La bombe d’F

grasse de phoque

A wave of Americanism has been sweeping through Paris over the past few years, from le street food (which, finally, is actually being served on the street) to a desire to remake Paris in the image of New York. Or more to the point, Brooklyn.

Brooklyn in Paris

I don’t quite know where this came from, but I do wish it would stop. Granted, in the US, we have our share of “French-style” kitchen gadgets (most of which I’ve never seen in France) and croissan’wiches (which I am now seeing in France), but hopefully we still have enough international goodwill so the French will overlook some of our infractions. Yet a new trend has been sweeping through France and I’m not sure it’s building much goodwill in the other direction, in spite of how benign they might think it to be.

(Speaking of good-will, I should probably let you know that even though I am too bien élevé, or well-raised as they say in France, and don’t have a potty-mouth, there are some pictures that use a 4-letter word in this post. So if that might be offensive to you…and I have to admit, they make me wince as well – although I don’t have a choice because they’re all around me – you might want to not scroll down or click after the jump, and skip this post.)

I was listening to some music the other day from a French radio station called FG, and the “FG” used to stand for Fréquence Gay which was owned by the French government (confirming all those fears about the French to certain political elements outside of the country), for those party-loving residents of the Marais and elsewhere. I’m not sure how important sexual orientation is to choosing a radio station, but it’s one of the stations on my playlist because the “trance music” is good for when I’m working on recipes and don’t want to be too distracted. Well, that’s my story anyway.

FG Radio

When I lived in the states, my background “music” was E! television, in the pre-Kardashian years. It had everything you wanted in a television station; supermodels, irreverent shows that made fun of other shows, documentaries about the demise of backbiting 80s bands, scathing fashion gossip, and talk shows hosted by fabulous drag queens. The best part about it was that you didn’t have to pay attention. You could finish stirring your crème pâtissière or roll out your tart dough, then resume watching a few minutes later, realizing you haven’t missed anything important.

So how thrilled was I to find out that E! is actually here in France and for the low price of just 99 centimes a month, could be part of my cable line-up? I could not subscribe fast enough and was thrilled beyond belief – until I realized that it was dubbed (VF, or version française) and I realized it’s no fun to watch housewives in New Jersey bickering unless you can hear their actual New Jersey voices, rather than the voice-over of a hysterical Frenchwoman trying her best to imitate them. Which f@&king annoys me.


I normally don’t swear when I write, and find it odd when people do in cookbooks. But after hearing that Radio FG has been recast with a new name, I’m learning that there’s nothing wrong with dropping the F-bomb in France, which apparently adds a certain je ne sais pas, or F$%ckin’ French Touch, as it’s now being dubbed in some quarters, to whatever la bombe d’F touches.

Just the other day, I was lost in happiness as I stirred a batch of buttery caramel, simmering away on the stove. But instead of the standard announcement of the name of the station that’s spoken between songs, the Radio FG announcer jolted me back to reality to let me know that I was no longer listening to just any old FG music, but that it was now F@#king Good music.


But it’s not just hit radio where the F-bomb can be heard, or found. I don’t think people cuss in French cookbooks like some do in America, but the Omnivore food festival has created a whole page to promote their F#%king Dinners, so you can keep f*%king track of them. (I did notice that the name is rechristened for use in other countries, so there must be some inkling out there that it’s a word not to be tossed around lightly.) And call me friggin’ odd, but being from San Francisco, if someone invites you to come for a f%$king dinner, well, let’s just say dining might not be the top activity of the evening.

fcking dinner night

Even though I didn’t get invited to the F$%king dinner in Paris, just like I never got invited to any of those wild dinners in San Francisco either (so thanks to Hélène for letting me use her snapshot of the menu), I’m becoming more confused about how the F-word has taken off in France. They obviously haven’t taken a clue from the probably charming town of F$%king in Austria, that finally get fed up and considered changing its name. (And with a population of 104, obviously they don’t know the actual meaning of the F-word.) I don’t know if people are going to start stealing signs (and WiFi signals) in France, but I see the word appearing more and more on fashionable apparel. The other day I saw a nice-looking chap on the métro with a sporty little cap on that had the F-word printed all over it in big block letters.

And it’s a trend spreading to other fashion choices not just on public transportation, but on the streets. If you ride a motor scooter, you can let the folks behind you know how you feel. And one of my neighbors has even decided to christen his (or her) WiFi connection with the f-word, which is a word usually reserved for when you don’t have an internet connection. So it’s nice to see irony is still alive and well in la France.


It’s said that you should speak another language, one that’s not your native language, for at least ten years before you start swearing in that language. And I’d say that is pretty good advice because I went to a presentation for a high-end food product the other day that was in English, by a presenter for whom English was not his first language. I counted him dropping the F-bomb at least seven times during the thirty minute demo. The first time I chuckled uncomfortably, just because everyone else did and I was trying to be polite. Not that I have any problem with cuss words (and after working in restaurant kitchens for over thirty-five years, if I did, I wouldn’t have lasted thirty-five seconds), but he was nicely dressed in a fashionable suit, was well-groomed, and representing a high-end brand that’s f$%king expensive. And the contrast was startling.

graisse le phoque

Discussing it with a friend here, we guessed that non-native English speakers don’t realize the gravity that particular word has. It’s not like saying “Drat!” or “Oh heck”, but it’s a pretty loaded word that carries so much weight that it was (and maybe still is) the criteria for automatically giving a film an R-rating. And although I giggle when Romain says “phoque“, the French word for seal (such as my trusty tin of seal oil for waterproofing my shoes), I’m still shocked when I walk down the street to see it in a store window, or hear it on television, or used to publicize a gourmet food event. I supposed someday I will stop being so shocked when my delicate ears hear the F-bomb, or PH-bomb, used so freely and just accept it as normale. And not give a fig about it.


  • I suspect you’re right – users haven’t understood the true impact/meaning of the word to an English speaker. Plus, I find in my corner of rural France (populated by patois-speaking farmers who are happy to call a spade a f*?£ing shovel) that people aren’t shy of using crude language (even in front of an English woman who is also perfectly capable of interpreting the gestures that go with it).

  • That is so weird! (and by the way, I haven’t seen Dubbin for years!)
    I’ve taken to saying d’Fuq? (fuq rhymes with touque) instead of WTF? but only usually when confronted with something out of the ordinary.

  • Here in Central California they still try to “bleep” the cuss words out on both the radio and regular TV. However, a lot of times the bleep will be either just before or just after the word, so you hear it anyway. I was always told that having to use a lot of cuss words meant that you had a limited vocabulary. Thank you David for regularly not cussing in your writing–I enjoy your posts immensely!

  • David, you clearly know what the f$%k you’re talking about.

  • This reminds me of my year abroad days when my french schoolmates would apologize in english that they had such a poor F@#$-u-bulary in my language and that they were studying at the F@#$. (The “Fac” – Faculte des Lettres.)

  • So, I swear all the f%$king time. Really. (my current fave expression is “Come the f$%k on”, which, let’s face it, doesn’t really mean anything at all)
    But this is SHOCKING! You’re right, it makes me wince each time!
    I thought French using ‘fooding’ was bad enough…

    • Yes, the Le Fooding, I just don’t get. It doesn’t mean anything, like expressions such as “So British!” I always want to say, “What (the article) is so British?” – sentences need to have subjects.

  • I’ve noticed this as well, and I’m glad I’m not the only one bothered by it! Even at my office (in Paris), my French colleagues will frequently use the “F word,” even to the point of naming our autumn/winter lookbook ‘F— Yeah Winter.’ I mean…seriously???

  • Its ironic given the way the French protect their language – to stp English words entering the lexicon – that this word is becoming “fashionable” . I agree weird.
    Btw is there an equivalent in french for the “yeah no ” phenomenon?

  • After reading this, I think I’m going to stop swearing.

  • The problem here is that the literal equivalent of the F-bomb in French – foutre – is a common part of everyday colorful – yet not vulgar – French discourse, much more so than the F-bomb is in the US. “C’est foutu” – “it’s f**ked” – is much milder in French than it is in English, as are many of the phrases that build on the verb foutre. The same goes for the equally vivid phrases built on the verbs “emmerder” and “chier” – which don’t have nearly the force or degree of vulgarity that “sh*t” has. It’s kind of like when Americans use “bloody” to sound British yet don’t realize that term’s increased impact in the UK. Moral of the story? Seek a competent native speaker if you’re using a foreign language in your ads.

  • And to think I felt bad for letting “Je m’en fiche” slip out while being helped in Fauchon on a recent visit to Paris!

  • One of my French coworkers used the f-word fairly often and when I gently explained that he should be careful when and where he used it, he told me that he had spent time in the UK and everyone used it there and it was no big deal. (is that true?)
    I told him that it was quite a strong word in the US and if there were any American clients within earshot, he might cause offense! Not sure he really believed me.

    • A friend ran a fancy hotel and a lot of the young people who started would use words (in English) like “Yeah” or “Ok, cool” to customers. Which he had to explain to them wasn’t really the way you talked to people you weren’t familiar with, especially in that kind of setting. Interesting how languages can be so nuanced! (I’ve picked up some expressions that Romain uses and I keep having to remind myself not to use them when speaking to people.)

  • I saw nothing like this in Nice and Marseille whilst visiting this summer. Heuresement!

  • Ice-T was on Le Grand Journal a few years ago and you can see his jaw drop from shock when the hosts broke out a couple of “motherf***ers”.
    I’ve tried to explain to people the impact that using “f**k” in the wrong situation can have but it’s not easy. I tend to say that it’s like saying “Putain d’enculé de merde” while talking to your grandmother, but instead of your grandmother, it’s everybody.

  • As someone who is not a native speaker, but nonetheless fluent in English, I know exactly what you mean. I can certainly confirm that you have to spend years surrounded by a language to really grasp the varying degrees of gravity of various swear words. I experienced this twice, when I learnt English and Danish. I wince when I hear my countrymen use the F-word with abandon and in situations, when something less loaded would suffice.
    By the way, the Polish word for seal is foka, which sounds a lot like an Irish person saying f***er.

  • That is very interesting. It’s fascinating how things get lost in translation like that.

  • And another thing – I’m sure the French wouldn’t use that word so freely, if they stopped the idiotic practice of dubbing, and had to listen to the original English. Not dubbing anything is one of the reasons why everybody in Scandinavia speaks English so well, and why they have better understanding of when it’s appropriate to swear.

