Samantha David is a freelance journalist and writes for various publications including BBC Online, the Sunday Times, the FT, Living France, everything France, and France Magazine

Samantha David, writer

Le Dernier Mot - articles by Samantha David



      All right, I confess.  My worst habit is mixing up French and English.  I always swore I’d never do it, and in the beginning I thought it was pretentious and stupid but these days I not only indulge in it myself, but I thoroughly enjoy it.

      There are just some French words that can’t be translated.  “Goûter” for example is an afternoon snack and unlike "tea" it can never mean just a cuppa.  It always means something to eat - biscuits, cake, or half a baguette liberally anointed with Nutella.

      “Bof” is another one.  It means “nothing to write home about” or “whatever” and teens usually accompany it with a massive shrug.

      “How was the film?” I say.

      “Bof,” sigh the Junior Members, wandering through the kitchen.



      “Cup of tea?”


      “Small does of arsenic?”

      “Not funny, Mother.”

      Oh dear.  But that’s not the worst of my linguistic mischief.  I’m also addicted to using a cod “accent du Midi” - pronouncing “chien” as “cheng” and “vent” as “vong” and even the Senior Partner has caught the bug.

      “Lotta vong out there today,” he mutters.  “Better get the volleys fastened or they’ll bang.”

      "Volets" are shutters, and it's true that unless you have them firmly tied down, they love nothing more than spending the night smashing themselves to smithereens.

      “Hmmm a volley banging-vong...” I reply, rattling the dishes.  “Pulley all right for supper?”

      “Bof!” he says grabbing a ball of string and plunging out into the wind to tie the shutters up.

      I trot off to the freezer to dig out a chicken, sniggering as I hear the Senior Partner shouting "zut alors!" at the shutters.  He's never really mastered the art of French invective.  My favorite is "mercredi" which replaces "merde!" (shush!) and of course translates as "Oh sugar!"

      But all that is fun.  What I really struggle with are school languages.  At first it was just Italian, but the year after Latin entered the fray, and this year it's German - and classical Greek gets added to the curriculum as from next autumn.

      Blimey, I mean.  I just don't know the Italian for "Is the football stadium in Milan larger than the race track in Rome?"  And as for translating into German "It is best for the environment to throw paper away separately?"... forget it.  The best I can do is finger various Oxford Starter Dictionaries and vaguely wonder where I've left my glasses.

        "Wonderful, wonderful, très terrible," says the Senior Partner wandering through the kitchen during a homework session.  "Languages, languages... communication is key.  It's all about having the right tools."

      "Yeah, right!" says the Junior Members.

      "Just like Bella!" I chip in.  "She's quite clearly asking for a cuddle on the sofa.  Why else would she be standing in the doorway, looking so adorable?"

      "It's just a matter of reading the signs," says the Senior Partner retreating with the dog and the newspaper to the sitting room.

      "It's the same with humans," I say encouragingly to the kids.  "You just have to learn the right language and then you can find out more about people.  All over the world."

      "Duh!" say the Junior Members.  "One look and you know everything you need to know."

      "How do you mean?"

      "You know, like if they're cool or not."

      "But how on earth can you tell from just one look?"

      "Like, if they've tied their shoelaces with a bow.  Or if they're chewing their gum the wrong way."

      "There's a wrong way to chew gum?"


    What could I say?  Only one word sprang to mind.  "Bof." 





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