Chef Stories
September 18, 2014 7:34 AM   Subscribe

Amy Glaze writes How To Talk Like A French Chef:
I’m not learning the kind of French I intended to. The other night on one of my days off, I ordered a cocktail at an upscale restaurant that I had never heard of before. It was a mixture of rum and spirits with fruit juice. It sounded interesting but a little too sweet for my taste. I asked the server if it was dégueulasse (deh-guh-lass), which I thought meant ‘gross’.
and The Chocolate Chip Caper:
My hands are permanently blood stained (out out damn spot!) and no matter how much bleach or hydrogen pyroxide I use it won’t go away. They are swollen from gutting hunted animals by hand and getting pricked by tiny bullet shattered bones – so much so, that I can’t even get my engagement ring over my knuckle let alone make a tight fist. The scars on my hands, wrists and arms from cooking and accidents (like the time I tripped on a box left on the floor and landed hands first onto our massive hot plate stove burning the entire side of my hand and wrist) are obscene.
posted by the man of twists and turns (41 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
I ordered a cocktail at an upscale restaurant that I had never heard of before. It was a mixture of rum and spirits with fruit juice.

Most likely, a mojito, which is of Cuban origin.

I really upset the server who stormed away after correcting my French and telling me never to use that word in public. How was I supposed to know?

When learning to converse (or at least pronounce words in) a foreign language, it's wise to ask which expressions and/or terms are vernacular, or more specifically pejorative. Especially if the native speakers in your vicinity are tossing those expressions about like spring rain.
posted by Smart Dalek at 7:49 AM on September 18, 2014


Most likely, a mojito, which is of Cuban origin.

Please don't put fruit juice in a mojito.
posted by synthetik at 8:01 AM on September 18, 2014 [17 favorites]


I'm having trouble figuring out which word in French this would've been, but one of my teachers told a story about when she'd been an exchange student in France: her host family had laid out a sumptuous feast for supper one night and at the end of the meal she tried to say "I'm stuffed!" but the word she used for "stuffed" colloquially meant "pregnant", leaving everyone else stunned at the non sequitur.
posted by XMLicious at 8:04 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


XMLicious: plein(e). It usually means "full", but used to describe a person it means "pregnant". (If you're stuffed after a meal, you say "j'ai bien mangé!".)
posted by asterix at 8:10 AM on September 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


Please don't put fruit juice in a mojito.

White rum, sparkling water, sugar, mint, and lime juice - isn't that a mojito? It's unlikely to be the cocktail referenced in the article anyway, as it is not a blend of rum and (other) spirits - just rum (with all the other, non-alcoholic stuff listed above).
posted by Dysk at 8:10 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


On a study abroad, we inadvertently shocked our house mother by telling her all about the trip to the whorehouse that members of our class took while in Venice. "Well," said my friend who was telling the story, "They did go, but they mostly went to watch." Turns out there's an accent difference between the word for bordello and the word for gambling establishment, and we used the wrong one.

1. casino (con l’accento sulla ‘o’), luogo dove si gioca d’azzardo.

1. casino (with the accent on the ‘o’), a place where one gambles.

2. casino (con l’accento sulla ‘i’), bordello.

2. casino (with the accent on the ‘i’ ), brothel

3. casino (con l’accento sulla ‘i’), confusione, chiasso, caos, molto

3. casino (with the accent on the ‘i’ ), confusion, racket, chaos, ‘a lot’
posted by PussKillian at 8:11 AM on September 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Oh, I used to read this blog a million years ago when I was on a food blog kick! The dark chocolate bar at the end of the Chocolate Caper story was a sweet ending, pun intended.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:12 AM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


...plein(e). It usually means "full", but used to describe a person it means "pregnant".

Holy crap. I said exactly this to my then-girlfriend's parents one evening at dinner, trying to decline a (delicious!) second helping. Bless 'em, they corrected my nervous French and somehow didn't immediately collapse into laughter. I had no idea! I should send them a card, or something.

(They weren't made of iron, though. I got a good laugh when I took a stab at using derrière (behind) in a new context, and carefully explained that I was very comfortable in the car's arse, thanks.)
posted by metaBugs at 8:29 AM on September 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


Great post. Working in foreign kitchens is always a recipe for social disaster (see what I did there?) Stagiers can work 80hr weeks exposed only to the language of the kitchen. Can you imagine learning English in an American kitchen?

Actually, that would be hilarious.
posted by elwoodwiles at 8:40 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


"What the fuck are you doing you fucking fuckhead?"

"...I'm having lunch..."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:07 AM on September 18, 2014


I asked the server if it was dégueulasse (deh-guh-lass), which I thought meant ‘gross’.

I hear it all the time in the kitchen and I just assumed it meant bad or unsavory. I just wanted to know if the cocktail was good!


This explanation makes the situation no better. "Excuse me, sir, is this cocktail on your menu gross?" Gauche in any language.

The flip side of this issue is that servers can stop asking me "is everything ok here? how's everything tasting? everything yummy?" Stop fishing for compliments. If you don't know whether your food is good, don't bring it out.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:10 AM on September 18, 2014


Dégueulasse has been "the source of some confusion for English-speaking audiences" since 1960: Qu'est-ce que c'est, "dégueulasse" ?