    • There’s been some (well, little) discussion here that people aren’t learning English well because of the dubbing of television programs. It always seemed odd to me, that a country that valued culture so highly, would modify an original film or presentation. Most films in Paris are presented in their original version, with French subtitles. (But outside of Paris they’re often dubbed as well.) So I don’t know why they don’t apply that to films and series on television as well.

  • I lived in Montreal for 20 years ago, while it never appeared in print, you’d hear Francophones say things like “C’est tout f**ke (should be an accent on that last “e” but can’t find it on my english keyboard right now) in the presence of their grandmother or in formal social situations, which always seemed downright bizarre to native English speakers, but it clearly did not have the same shock value it has in English and would be used quite casually.
    Quebecois profanities are mostly religious in nature and I never even tried to use them no matter how proficient my French got. At the time, the worst profanity one could use in Quebecois French was “tabernacle”, which would get changed to more socially acceptable forms such as “tabernoosh” (sort of like “God damn it” becoming “gosh darn it” in English…)

  • This post really hits home. For a long time I’ve spent most of my time in Eastern Europe. Cursing is very rare in Russian — the strongest epithet tends to be “Pancake!” or “Horseradish!” and anything harder tends to be confined to the criminal class and such. So it’s not as bad here an in France, apparently, but still, many of the English-speaking young people will through in an F-word here and there, and it just sounds so… stupid.

    I respectfuly disagree about the 10-year-rule. You should NEVER curse in a language that is not your own. Not only because it’s rude, but because you sound ridiculous. It’s even more ridiculous than hearing non-American kids use American hiphop slang.

    (My Russian is very good at this point, but I woudn’t dare curse in the language.)

  • I always use so much cuss words like those, I’m sorry if I offend someone sometimes. I’ve learn english with the television and I remember the 80′ TV series and movies fro the US we had in france, there was so much of those words to replace actual dialogues… what the fig !

    In france, using some cuss words is usually a way to express things colorfully, hence the hilarious video about the numerous uses of the word “puta}n !” :D (warning : if you’re offended by the Fig word that video will offend you).

    I also remember this Matrix sequence (warning : if you’re offended by the Phoque word that video will offend you too but only if you speak french) where the merovingian uses that fantastic garland of french cuss words :D.

    Seems that the immunity of a lot of french people to those words is known enough that the expression “pardon my french but [@$^*#&] !” has appeared. I’ve always thought that was f#ckin’ funny :)

  • It seems that English speaking Canadians have a similar disregard for the Quebecois swear words, tabernacles and chalais. Both of these words are religious (catholic), and the meaning is lost in secular translation.

  • I find that pizza offensive!

  • This is a trend that, as usual, probably started here in the US. It seems to be endemic to tech sites and blogs. Its rather like little kids using the word when their parents aren’t around. Call me old-fashioned, but the vulgarization of most everything in our culture, if it can be called that is beyond distressing. An older friend mentioned the other day that he’s glad he’s old because he doesn’t want to see where this culture is heading. Desperate Housewives anyone?

  • I don’t speak french, but I do know a few others. Not using curse words is a good idea. I’m always listening to the nuances of languages. Formal language but not too formal, casual language but not overly casual. It’s not easy. English tv-shows are subtitled ,never dubbed (except childrens programs). It can be quite easy to take this to be representative of the general usage. There’s always a good idea to mind ones language – in the first language one has learned particularly – and then in any additional languages you learn.

  • This has been really bugging me but before reading your article, I didn’t know how bad it had become. I did send an email to Virgin radio about three years ago just to explain to them that it was really offensive hearing them drop the F word and that they obviously didn’t understand it’s meaning. It’s an art using the F word properly. Even for English speaking people.

  • It’s interesting. What is gained by serving the lowest possible denominator in advertising standards? Since only the poorest people respond to such lowbrow tactics, you’d think higher standards would bring in higher sales from people who’ve actually got money. I guess it’s a way to advertise that you are selling useless crap for cheap. Go, commerce.

  • A certain amount of formality in language directed to the public shows a sign of respect for the presumed dignity of the audience. The keyword is presumed. It’s a practice of generosity to extend dignity, hence value, to the people you wish to reach with your product.

    But if society no longer values personal dignity, and in fact loses all understanding of why that’s even desirable, then we have a very low esteem situation where everyone degrades everyone else and try’s to live life from that very low level. How ridiculous! It’s much better to spread esteem and value to each other and raise the level of standards so that people feel good about themselves.

    Am guessing that abuse of that model with horrible, judgemental behavior in the past generations has made the general public feel like crap, so now instead of being encouraged to raise their standards for their own improved outlook on life, they’d just rather be treated like crap. Pathetic trend…

  • I would be worried that a f#%king dinner would be all f#@ked up. Such a very odd way to refer to an event. I took a French pronunciation class years ago and we had a dialogue about seal skin boots and there was lots of giggling as we said phoque over and over in class.

  • I personally, am ready for a 12 step program. I have been trying to curtail my bad mouth … and it’s not easy. I will now renew my efforts. Thanks David.

