March 14, 2011


For the most part these days, I understand when being spoken to in French. I can follow both conversations at top speed and directions flawlessly. I finally feel comfortable talking to people like my banker without having an intermediary present.

In trying to do my US taxes, I needed my bulletins de paye (pay records). I had yet to receive them from my lycée, and this was unusual. I went to the secretariat (secretary) brimming with confidence in my ability to sort this out with him, in French, all by myself.

He understood my problem, called the rectorat, and then told them the problem.

After a few minutes, he hung up the phone and told me, “d’accord, elle ne savait pas pourquoi vous ne les avez pas reçus, mais ce n’est pas un problème. Elle m’a dit qu’elle vas m’envoyer un mail avec vos bulletins de paye. Vous travaillez cet après-midi?
(Okay, she didn’t know why you haven’t yet received your pay records, but it’s not a problem. She told me she is going to send me un mail with them. Do you work this afternoon?)

Oui,” I replied.

Bon, revenez cet après-midi et ils seront probablement là.” (Good. Come back this afternoon and they will most likely be here.)

I was so surprised! Not only did the problem seem to have a very simple solution, but my bulletin de pays would be arriving in the mail that very afternoon.

I walked out of the office wondering how on earth the post office was going to deliver them so quickly. Do they have their own, special rectorat-to-lycée post service? Or was the secretary just being overly optimistic about the whole thing?

Regardless, I went back to the office that afternoon, and it was then that I realized my translation mistake.

He got on his computer, checked to see if he’d receieved le mail, and then proceeded to print out my bulletins de paye.

This is because in French mail does not mean mail.

Gmail is a trademark of Google Inc.

Mail is email and la poste is the mail.

I had fallen victim to a faux ami (false friend), a word that looks and sounds the same, but means something totally different.

One I already knew about, en plus.

Feel free to send me some mail, defined by either language, to make me feel better about ma bêtise (my mistake)!


  1. We've all been there. In our native language, even!

  2. Girlfriend happens to me all the time!!

  3. Muhahaha! I can imagine your confusion, like "Damn French post is efficient!" Whoopsie.

  4. Given that I'm in my own little 'mail hell' here in France, I giggled at your quandry about quick delivery of 'the mail'.

    I, too, have learned that 'mail' is email...but...I think, 'La Poste' is the post office and 'courrier' is the mail. At least this is a petite detail I've recently learned in the process of trying to find a passport lost by La Poste and changing the address so my 'facteur' (postman) can deliver my courrier to the correct place.

    Something new each and every day, non? It never ends!

  5. Luckily in Spanish email is email (pronounced with a marked Spanish accent of course), most of the time. Sometimes it can be mail but I know that newer words having to do with technology are often English words Spanishized. So, real mail could never be mail.

  6. I chuckled over your mistake. Don't forget it can happen in English too.

  7. faux amis kill me on a daily basis!

    I'll do a blog soon about how I nearly made a lady choke on her coffee the other day by telling her I sometimes have allergic reactions to "preservatifs" in wine.
    Oh boy.

    Glad your problem actually got sorted out - and relatively painlessly too - wonders will never cease hey?!?!

  8. Joshua: Thanks!

    Brenna: Girlfriend!

    Jenna: Yeah it was definitely a blonde moment!

    Leslie: I was especially surprised at the efficiency of mail sent through la poste because I know what a horrible time you are having with it! Oopsies! I'm just glad I got my bullitens de pay and could leave La Poste out of it.

    Kaley: I noticed that when I took Spanish in hs! The French did that too with some of our words, like le parking is a parking lot, but they always have to Frenchify them.

    Mike: Thanks!

    B: OH MAN! Who hasn't made that mistake??


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