...plein(e). It usually means "full", but used to describe a person it means "pregnant".

Pleine means pregnant for pets and livestock so it's rarely used for people (and then it's rather rude/misogynistic). After a large meal, je suis pleine (or je suis remplie... or je suis full) is not really ambiguous in context, just a bit colloquial for a non-native speaker.
posted by elgilito at 9:21 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Nice post - I loved the first piece because I have this fondness for learning about how to swear in French.
posted by dnash at 9:38 AM on September 18, 2014


I asked the server if it was dégueulasse (deh-guh-lass), which I thought meant ‘gross’.

It does mean "gross." (At least, that's one reasonable translation among others). I'm really puzzled what she thinks happened in this transaction. It's not a "bad word" in the sense that the waiter had to run away because he was afraid he'd be corrupted by listening to this salty-tongued foreigner. He just thought it was pretty rude to suggest that he'd serve anything he considered "gross." ("Excuse me, waiter, is this dish absolutely revolting? I just want to know" would be a pretty rude thing to say in any establishment and no matter what words you used to convey the thought).

Similarly the "putain" example is just weird. It's a really, really mild oath. If people were looking at her in an amused way in the incident she describes it's not because she said something that's the equivalent of "motherfucker!" or something. It's more likely just that it's always a little amusing hearing foreigners swear in your own language--it always sounds a little off, somehow. But no one would have been shocked, shocked! to hear the word.
posted by yoink at 9:39 AM on September 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


Can you imagine learning English in an American kitchen?

I worked in a tiny pizza place in Boston where I was one of the only native English speakers: all the other guys were native Spanish speakers. They communicated with me in a mess of Spanish -- which I guessed at -- and English, but one guy just never spoke to me because he didn't have enough words.

I made sure never to ask my college Spanish professor what any of the words they'd tried to teach me meant (though sometimes I wish I had).
posted by wenestvedt at 9:40 AM on September 18, 2014


it's wise to ask which expressions and/or terms are vernacular, or more specifically pejorative.

...and take care how one asks, "pee jour eh teef" could be fight'n words in a few rough towns.

como se dice "peer jor" in castellano pour fave our? eh? eh? nudge? nudge?

Espagnol Est-ce exact?
posted by sammyo at 10:05 AM on September 18, 2014


yoink - reading through the comments on the site (which include some detailed etymologies of the terms) it sounds like it's a question of her using a wrong "register." Sounds like "dégoûtant" would have been more appropriate to the situation.

Though I was surprised at what she wrote about "putain," also. I'm no expert at all but everything I've read about it suggests it's as everyday and all-purpose a curse as "shit" or "fuck." Heck, it some say it's the only French word you need to know.
posted by dnash at 10:08 AM on September 18, 2014


Como se dice "blush bright blue, did I bother to glance at the article that is exactly what my comment attempts but makes sense"...
posted by sammyo at 10:09 AM on September 18, 2014


Sounds like "dégoûtant" would have been more appropriate to the situation.

As a matter of register, sure--but still a bizarre question to ask a waiter. "Is this drink disgusting?" is really no better than "is this drink gross?" (And again, I note that she says that "gross" is what she thought she was saying--which she was!).
posted by yoink at 10:24 AM on September 18, 2014


Can you imagine learning English in an American kitchen?

The lingua franca of American kitchens is unrepeatable Spanish, even if less than 50% of the workers are native Spanish speakers. For my first few months as a waiter, I was convinced that my name in Spanish was actually Putapincheculero.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:31 AM on September 18, 2014 [12 favorites]


The lingua franca of American kitchens is unrepeatable Spanish

This is such an amusing sentence. (Not disputing its accuracy, just the juxtaposition of 'franca.')
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:37 AM on September 18, 2014


the juxtaposition of 'franca.'

The "franca" in lingua franca doesn't refer to the French. It means, broadly, "European." There was a lot of Spanish vocabulary in the original Mediterranean lingua franca.
posted by yoink at 11:16 AM on September 18, 2014


Eh, it means "Frankish language" and calling it European is way too broad as that would suggest inclusion of Germanic languages.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:32 AM on September 18, 2014


Eh, it means "Frankish language" and calling it European is way too broad as that would suggest inclusion of Germanic languages.

The original "Franks" were Germanic tribes. And no, it doesn't mean "Frankish language"--it was a specific trading language used around the Mediterranean that combined elements of Italian, French, Greek, Arabic and Spanish.
posted by yoink at 11:36 AM on September 18, 2014


lingua franca
posted by poffin boffin at 11:40 AM on September 18, 2014


I suggest you read your own link, poffin boffin, because it supports my claim in detail.
posted by yoink at 11:45 AM on September 18, 2014


omg fine both me and the wiki article are lying, the actual meaning in italian is obviously not "frankish language" and you get to be right, as that is clearly the most important possible outcome of this entire stupid derail.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:48 AM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