  • This post was really funny (maybe f**king funny?).
    The wifi name is still making me laugh.
    I think some cultures are a bit more relaxed about profanity. There was a lot of cussing (palabrotas) in Spain when I lived there. Even old ladies in shops, that’s how they talked to each other.
    For young people, when I was there “de puta madre” was huge. People wore it on hats and in big glittery letters on t-shirts. It was kind of bizarre to me.
    I don’t know what I would do if a man in a suit was dropping f-bombs during a presentation. I applaud you for not falling out of your chair.
    Now if we could only get the message out that calling women “lady” in English sounds rude and oddly offensive…

  • I have to admit, reading this made me want a jaunty hat that said ‘merde’ all over it.

  • This post brings back a funny/uncomfortable memory from when I was living in Paris between 2008-2010. I had an interview for a sales position at American Apparel and the manager who was interviewing me (French guy, accent and all) threw out the f- bomb a good eight to ten times during the interview. I think he was just trying to be ‘cool’ but it was so awkward for me sitting there and made me realize how important it is for not only the interviewee to give off a good impression, but the interviewer as well. Thanks for the walk down memory lane and keep humoring us with these stories!

  • I have not laughed this hard in a very long time. That is really all I can say!

    • I agree……very, interesting post, entertaining as well. I’ ve often wondered if/when the fbomb becomes such and everyday word, what word of choice might replace it? I must say that I am surprised the French are usuing it so liberally……certainly makes them look less sophisticated and more brash. That being said, I’ ve had a tremondous chuckle reading this post AND the comments. I bet this post will get the most comments ever.

  • sometimes swearing can do me a whole lot of good and i quite like using the occasional expletive for its shock value..i guess people don’t expect well past middle age grey haired women to say f$%k..having said that it’s a bit weird to see it used on a menu..

  • I know you’re airing a f#*!king legitimate concern, but thanks for the laugh!

  • Maybe it should be explained that dropping the f-bomb in English is the equivalent (although not literally) of using “connard” or “connasse” in French. I have never used the word “connard” once without being scolded, because “that is a very strong word that shouldn’t be used”, no matter how deserving the subject.

  • I had to giggle a little. Cultural misunderstandings that are harmless – for the win! I’m not sure how strict the rules are but I think you can get away with at least one f-bomb and still a PG-13 rating depending on how it’s used.

  • Great post! Is it just me or does the French version of E! have nothing but stupid countdown shows (50 hottest… Blah blah)? No “The Soup” no “Chelsea Lately”…or do I just watch at the wrong times?
    As for the f-bombs, I agree with the 10 years rule

  • Several years back, while teaching at a middle school in NYC, I took a course in conflict resolution given by a former dean from a school in the South Bronx. A lesson focused on how to keep calm when hearing the everyday language used by many of our students, which was often vulgar or at least crude. One of the assignments we were given was to develop a “dictionary” of slang common at the time. One of my students volunteered to write down several terms and their meanings for me. On the list were things like “mad” (a lot of, as in having “mad money”) and “shorty” (girlfriend.) But I laughed aloud when I got to this: “Shut the f$*k up” means (Please be quiet!)

  • i agree with a lot of the posters. they don’t realize it’s much stronger than the omnipresnet p’tain or foutu. for every foreign speaker it’s hard to learn which expressions are appropriate to what context.

    as for the graisse le phoque, what’s the origin of that? is it just a play on la graisse du phoque (seal blubber)?

    and, I’m sure romain has taught you the expression, “pédé comme un phoque.”

    i learned that in the renaud hit en cloque.

    “C’est qu’même si j’dev’nais pédé comme un phoque
    Moi, j’serais, jamais en cloque…”

    it’s so sad, how handsome he was in those days and how much alcoholism has ravaged him since.

  • Utterly hilarious. Who knew that the French had such an ironic sense of humour?

  • WTF? As a Brooklyn girl, and one who was not particularly bien-elevée (lots of cursing in my family), I find the Paris fascination with all things Brooklyn so disorienting. The other day at Monoprix I saw a child’s shirt advertising the “collège and lycée” supposedly established in my Brooklyn neighborhood 100 hundred years ago. (Of course no such place exists.) I think I’ll steer clear of dropping the F-bomb in French conversations for now. I get anxious enough saying merde.

  • Swearwords are like terms of endearment: They carry an emotional load that is charged during childhood and therefore works best on native speakers. If your mother did not call you “my little cabbage” and was shocked when you first said “&%$§” aloud, you will not be able feel quite the same while saying the words. Many Europeans learn English via TV Series and Rap Songs, both of which abound in swearwords made extra attractive by beeping them out. What follows is that these words are used freely by Europeans with little knowledge of their effect on US citizens.
    By the way, science has found out that swearwords help more against pain if you use them sparingly in your everyday life (see Stephan Fry’s Planet Word series, episode “Uses and Abuses”).

  • The worst part of this appalling post (the news in it, not the post itself) is the ad for Pizza Hut, which attempts to sell its “pizza” to naive French tourists visiting the newly hip borough that is home to Totonno’s, Roberta’s and Di Fara.

  • I was shopping in a grocery store in Taipei in 1991, around the time when C&C Music Factory’s song, “everybody dance now” was on heavy rotation I guess pretty much around the world. Pushing my cart through the aisles I heard that same familiar tune, but with karaoke vocals. Imagine my surprise when the singers sang “everybody f**k now.” I must have been the only foreigner there because no one else batted an eyelash, or looked perturbed or offended.

