. Just to get your feet wet, here are three everyday scenarios where you can begin to fit this magical word into your vocabulary:

Your co-worker gave you shade during this morning’s meeting?
No, they made you la gueule.
(That’s right, it’s something that is made, not given!)

“OMG, look at my gueule! Delete that picture!”

“Shut your mouth!” in French? Easy:
(Notice the slight shift from la to ta. Observe this at all times, as it is important!).

So now you are ready to go into the world, having acquired another useful morceau for your limitless vocabulary!

Can you think of any other scenarios where we might use gueule?


“A Round Hairbrush” or “Why France Will Never Advance”

All I wanted was a round hairbrush.

All I wanted was to lock the door behind me, walk my happy self to my nearest Carrefour, and shove money in their faces in exchange for a nice, round, overpriced hairbrush.

But it’s Sunday, and as we all know, Sunday is the day of rest.

I have no problem with this, except the French will take on any excuse to not work, and I’m not exaggerating.
For example, France prides itself as a secular nation. On Friday, however, it was a national holiday because it was the Day of the Ascension. Furthermore, Monday is a “banking Monday”, so I will not be finalizing the last details for my bank account because, hey! Banks are closed.

Today, the damn supermarket is closed.

A round hairbrush.

Readjusting to Parisian life has been a little hard in some aspects. I am very happy to drink good coffee, walk down narrow alleys with charming façades, have picnics on the banks of the Seine. But when it comes to everyday things, some stuff is just really annoying, like having to argue every single little thing, or having people scoff when you ask them to do something they are supposed to do anyway (I’m talking to you “information” guy at CDG International who rolled your eyes up at me when I said bonjour).

When I went to one of the big, scary Tribunaux last week, to get some attestation for whatever weird paper the government loves to ask for. The office reminded me of some Harry Potter scene: there were two ladies, drowning in piles and piles of papers and files. They had just started doing an online service, but of course, the system is faulty and full of bugs and the turnaround time is about 30 years, give or take. The lady kept on complaining to the people in line that the internet was ruining things- that no demands should be made online…and because it’s France, no one cares. It’s this collective “IDGAF” from both sides that, at a micro level, is not letting France have a more logical and seamless system. Administration here is, most of the time, inefficient and retrograde. The old school refuses to embrace change, impeding and blocking new, less complicated approaches. The descaro is never hidden: they are proud of screwing others over, it seems. They are too afraid of not getting to scoff or argue with clients.

Anyway, when my turn came, Lady #2 behind the counter was at a loss because she could not find the name of the city I was born in (Caracas). After repeatedly pointing it out on the translated Birth Certificate (that cost me 249 euros) she ended up putting “Santiago de León”.

I mean, technically it’s right- Santiago de León is the name of the hospital.

Santiago de León and a round hairbrush.

The cherry on top, though, came the day I went to open a bank account and I ended up in an office with two French people arguing in front of me in very heated tones. Sandwiched between the two, I wanted to melt in my seat from the awkwardness. 
Bank of America may steal my money from time to time, but they don’t call me names… at least not to my face.
I walked out with neither a bank account nor the hope of one, because…welp! It’s France!

Frustrated from my experience at the bank, I decided I wanted breakfast and stopped at a little Bistro to get me some good coffee and bread. It was empty, and the second my ass touched the chair, the nice lady behind the counter told me I could not sit there.
I looked at her, bewildered- there wasn’t a single person there, but I could not sit where I wanted.

A round hairbrush on a Sunday.

Dat French Language

(Get comfortable)

It’s as if the words “I speak French” are an invitation to ridiculous phrases like: “Ooh lala” or “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” or, my personal favorite: “Parlez-vous français?” (or “françois”, it all depends, really).

French is that one language that everyone feels entitled to. It’s like those people that say “Yeah, I have a varied heritage- I’m 1/8 Irish, ¼ German, and 2/7 Native American” and yet you can’t even name the region said ancestors come from (this, by the way, grates my nerves: you’re not a mélange, you’re a modern human being feeling entitled. Congratulations).

Boo, you whore!

Everyone has been in close contact with French- it’s been butchered, romanticized as all-things French, and overexposed…in my most humble opinion.

It’s the language of diplomacy, yes, but to really master it, it takes more than a few phrases: it takes grammar, it takes history (and a rudimentary understanding of diachrony), it takes fillers…and it takes passion, dedication, and perseverance.

The single hardest thing a human being will ever do is to learn how to read. Once that has been conquered, the brain is nice and ready to process information- language in this broad case.
When learning a new language, it’s like learning to speak and read and write aaaaall over again.
We are torn down and re-learn everything bit by bit. One may start by the simple souds from the alphabet and remember it via games or other tactics (I, for example, memorized the sounds of the French alphabet thanks to a my first French professor who recited it as a drill sergeant singing a cadence- we were to follow). Others may jump in and start learning with phrases and putting the pieces together. If you want to get fancy, I know people with thorough knowledge of the International Phonetic Alphabet and that’s just how they figured out what everything sounded like once put together.

And, oh! You have to find your voice again!

Am I perfect? By no means. But another thing that comes with finding your voice in a foreign language is to adopt a personality. And Parisian Me is one condescending little bitch.

Les rageux vont rager!

Anyway, I feel like French, as I said earlier, has been romanticized to the point that it gives it this ethereal quality.

Even though I do enjoy speaking in French because it has been a challenge to master it and find my voice in it, French just became a vehicular language. It’s my language of business, school, of everyday stuff. It’s not what I whisper to a lover (and quite frankly, if anyone ever busted out some French in bed, I’d ask him to leave. Or at least be quiet).

French is what I curtly reply to the lady pushing me in the métro, French is what I use when I weigh my vegetables at the market, what I use to tell the plumber that my faucet is leaky…there’s no glamour in French anymore!

And in a very twisted and perverted way, I like this! I fucking love it. I wanted so badly to immerse myself in this language that “sounded kinda cool!” when I was sixteen and visiting Paris for the first time. I wanted to know exactly what people were saying, why their vowels sounded funny, why it was still so similar to my mother tongue (Spanish) and yet had so many words that I recognized from English and Lord knows how many other languages!

And now I do! And I see how gritty the language can be. How hurtful, how deep it can wound and offend, and also how uplifting, how quirky and lighthearted.

So if you’re on a mission to learn French, do not be disappointed when you realize real people speak it.

There’s a side to French that most people fail to acknowledge: Street French. There are no “vous” here, no pleasantries. Here you get words to describe women that range from the cute like “nana” to “gazelle” to “meuf” to “tcheub”.
It’s this language, this tchatche that makes French, not your textbook.
Paris is multifaceted and so is its language.

Language is our direct link to history. It’s breathing, latent, alive.
This is what makes learning French so challenging- you have a language that is hyper-kinetic. It vibrates, it evolves, it morphs!
Due to its vocalic system and the elimination of diphthongs, among other things, it is the farthest romance language from Latin.

Sorry to those who believe Portuguese is. Or Romanian- it still holds its very Latin roots even if it’s got massive amounts of Slavic influence.

All of these beautiful and fascinating things have come together through centuries to forge a language that is so colorful, so comprehensive and ever-changing and you just better run behind it trying to keep up!

So next time you feel tempted to say “Oui-oui” and any other silly phrase to a French speaker- hold your tongue! You might get a nasty response. After all, it comes with the territory.