You were offering the definition "frankish language" as something that would preclude my description of the term "Frank" in that usage as essentially "European." Here is the OED entry on "lingua franca to which the Wikipedia article refers:
Italian lingua franca (1553 in sense 1; sense 2 is not dated in dictionaries of Italian) lingua language (see language n.) + franca , feminine of franco Frank adj.1 in its specific sense ‘of or relating to the Western European nations’, probably after Byzantine Greek and modern Greek ϕράγγικα , and perhaps also partly after Arabic al-faranjī (lit. ‘Frankish’) and (apparently unattested) *lisān al-faranj (lit. ‘language of the Franks’), both applied to various Western European vernaculars (for both, see Frank n.1 and adj.1). See further H. Kahane & R. Kahane ‘Lingua Franca: The Story of a Term’ in Romance Philology (1976) 30 25–41.
So, yeah, it's incorrect to suggest that the term refers simply to a single "frankish language" as you did. It refers, as I said, to a trading language used around the Mediterranean basin that mixed multiple languages together in a pidgin. And it was "Frankish" only in the generic sense of belonging to "the Western European nations."
posted by yoink at 11:56 AM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


No, no, no, it was invented by a pigeon named Frank. Also, in the original story she meant to ask if she could order 144 cocktails.
posted by XMLicious at 12:07 PM on September 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Most likely, a mojito

How in the world did you reach this conclusion, based on that description?
posted by kenko at 12:10 PM on September 18, 2014


Wow, I was just tickled by some vague similarities.

Excuse me while I return to contemplating some haricots.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:13 PM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


So, yeah, it's incorrect to suggest that the term refers simply to a single "frankish language" as you did.

except that's not what I said, I literally said that the actual definition of the phrase is "frankish language," that was the whole thing and oh my god this is the stupidest argument please can we thumb wrestle instead.

oh or maybe a bake off seeing as this is a chef stuff thread
posted by poffin boffin at 12:29 PM on September 18, 2014


It doesn't mean "Frankish language", it translates in a very [overly] literal sense as " Frankish language ". Major difference, since using "Frankish language" to convey the idea of lingua franca would get you nothing but blank looks and puzzlement.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 1:06 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Mod note: Seriously, people, lay off or take it private.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:23 PM on September 18, 2014


I worked for greeks. Screw up once and the owners wife calls you a "kako-pethee" (bad boy). Screw up repeatedly and you're a "pootsa kefali" (dick head).
posted by prepmonkey at 1:47 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I hope everyone has read the comments on the "French Chef" post. They are fantastic. Case in point:

Department of obscene etymology:

‘Dégueulasse’ is from the verb ‘dégueuler’, to throw up. That in turn is from the vulgar ‘gueule’ for face. The -asse ending is just slapped on anything that’s found despicable. So ‘sickening’ would be a better translation, in theory. The one I really love is ‘dégobiller’ which is the same verb with even more expressive vulgarity.

‘ta gueule’ is simply a contraction of ‘ferme ta gueule’. Note that it’s only used between people who are on tu-toi terms!!

‘fait chier’ is not so much ‘take a shit’ as ‘makes me shit’. Translation of this is as problematical as the closely-related ‘enmerdant’ or ‘enmerdeuse’. We really don’t say ‘enshitting’ or ‘an enshitting female’ but maybe we should.


I feel smarter just for knowing this.

The lingua franca of American kitchens is unrepeatable Spanish

I worked in a Chinese restaurant when I was younger, and though half the kitchen was Mexican the lingua franca was definitely sinic. Or, as we called it, "Kitchen Chinese."

We also knew instinctively that most of the terms were not to be used in front of anyone who might actually know Chinese. Mostly they followed along the lines of "this (slur) is a bad tipper" or "that (slur) doesn't like it hot."
posted by kanewai at 2:03 PM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Loved the comments on the French swearing post and have decided 'dégueulasse' may be translated as 'spewfuckery'. French doesn't seem to need to put the fucks in there to make it just as rude. Elegant language.
posted by glasseyes at 3:54 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


This explanation makes the situation no better. "Excuse me, sir, is this cocktail on your menu gross?" Gauche in any language.

Perhaps in any language but not in every context. Every bartender I know (provided he or she does not own the joint in which he/she tends bar) has at least one drink on the menu that is absolutely revolting, and the bartender knows it, and it is for 19 year olds to order when they sneak in with fake IDs.

Usually you know this drink when you see the ingredients but it's occasionally wise to check, when you have already established that you are a decent grown-up drinker and have already tipped that bartender well.
posted by like_a_friend at 5:09 PM on September 18, 2014


‘fait chier’ is not so much ‘take a shit’ as ‘makes me shit’. Translation of this is as problematical as the closely-related ‘enmerdant’ or ‘enmerdeuse’.

1,2) Gives me the shits.
3) Pain in the arse.

*washes hands, turns light off*
posted by Wolof at 7:50 PM on September 18, 2014


"Gives me the shits" is pretty Australasian, isn't it? Unless you're pointing out that here's a similar usage on the other side of the world, which was what struck me too.
posted by GeckoDundee at 10:02 PM on September 18, 2014


Tip: Don't use foreign words you aren't sure the meaning of in front of native speakers.
posted by Renoroc at 7:08 AM on September 19, 2014


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