    • I was in a fashionable, but socially aware clothing shop in Paris a few years ago, a nice one, and they had this hard-core rap playing. The lyrics were incredibly sexist (I won’t go into it, but the singer was saying very graphically what he wanted to do to some women.) It was shocking to hear it, especially in a store that was full of clothes from a brand that promoted being culturally aware, etc, and people were just shopping as though nothing was odd or going wrong. I kindly let the salespeople know that the lyrics to the song were pretty offensive. The contrast was so odd.

  • We were in Scotland in 2009, and were amazed at how a group of teenaged girls managed to use f$#k as just about every part of speech in one short conversation. I don’t think I could’ve done it if I’d tried.

  • I lived in the Netherlands for 10 years and was also often dismayed by the inappropriate use of the F-word. Many Dutch people speak English well, but it seems few have learned that some swear words are highly offensive to English speakers. Just like in France, they use the F-word in print, on the radio, etc when speaking English (they also use it in Dutch too, but it’s been incorporated in the language and is not considered a foreign term).
    Maybe swear-word awareness should be included in language classes at school.
    Agree that it’s best never to swear in a foreign language, except perhaps among friends, for comic effect.

  • Will you please write a post about French gadgets in the US that aren’t really French gadgets? That intrigues me! Thanks!

    Love your blog

    • Well, one thing are those “French” butter keepers. I’ve never seen one on a table in France nor in a store – even though a number of them are made by French companies. When I asked the representative about why they’re not available in France, he said, “We make those for the American market.”

  • Ah, bad habits are so much easier to inculcate than good ones. Evidently, if there ways in which we over here are vulgar grammar-barbarians, devoid of adequate adjectives, adverbs, and verbs, the French want it too. Besides, I do hate to see the shock value of that word get diluted, because if I ever use it in public, I want those around me to be aware that some really serious s**t is about to hit the f**king fan. Now they will probably just shrug and turn away as the (bus/train/heat-seeking missile) hurtles toward us…

  • I hope you never get over thinking that the word is offensive.

  • Curses are the first thing one sets out to learn in a foreign language, the very Lesson Zero of any study course.

  • I think part of it is probably the proximity to England – in my experience (mostly among students, to be fair), the F-word is used much more frequently, casually, and publicly there than in the United States. I think it is becoming more integrated into the language of young people in the US too, perhaps thanks to those same English influences. But it’s still more of an age-divided word in the US, unless you are using it purposefully and appropriately. Certainly not one you would use in a professional setting with mixed ages present!

  • This F-word phenomenon reminds of my years in Japan. There, the F-word is a very popular motif for t-shirts, caps, bags, almost anything with writing on it. Let’s hope the fad passes more quickly in France than it has done in Japan.

  • I guess the F-word phenomenon is La Thing…just returned from Spain (enjoyed your post on Andalusia since I was just there). When we travelled to Northern Spain, a cafe window in San Sebastian posted the following, “F@@k Calm and Party in Homeless,” a riff on the every present Keep Calm and Carry On. (I think it was an advertisement for a nightclub!) Love your blog!

  • The etymology of French epithets is one where the root words are ignored for the idiomatic expression which is culturally understood. While L’efbomb is perfectly understood as not meaning what it means in English, the contra-positive of this argument may be seen in the French use of the word ‘con’. C’est foutu.

  • My own daft compatriots meaning young Swedes consider exclaiming “sh*t” and
    “f#%k” at all times a sophisticated kind of language chic.
    The fondness for those words is even more true for the French who for generations were kept isolated from learning English by their politicians. Heaven is opening up at long last.
    Be assured that everyone using f-words all over Europe knows there is something naughty about them. Means being able to face the world deliciously unafraid.

  • maybe we’re interpreting all this in the wrong way, saying that the french and other non-native speakers should ease up on the f-bomb.

    maybe the answer is just the reverse.

    mayber native english speakers need to become less uptight about the f-word and other mots grossiers. it sort of goes together with anglo-saxon prudishness about sex.

    when george bernard shaw wrote pygmalion, using “bloody” in polite conversation was so recently scandalous that he could build a whole comic scene around it. english speakers used to have to use every conceivable euphemism and periphrasis to avoid saying the word “hell.” language changes.

    personally, i prefer “le langage de charretier.” it’s richer, more expressive, and more natural.

    • What’s funny is that while there is a perceived prudishness about sex in anglo countries, my French partner is constantly shocked at how graphic the sex (and nudity) is on American cable television shows.

  • Such a funny post David! I agree with you about keeping it classy but the ladies at Dinner Was Delicious swear so perfectly that it’s charming. I’d be upset if they wrote a cookbook that didn’t include their perfectly timed swear words.

  • When I saw the tin at the top of the blog I tried to read it in what little French is left from one year 65 years ago! When I came to the word Dubbin, my it took me back to even further remembering my Dad, RIP, polishing our shoes with Dubbin.
    I hate hearing the F word on live TV. So unnecessary and films nowadays? What to say. It was a frequent word of mine but now I do try to curb it but it still offends me in films and on TV used to titillate the audience.
    When I was 19 I worked for solicitors. My boss had to dictate a statement with the F word running through it. He asked how old I was and decided I was old enough. The word was used once and then just F. I was so embarrassed.
    The expression ‘your mum’s whatnot’ is used very frequently in Israel but in arabic.
    I too wish other countries would not incorporate it into daily language. Modt kids here use ‘s–t’.
    I’ll ferme my bouche now.

