Our French Life

Do You Know Your Arse From Your Neck?


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Did I have you at arse or neck?  I’ve gone right off the rails with the language haven’t I. Actually, I think I would be doing you all a disservice if I didn’t explain the difference between these two words in French. You’re welcome. They sound no different in my Brit opinion but then my accent, at times, can be atrocious. I particularly struggle with a word which has an unacceptable amount of vowels in it – that includes the letter ‘y’ as guess what? The French consider this to be a vowel. I can often see the word in my head, I want to put my hand up like I’m in some imaginary game show and say “oh I know it, I know it!” !”it’s X or sounds like…..” Cue the crumpled up face of the recipient.

I’ll give you an example. I struggle with the French word for ‘old’ – I know exactly what it looks like – VIEUX. Yarp this is a nasty spelling of a word. The visual, to the connecting, to the speaking part of my brain does not work at all. You might all be looking at this thinking what’s she on about but I don’t even know where to start with this one. I have to learn words in a sounds like aka phonetically way. And yet I can say MIEUX – but that’s because I learnt it. So VIEUX – is like VYERR and MIEUX is like MYERR. I think!

That aside for a long time I would call any old person – ancien – meaning exactly like it does in English ‘ancient’. The person is about to die! Why? To get out of saying the above. So back to your arse and your neck.

Last year, I had a rash on my arms – a weird one. It looked like one of those paintings you used to do at school. You know the one where you’d paint half of a butterfly and fold it over to reveal a whole one? Well my arms had the exact same rash on both arms – like someone had raised them up and whacked them together. Boom. How attractive.

Anyhow, the same thing appeared on my neck. Looking back it was probably a combination of the incredibly hot summer we had. Having said this, we did go to Spain and it disappeared and when I was in London for a few days. I came to the conclusion (in hindsight) that it was probably a build up of stress. The stress of the preceding months of moving 3 kids to a new country, moving into 3 different rental properties, trying to articulate myself better than a 6 year old (sorry disservice) and..oh do shut up you martyr with your first world problems. That or prawns. It could be prawns I’m now allergic to. My life is over.

So, off I trotted to the docs for the 9 millionth time that year securing my place as resident stalker.  I had prepared myself for what I was going to say. I don’t like speaking English at all if I can help it. It’s another warped game I like to play – like I’d rather be dying in word order hell then say “I have a rash on my neck..”. So I went in and said I have a rash on my neck. The doctor recoiled back in his chair and did a scrupled up face that I’d not seen before. It wasn’t just I don’t understand you it was a proper disgusted WTF face.

I quickly dismissed this as typical trying to put me off tactics. I am not speaking English. I am not speaking English. I carried on despite the doctor still thinking what is going on – told him it came, it went, it was fine in Spain and London- maybe it’s France cue joke. No laughter. I’m thinking yeah you know what I’m rocking this whole language thing. Look at me giving it some background. I was then re-introduced to the word ‘story’ aptly called ‘histoire’ for ease of reference. Yes he didn’t need the long story. When did it start. Mmmm confidence takes a minor beating.  Undeterred I carry on.

Next up is a blood pressure check – it’s through the roof at 220. I’m like no it’s not – he’s like yes it is. I said it’s you – you make me stressed. Anyhow we call it quits at 180 – still like heart attack high but I know it’s normally 120.

We talk about this rash, he gives me a prescription for some cream and then I ask for bloods as, you know, I might have an under active thyroid (we live in hope). however, he thinks I’m asking for the opposite (an over active thyroid) – I’m like no the other one. He’s explaining, in no uncertain terms, that there’s no way I’d look like this – points to my almond croissant belly and says you’d be really skinny. Yeah thanks for that. But I would not explain it in English so I let it go making a mental note to start the diet asap.

After twenty minutes of my rocking the French – he says it’s better if you speak English as I can’t understand a word you say in French. Now if that’s not a bullet through the heart of your French speaking giving it a go attempts, I don’t know what is. I’m pleased to say that things have improved a lot since that day – the day I curled back into the fetal position of learning the French language.

Back to the start. Well I have a rash on my neck. Neck is ‘Cou’ in French and arse is ‘Cul’. Now arse loses it’s ‘L’. You don’t pronounce that so you now have ‘Cou’ and ‘Cu’. Try it. How different do they sound? Exactly.

I only realised this when I phoned a French friend to tell her my day – in French. I started with “I have a rash on my …” “what did you just say?” “oh my word – that’s not your neck that’s your arse! You told the doctor you have a rash on your arse!” I said what’s the difference there is no difference. She explained that I had to say Coo as in Cuckoo for Cou – the neck. Which yes, it does sound more pronounced but how was I to know the word for arse or that it sounded like neck?


So yes the first thing I said to the doctor that visit was “I have a rash on my arse” no ice-breaker nothing. No wonder he looked taken aback. Like proper disgusted. I did wonder why he asked me to drop my trousers and inspect my bum. I thought it was some weird French thing. Actually, turns out he knew I said neck.

I jest that didn’t happen. I just totally humiliated myself. It’s right up there with things you said in France and is dug out for any meet and greets as standard. What have been your embarrassing faux pas’s?

You have been reading Our Normandy Life!

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