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Excerpt from Sex, Cheese and French Fries

Chapter Five

Cursing in French

Illustration by Jeannie Winston

Casually I ask Pierre (before telling him what I think), "So, what's your take on this courriel business?"

"C'est ridicule," he says. But not a second later, he qualifies his statement. "It is ridiculous, but you almost cannot blame the French for trying to stop the flow of equally ridiculous terms like se destroyer for getting crap-faced."

"You mean shit-faced," I correct him.

"Yes, that's what I mean. But, even though it is slightly ridiculous," he says, unaware that he has flopped over into patriotic defense mode, "we really should be looking at how lazy we can get with language, and how we can lose it if we are not careful. I mean, French is so much more creative and complex than English to begin with. There is no need for us to use English words to express what we want to say. Take the word asshole, for example. Do you know how many ways there are to say that in French? And how each one has such a special nuance? There is con, petit con, gros con, grand con, connard, connasse, vrai con, vieux con...."

No thesaurus needed when you're French, it seems.

While Bonsoirno had his linguistic work cut out for him when we first met, our communication issues were compounded by my inability to be funny in French — he never got any of my jokes. Nor could I be pissed off in French — whatever I said felt soulless, like I didn't really mean it.

Unfortunately, the word fuck he got from me, and I regret it. I use it too often, and now he does, too — when he's not cursing in French at the top of his lungs. Yes, he's a screamer at times, especially when he can't find something — which is often. But I've harassed him so much about it, out of fear he'll rage himself into a heart attack, that one time he decided to try holding it in. Hours later, still in a bad mood and pent up with frustration, he said to me:

"I wish I didn't listen to you. I wish I had screamed."

I thought that was pretty funny, but I felt badly for restraining his natural outlet for stress. The screaming creates terrible noise pollution and is disruptive, but it's never directed at me. It's just that the neighborhood has to hear it too. Strangely enough, no one has ever complained. So I recanted on the screaming, opting instead to make myself scarce when he gets going, even though I believe yoga breathing might be a better option. Here is an example of Pierre at full throttle:

"Putain de bordel de chiotte de merde de tes couilles de putain de merde! Mais c'est pas possible ça, bon dieu d'enculé de putasserie de connerie!"

Translation into English won't be easy, but I'll try:

"Whore of a bordello of toilet of shit of your balls of whore of shit! But this is impossible, dear god of being screwed up the ass of whoredom of asshole!"

Almost makes the word fuck sound like child's play.

• • • • •

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