  • So interesting! For me, an American, the F-word is indeed fairly off-limits. During times of extreme emotional distress, and I do mean extreme…and infrequent…I find the word coming out of my mouth as a way of expressing a feeling of complete and utter outrage. If the F-word were not taboo, how would I be able to express my feelings so satisfactorily? It’s very useful.

  • I realized how normalized the word had become in mainstream North America when I kept seeing it in The New Yorker magazine. It’s not used gratuitously, always in context, but it still surprises me. I think I picked up over half a dozen instances of it in one issue.

  • yes, david, that’s the tragic schizoid hypocrisy of the american psyche–all church lady on the outside, and debbie does dallas on the inside. that’s why i think easing up on the prudishness around the f-word would be good. and i think that’s exactly what’s actually going on, with its relatively new omnipresence in popular speech.

    btw, the site i linked to earlier is a wonderful resource for enriching one’s french. you can subscribe to it and it will send you a new expression/idiom each day. you can also search and study their data base. take notes, keep a list, and try to work the idioms into your conversation. it’s a fun exercise to manipulate a conversation to the place where you can insert one of your new expressions. i assure you, you will amuse your french friends when you gain a command of these sayings which are normally reserved for the native speakers.

  • After a 20 year absence I went to visit friends in the Colorado high country. I was told things have changed, so don’t be shocked. The worst change was exiting I70 in beautiful Eagle, Colorado…only to be slapped in the face (before I even could turn) with “Burger King”. It made me sick.

  • Adorable post.

  • This entire post was the highlight of my whole f**king day :)

  • Thank you David! I laughed out loud at this. I was born and raised in Brooklyn and oddly enough, I am generally quite offended by vulgar language, unless I’m actually in Brooklyn. In which case it doesn’t bother me a bit.

  • Great post – reminded me of being a student in Germany. The German guys would play darts while drinking beer in our shared kitchen in the dorm. On the first bad throw, the expletive was in German – and they do have some creative terms. The second bad throw elicited something in French. The third was always in English, as if it was the most expressive form of swearing. Many of my colleagues claimed limited knowledge of English, but they could all swear with amazing fluency.

  • Hello,

    Being a French Canadian who has lived in Ontario for most of my life I can see both sides.
    However it has always stuck me as odd that one language would appropriate words from another and try to give a different meaning.Profane or not. When the word phoque is used in French it means only a seal! The word f**k and f**key is used by some French speakers however it does not have the same strong sense as in English and is used more as a casual term denoting a mess.
    Below is the original version of a beautiful love song as song by Felix Leclerc and a more contemporary one by Michel Rivard.
    Enjoy !

    Lloyd Le Blanc

    Félix Leclerc -La complainte du phoque en Alaska

    Michel Rivard

  • Great article–I wasn’t aware of the phenomenon, which didn’t seem to be in evidence when I was last in Paris in 2011 and seems utterly ridiculous. Unlike some of your readers, I think it’s fine to swear in a foreign language–IF you’ve learned how to do so from a native speaker. Obviously the French are taking “f%$k” in a completely non-Anglo-Saxon direction, and that’s a problem.

    Having grown up in Japan, I can comment that the Japanese use of “f#%k” is not spoken but written–it’s just another cool English word to put on signs and T-shirts. Interesting, the Japanese language is stunningly devoid of curse words: about the worst you can say to someone is “bakayaro,” which translates as “you’re a moron,” but with much greater insult than the English implies. Refreshingly, the worst thing you can say to a women is “you’re a nun,” which really isn’t that bad.

    • There are two expressions in French – “Ta gueule!” and “Tais-toi!” – which both basically mean “Shut up!” but the first is much (much) more loaded, similar to the difference between “F$%k off!” and “Bug off!”

      I’ll often tell people that think English isn’t nuanced, like other languages, to compare the different between “Don’t be stupid” and “Don’t be silly”, which are decidedly two different things.

  • French butter keepers aren’t French?? Mon Dieu.

  • You have my heart, David, for speaking up in the fashionable French clothing store. I’m sure you were f**king discreet too. Thank you.

  • Seeing “phoque” reminded me of this video. A musician is applying for a government grant to do an exchange between a Canadian and a French music festival.

    For me, the context matters when a swear word is used. I find gratuitous swearing in films, programs and ads as annoying/offensive as gratuitous sex.

    @ tunie: I’m not sure why you think this advertising is aimed at the poor. I’ve heard similar language coming out of some very well-heeled mouths! See David’s example of the man in the suit sprinkling his presentation with the f-word.

  • Oh for f*cks sake. France, just be yourself. We like you just they way you are.

  • David, I have to agree with you. Seeing the F word in print in what seem to be totally inappropriate and unnecessary ways is offsetting. On a menu? Oh well, hopefully just an odd fad that will pass. Said word does need to be reserved for when you drop something on your foot or your cake falls. (Which, BTW,I have never had happen…do cakes really fall?

  • I live in NJ but (or “and therefore”) have never watched Housewives. Plenty of people do, however, and speak of it.

