Photo: My 8-year-old and her new chiot.
I once knew a French woman who, every time her husband asked, "Chérie, where are my keys?" (or sunglasses or clopes or...) would answer deviously, "Dans les chiottes!"
Chiottes? My mind conjured up the image of a toilet. I imagined the poor husband's belongings floating inside the bowl... until I realized that the wife had only made a smart-alecky remark. Fed up with racking her brain about the location of another misplaced object, she solved the "Where's My Stuff?" issue in three curt words: In the crapper!
Up until a week ago I could not so much as mumble the word chiot without blushing; the problem being its resemblance to the word chiotte. I had this vague notion that one of the words was associated with a certain four-letter word (rhymes with spit) and, like most students of French, I was afraid to mispronounce either word and end up saying something illicit, or just plain icky. Had I simply looked up the two words in the dictionary and noted the difference in sense and spelling (dog/crapper or chiot/chiotte), not to mention pronunciation (shee-oh/shee-oht), my own issue with the word would have been resolved. Instead I avoided the words—especially when my children brought up a certain one (chiot), as they frequently did over the past five years....
Last Tuesday, I gave in to my children's pleas and one of the "shee" words materialized into a slavering suitemate. "What a sweet puppy you have!" friends now say, followed by a spot of advice. "Ah, a golden retriever! She'll be retrieving alright," they tease. "Don't forget to hide your slippers and that television remote!"
Picturing the chewed up and misplaced objects that were soon to be part of our quotidien, it occurred to me that the next time my own husband absent-mindedly sets down his stuff only to bug me about it with a "Chérie, where are my keys?" I may very well answer as the French woman did (only with a slightly devious twist): Dans le chiot!
une clope = a cig (cigarette)
Dans les chiottes! = In the crapper!
les chiottes (f) = "can," "john," "crapper" (la chiotte, singular, is also a slang term for car: "jalopy")
le chiot = puppy
le quotidien = everyday life (routine)
Dans le chiot! = Inside the puppy!
Celui qui dit que le bonheur ne s'achète pas a oublié qu'il y a les petits chiots. / Whoever said you can't buy happiness forgot about little puppies. --Gene Hill
Listen to Max's sentence (he struggles a bit over the English words at the end of the sentence...): On a un petit chiot. C'est un golden retriever. / We have a little puppy. It's a golden retriever.: Download chiot.wav
Children's bi-lingual book: Puppy Finds a Friend: Le Petit Chien Se Trouve Un Ami
In children's books:
Suzette and the Puppy: A Story About Mary Cassatt. The time and place of this gentle story is Paris in the 1870s, when many fine artists were creating the exciting approach to painting called Impressionism. More about this picture book for young children, here.
More examples for the word "chiottes" (slang for toilet) are found in these books:
- The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs & Corso in Paris, 1957-1963 by Barry Miles. "Each landing had a Turkish chiotte: a traditional hole-in-the-floor toilet with a raised footprint-shaped platform on either side upon which to position your feet while you squatted. Torn sheets of newspaper hung on a nail in lieu of toilet tissue." Order the book, here.
- Travels with a Tangerine: From Morocco to Turkey in the Footsteps of Islam's Greatest Traveler by Tim Mackintosh-Smith (for the term "la nostalgie des chiottes")... more here.
- Marianne in Chains: Daily Life in the Heart of France During the German Occupation by Robert Gildea "... thirty of them were insulted by a man shouting, "Aux chiottes, Bucard!' (Dump Bucard!)." More here.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety