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Lesson Transcript

Michael: What topics are taboo in French?
Aurore: And what are some things you should avoid doing?
Michael: At FrenchPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Karen Lee and Pauline Petit are chatting in a good atmosphere while drinking a coffee. Everything changes when Karen asks the forbidden question.
"How much do you earn per month?"
Karen Lee: Combien tu gagnes par mois ?
Karen Lee: Combien tu gagnes par mois ?
Pauline Petit: Pas beaucoup.
Karen Lee: Pas beaucoup, c'est combien ?
Pauline Petit: Ça ne te regarde pas.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Karen Lee: Combien tu gagnes par mois ?
Michael: "How much do you earn per month?"
Pauline Petit: Pas beaucoup.
Michael: "Not much."
Karen Lee: Pas beaucoup, c'est combien ?
Michael: "How much is "not much"?"
Pauline Petit: Ça ne te regarde pas.
Michael: "It's none of your business."

Lesson focus

Michael: A lot of people have a misconception that French are rude. On the contrary, while French are normally reserved toward strangers, they are naturally friendly. If you are polite to them and make an effort to speak their language, even if it's just to say,
Aurore: bonjour
Michael: or "hello," you can certainly expect them to return your politeness. That said, there are certain topics you can't just bring up when having a conversation with a French person, especially if you're not that close to them. When you're in France, you have to be aware of the culture's do's and don'ts. This includes being conscious about which topics are taboo,
Aurore: tabou
Michael: and which ones are not. But what topics are taboo in French, anyway?
[Recall 1]
Michael: To answer the question, let's take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Karen Lee says "How much do you earn per month?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Aurore as Karen Lee: Combien tu gagnes par mois ?
[Recall 2]
Michael: And do you remember how Pauline Petit says "Not much?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Aurore as Pauline Petit: Pas beaucoup.
Michael: When Paulin gives Karen a short answer to her question about how much she's earning, Karen attempts to probe deeper by asking, "How much is ‘not much'?"
Aurore: Pas beaucoup, c'est combien ?
Michael: To which Pauline replies, "It's none of your business."
Aurore: Ça ne te regarde pas.
Michael: It's clear that Pauline is not comfortable talking about her salary. French people in general do not talk about money. Even the word "rich" or,
Aurore: riche
Michael: is considered by some a derogatory term. That's because the French are very conservative about money and how they spend it. French people also consider money an item of trust. When you return money to them that you have borrowed, they will not count it, trusting that you have paid them the right amount. Therefore, avoid talking about money with French friends if possible, as they feel that it is intrusive and they will elude the subject the best they can.
Michael: Another subject that French people consider a major taboo is one about ethnicity, or
Aurore: ethnicité.
Michael: French people think that race or ethnicity is irrelevant. Most people in France have the mindset that, if you have obtained your nationality, or
Aurore: nationalité,
Michael: or if you have been born in France, then you are French regardless of the color of your skin or even your religion, or
Aurore: la confession.
Michael: Speaking of religion, it's also one of the main taboo subjects in France, although not as sensitive a subject as money. France has a strict tradition of secularism, and most people don't really talk about religion. However, while state schools in France have no religious education and no acts of worship, national programs have recently made it a requirement for pupils to be made aware of the religious aspects of the nation's history, art, and culture.
Michael: In this lesson, you learned about some of the topics that you should avoid discussing with a French person. If you're not sure whether a topic is taboo or not, it's better not to bring up the topic at all, or at least ask the person first whether they are comfortable talking about the subject or not.
Michael: Many conversation starters that may be accepted in other cultures don't sit well with French people. For instance, you can't ask questions like
Aurore: Que fais-tu dans la vie ?
Michael: or "What do you do for a living?" This is somewhat connected with the subject of money, which, as we have learned, is the one thing that the French would never want to talk about. The French also find it rude for you to ask them,
Aurore: Êtes-vous marié ?
Michael: "Are you married?" and
Aurore: Avez-vous des enfants ?
Michael: "Do you have kids?" And even though snacking, or,
Aurore: le snacking
Michael: as it is referred to in French, is no longer taboo, that doesn't give you an excuse to remark about someone's weight, whether it's to say,
Aurore: Vous avez pris du poids !
Michael: "You've gained weight!" or to comment,
Aurore: Vous avez perdu du poids !
Michael: "You've lost weight!" We often think of offering this latter remark as a compliment, but unless the person has visibly lost weight in a public effort to do so, never mention their weight, as it could lead to awkward situations.
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: While French people are not very private, it's important to stay away from conversations that might be too personal for most people. When you're not sure what to talk about, stick to safer topics of conversation, such as French culture,
Aurore: Culture française
Michael: art,
Aurore: art
Michael: food,
Aurore: nourriture
Michael: music,
Aurore: musique
Michael: or philosophy,
Aurore: philosophie.
Michael: French people take pride in their nation's heritage, and, as long as you know what you're talking about, you'll be fine. And one more thing—French people will appreciate it a lot if you show an effort to speak in their language, even through simple phrases, such as
Aurore: bonjour
Michael: "Hello," or
Aurore: Parlez-vous anglais ?
Michael: "Do you speak English?" Above all else, do your best to observe social etiquette, or
Aurore: Étiquette sociale.
Michael: That means addressing people by their appropriate title and speaking to them in a polite and courteous manner. Lastly, don't worry—French people are generally quite agreeable. If you make the mistake of talking about something "forbidden," they'll let you know so you can switch the conversation subject without causing too much of a stir. And if you're really curious, and want to talk about these forbidden subjects, just give it some time. Once you're friends with a French person, there's nothing you can't talk about!


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Aurore: À bientôt !
Michael: See you soon!

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