Although ‘merde’ may sound like a cross between Tuesday and Wednesday (mardi and mercredi), it really means ‘shit’. It also means ‘Good Luck’ when you say it to a friend who’s about to pass his driving exam.
So, if ‘merde’ comes up in a dinner conversation, don’t be too surprised, but also, don’t be too shocked if a guest asks you how to translate ‘chiotta’ in English i.e. the ‘crapper’. French dinner conversations take as many twists an turns as a country road, and depending on your openness to hilarity and curiosity, just hang on for the ride and see where you go. Politics, sex and religion may all pop up along the way. The only truly taboo subject is money – and the worst, absolutely WORST subject to approach is individuals’ salaries.
Somehow we progressed from the crapper to Maupaussant – don’t ask me how.
“Maupaussant. We don’t like him so well. He’s too, too, ‘earthy’. You know he brings out the worst in people. If you’re talking about Norman writers, Flaubert is better, but you should really read Jean de La Varende. There you have characters who may be flawed but they overcome their flaws.”
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“The trouble is, France hasn’t any great contemporary novelists. Look at the bookshelves – all the novels you see are translations these days.”
I ‘m returning from the kitchen with the apple pie and the subject has moved on to witchcraft.
“More people were superstitious before we had electricity in the area. There was the story about the severed hand that resides in the forest . . .”
“We walked home from the neighbor’s just last night and, believe me, I was scared!’
“You mean just round the corner over there?”
“Well, of course, it’s haunted. Didn’t you know?”
“And the wild boar? They’re gone aren’t they?”
“No, in these forests, they’re just ‘passing through’.”
“We have more wild boar in Provence than you have in Normandy nowadays. I ran into one while I was jogging.”
The seven-year-old in our dinner party at this point cries out, “I’m going to have nightmares tonight.”
The topic returns to Maupassant.
“He’s well-known in the United States.”
“No, I don’t like Maupassant. They’ve made him into a TV mini-series. Read Jean de La Varende.