    The other day someone mentioned the show while mumbling and looking down, and I thought he had said “Real Houseflies of New Jersey.” Great reality show idea! Presumed similarity: endless grooming.

  • Hi David, I’ve lived in Southern California my whole thirty-something life:) and can say that I personally only resort to the F bomb when driving alone or very very angry. If my mother caught it, she would probably give me the face…you know the face I’m talking about. :D

  • When living in Koln someone had fallen off their bike and screamed in english oh f$$k me. It was done in such bad context we all were laughing going down the street.
    There were some words in german for move out of the way as a waiter. Some were nice and some were basically saying move your ass or you will be hit.

    After learning german in highschool and living there for 10 months, I have never learned a german curse word.

  • Many decades ago, I almost got beat up over that word. I was in an argument with a classmate (I did say decades), and he used that word. I made a retort about the paucity of his vocabulary. Once he found out the definition of paucity he lunged for me; fortunately, others caught him and I got away.

  • Not unprecedented – the Germans love to say “sh*t” rather than their own word,for example – but wow. Pins your ears back, as my grandmother would have said.

    @Bob Y: not every trend starts in the US. I find it really jolting hearing Americans now saying “no worries”, a phrase which has always been closely associated with Australia. And “the yeah, no phenomenon” also referred to above? That started in Australia and New Zealand too.

  • @Tim. You never heard the word ‘scheiss’?

    @Linda L.
    Thank you. I also wanted to say something about that racist comment. Poor people are no better and no worse than rich people.

  • SNAFU–An American phrase from WWII shows that the word does go back in time quite a while, and I owe the more colorful pieces of my vocabulary to my WWII sailor father. However, I’m still sort of dismayed by the constant use of the f-word. It’s so uninventive.

  • I have to admit I swear like a sailor and don’t mind profanity, but was a little shocked when I was in Grenoble in January during les soldes. A clothes store decked out its window with naked mannequins and signs that said ‘f**king soldes’.

    I think I was most confused because it didn’t even make sense.

  • Interesting post, and I agree with several of the observations. But equally interesting are the comments. They reveal that the cultural divide between Europe and America is alive and well (and currently living off the coast of France). To be a bit more blunt: We gradually lost the prudish puritanism in the 50s and 60s, that seems to permeate American society even today.
    One current example is how American internet giants, like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, attracts increasing criticism (and political calls for regulation) because of the way they impose un-European moral values on European users’ activities.
    And yes, @Loulou in France, it includes Britain as well. I have noticed that American guests on British television often becomes quite flummoxed because of the more liberal use of the language. Off course, some American guests revels in this newfound freedom, uses foul language to excess and end up looking quite immature.
    @ Anna Maria: It is a contributing factor that Scandinavian television don’t use dubbing. It has not, however, stopped Scandinavian youngsters from using the f-word frequently. The need to speak foreign languages, at least in Denmark, is many centuries old, a result of the country being a major seafaring nation. But I think that the linguistic skills of Scandinavians today are mostly a result of teaching methods that has a far greater emphasis on the practical usage than technicalities like grammar and spelling.
    But back to the Transatlantic difference in linguistic values. Quite a few of the commentators seem to think that they should educate the French on how to use English. It is not unlike the memsahibs of the British Raj: English ladies who saw it as their moral duties to teach the ignorant locals proper, civilized behavior. But 1/ the language you speak as an American is not yours, it is appropriated from the English (do you pay royalties to Britain every time you speak or write? Morally you should, you know!) and 2/ a huge part of English is derived from French. It would thus be more logical if the French felt a moral calling to educate the English and American peoples who combined have spend quite a few centuries to mangle their beautiful language. But I suspect that the French don’t care. With more than two thousand years of French cultural history, the misuses of a few English words are of significant unimportance.

  • @ David: The poster for the “F….. dinner” on “le 14 aout” was of an event taking place in Montreal. Fortunately I don’t think the trend has spread to Quebec. I’m hoping we’re just too multi-lingual to really see the word “f**k” as exotic.

  • I am shocked to see that printed material. You would never see that in the US. As I read the comments here, I think it’s evident that Americans know how inappropriate it is, since everyone wrote symbols rather than the word f@€k !

  • David,

    Haha, ugh, I’ve seen this in Spain too. I love hearing really dirty (uncensored) songs on the radio when I’m at a family place like the supermarket.

    I’m really curious whether France is experiencing the same “Americanization” as Spain, and how you feel about it. In Spain, it seems like there’s a new trend of American food stores, but all they sell are bottled salad dressings and candy – in other words, crap. Nothing of any value (nutritional or otherwise) is sold there, and yet I see new ones popping up all the time, and more and more Spaniards who want to eat things like Chef Boyardee canned raviolis and that peanut butter that comes with jam in the same jar. Not to mention the constant obsession with fondant-covered cakes (and the poorly-made cupcake craze is still going strong). Seriously? Has this happened in France? How do you feel about it? I’m so torn between loving being able to have Reese’s Pieces whenever I want, but legitimately worried about the future of Spanish cuisine.

    • We have that too in France and the “American” aisle in the supermarkets are always full of things like Strawberry Fluff (which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in America), boxed cheesecake mix (ditto), and the usual line-up of bottled salad dressings, cranberry sauce, cookies, etc.. Which I think continues to reinforce the belief that the food in America is bad; because that’s all people see of it.

      And it’s hard to blame them, although I know people who live in Europe, who come to the US to visit or to live and are blown-away by the food and the farmers markets. It’s just that 1) Those things travel well (obviously you’re not going to get luscious summer peaches and tomatoes from California, and corn on the cob from New Jersey), and 2) Those are things folks sometimes crave.

      We have plenty of cupcake places in Paris as well. I don’t know how I feel about it. I think time will tell – and weeds things out. Fads come and go and you can’t open a bakery or chocolate shop in Paris unless you stock macarons, which were/are popular in the states as well. I’ve had good cupcakes in France (and some not-good ones) and good croissants in America. But in general, I think things taste better when you’re eating them in the country of origin. I don’t know why. But they just least to me.

  • Probably wasei-eigo, which is what Japanglish redirects you to on Wikipedia.

    They obviously didn’t get it from Cassell’s French Dictionary, which has no entry for f— or f—ing.

  • I feel compelled to share this:

    Thank you for this post, and please allow me now to vent: I have greatly admired the food writing of Michael Ruhlman for years, finding it elegant, compelling, and energetic. However, he drops the Fbomb on his blog on a regular basis, which makes me not want to read it.

  • Haha! I love your column, David. I wrote a post on this too. It annoys me a lot. Foreigners just think they’re being cool using it around any audience and don’t get the situations right.

    • I didn’t realize the Germans did it as well. I think you’re right that people think they are cool (like that well-dressed man swearing his head off), but it’s odd when you hear the word either being taken out of context, or used indiscriminately. I’m really surprised to see it used to publicize events or in store windows.

  • To be honest I find that Pizza Hut in France much more shocking. The French seem much more willing to accept American fast food than for instance the Italians. When there were 1200 McDonalds in France there were only 200 in Italy. That was the last year that McDonalds gave out figures. My Italian friends love McDonalds for their free toilets.

  • A few months ago while flipping through Le Figaro, I ran across an article titled “Bienvenue dans le F**king Four !”. I almost choked! And it was a parenting article (apparently, it’s used like the Terrible Twos)! I tried explaining how serious the f-bomb is to some (French) friends, but they just shrugged it off, it’s just “so cool”. I did giggle though when my friend returned from a trip to NYC saying, “Hey, what is the f**k?” What indeed.

  • I agree, this is quite shocking. If you replace the word by the French literal translation, you will see some pretty shocked faces…
    On another subject, my son and I were sad to see that they don’t have candy corn at the MK2 bibliotheque store, just before Halloween. No idea where I can get some?

  • Macarons have now appeared at Costco here in the states, so they must have hit their peak. As to the F bomb, I believe JVI hit it on the head by mentioning that puritanism is still alive and well in the USA. Going on 300 years now. But I personally do not wish to be affronted by it in print and over the airwaves.

  • Seeing something like the f-bomb appear in another culture is like holding up a mirror on our culture. To think that is what is catching on (and McDonalds) in France is sad and embarrassing to me as an American.

    • I don’t know. I’ve not seen the F-word used in advertising for radio stations or painted on store windows as part of a logo. McDonald’s has been readily accepted in France for quite some time and while it’s true that it’s an American-based business, the outlets are always full of locals. I went into one last summer when I was traveling to use the Wifi, and was stunned to find how clean the restrooms were. It would indeed be great if there were some French businesses that did the same, offering an alternative with better food options (like the American chains In ‘n Out Burger and Chipotle.)

  • Good post, David. And it seems like there’s some sort of a backlash brewing when it comes to both Brooklyn and casual use of the F word (I always remember the withering observation of my Bostonian grandmother when I swore in front of her as an adolescent: “The use of curse words indicates a terrible poverty of the imagination, Alec. So do avoid it.”):

    • I have no idea where this fascination with Brooklyn came in, but it seems like locals have taken the “idea” of it (and hipsters) but did some cherry-picking and took just the fashion, brick walls, retro eyewear, beards, etc. A well-placed zinger can certainly be useful if used correctly, but I agree with your grandmother, who I hope washed your mouth out with soap when she heard you and your potty-mouth.

  • Carole,

    Are you in France? Have you ever tried ordering from My American Market? It’s located in France and I’ve had good experiences with them…

    Here’s the link to the candy corn:

  • The f word is certainly a swear word in the US but not one I would use within earshot of anyone I know(and I keep trying to break myself of the habit of even saying it to myself ). I guess the French picked it up from our songs and movies and thought it was acceptable to use all the time? I guess if you watch American movies and listen to our music, that’s the message you would get. Ouch.

  • I think I’m going to steal the word “phoque” and spread it ALL over the USA.

  • I watched a film yesterday and every second word was the F word. So unnecessary. Are there no other words to show how they’re feeling. I mean ‘sit the F down’ and it wasn’t meant in a nasty way.

  • It’s time to get a grip. There are Vietnamese noodle places all around the country with names like Pho Que, Pho King, and a place called Pho Que Now. I think if the F bomb bothers you, you have a dirty mind. You are taking it literally. Do you envision a bolt of lightening when someone says Damn! or people dancing naked in flames when someone say Hell!