Tresser: Aunt Marie-Françoise weaves a lavender wand from Provence
A Lavender wand & Holy Water from Lourdes = an awkward gift exchange with a Frenchman

Arrosoir: How to say "watering can" in French

dog at fountain in Gigondas France
In Gigondas (Vaucluse): a local pooch sidling up to the bar for a cool summer drink.

arrosoir (ah-ro-zwar) noun, masculine
: watering can

Example sentence: Hear it in French:  Download arrosoir.mp3 .Download arrosoir.wav
Un arrosoir n'est pas un tuyau.
A watering can is not a hose.
(More, in today's story....)

Wheezing, gasping, and sawing were three horrific sounds playing at our neighborhood block party after one of the revelers swallowed a garden hose.

...or so it seemed. Information regarding the accident was sketchy... that is, sketchy to this English speaker who pieced together the French-worded details of the drama.

Wheeze! Gasp! Saw!... Wheeze! Gasp! Saw!... the rescue team (three local grape farmers) worked diligently to save the victim from suffocation.

"What happened?" I asked, lost (linguistically) amid the commotion.
"He was playing with the arrosoir...." my next-door neighbor explained.

On hearing the French word "arrosoir," my mind presented a picture of a garden hose. Just then, I heard the victim (a child?) gasp again.... When the rescuers asked us to stand back, my knees grew weak and I felt the need to hang on to something. So I threw my arm around my neighbor.
"It'll be okay..." I explained.
"Yes," she assured me, he would.

As I could not bear to watch the resuscitation, my mind's eye proceeded to paint the unfortunate scene -- based on an iffy translation of a few key words: I saw the victim. I saw the "arrosoir". In my French-processing Anglophone brain, one plus one equaled "victim choking on garden hose". Unfathomable was how that chilling, sawing sound figured into the equation. Why on earth were the rescuers using a sharp-toothed scie* to free the victim's blocked respiratory? Near faint at the thought, a certain slew of words had the effect of smelling salts and I perked right up.

"That dog is always getting into mischief!" one of the women remarked.

Mischief? Dog? Turning now to the drama, I saw three men encircling the furry victim. I noticed the animal's tail wagging slowly, like the pendulum of a clock. How much longer could it survive without air? And where was that "hose" it had supposedly swallowed? With the men kneeling in a circle around the animal, all I could see was the dog's hopeful tail....

Suddenly, the sawing sound stopped...

Next, the huddle of men opened up. And, slowly, like the first few drops of rain hitting the roof of a tin shed only to gain momentum ... the hush of silence was replaced by storm of laughter. There in the spotlight stood the mutt, tail wagging vigorously now....

And what a sight! From the looks of things it was clear that it was not the dog that had swallowed the arrosoir, but the arrosoir had swallowed the dog!

Watering can The mischievous mutt had stuck its nose inside the slim-necked watering can (arrosoir!) and, once all the way in, couldn't pull its head out! Now that the rescuers had safely removed the base of the watering can (all that sawing), the dog could breathe freely, never mind the unusual "collar" around its neck, which
resembled one of those cones that veterinarians attach to prevent a dog from scratching its wounds. This "cone", being French, was rather avant-garde -- what with a handle on one side and an upside-down spout on the other.

Newly adorned myself (wearing the latest French word on my tongue), I stood there, much like the dog, having broken through another baffling (language) barrier. Only, this time, the laughter was directed at the other guy.

                                      *     *     *
Share your story: What is the last French word that you misunderstood or misinterpreted? What were the circumstances? Write your answer in the comments box.

PS: the photo of the watering can is from one of Jules's (my mom) still life compositions - and not the actual watering can from today's story!

l'arrosoir = watering can
la scie = saw

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As a teen in France, I once gracelessly pushed away from a well-stocked dinner table, exclaiming, "Je suis plein!"

(Mistaking "I'm full" with "I'm pregnant!")


Many moons ago,a friend announced to his French host family (Junior Year Abroad) - "Je veux nager dans une pissoir".

He wanted to swim in a pool (piscine) not in a bathroom!!


This is not a story of French word confusion, but a watercolor painting I recently finished of 2 French arrosoirs I spotted last summer on a shelf in a bathroom (honest!) of a beautiful chateau:

Jan Hersh

Where: Un restuarant recommended in Beaune
On Le menu I read rognons and thought that it meant a rolled up beef...but helas! It was kidneys...on the chewy side.

Nancy Reynolds

At a restaurant in France, after not having studied French for at least 10 years, I asked a waiter "Où est la salle de bain?" and he responded "Voulez-vous vous baigner?" I had forgotten that public restrooms are toilettes!


The most memorable mistake I ever made was when I wanted to say something about the "capot" (hood of a car) but I said "capote" (condom). I think the French people I was with are still laughing =)

As an aside, I also learned the true meaning of "Je suis pleine." the hard way.

Jane Bonin

I once announced to an entire table of French people that I had just returned from a 3 week visit to Toulouse and environs. I was extolling the local wines, which I said were mostly made for local consumption and thus didn't have any preservatives in them. Needless to say, the company roared, then calmed down, then another wave of laughter would hit. This went on for most of the evening.

Ah, well. I've never made that mistake again.

MPH, Newforest24

Indeed, "un arrosoir" n'est pas "un tuyau d'arrosage". What an incredible story, with -fortunately for that poor dog- a happy ending!
By the way, I love the photo of that (old fashioned?) arrosoir you added to the text when explaining what really happened to the dog. Can you still buy metal watering can like that?
Confusions happen also with the meaning of verbs. I'm thinking of user et utiliser.
"Est-ce que je peux "user" votre téléphone svp?"... well...

Libby Brocard

Once at a French supermarche, I asked the store clerk if the celeri remoulade was "frais" (fresh) and without "preservatifs" (I thought it meant preservatives). Of course I turned rouge when the clerk corrected my French vocabulary with, "Non Madame, il n'y a pas de conservateurs". I immediately remembered that preservatifs means condoms in French!

Lisa Sullivan

I wanted to tell someone that I liked their purple (mauve) tie, had had a bit of wine and said in broken Franglais, "J'aime les peoples sur votre lien."


Back when I lived in France, my boyfriend at the time (a native) told me about something he had learned in his university class on "developpement durable." I thought nothing of it until one day, while playing French Scrabble with him, I tried to play the noun "rable." He was mystified but I insisted that it was a valid word, citing his class on developpement du rable... Mystery solved to much hilarity. We integrated the word into our vocabulary from then on as a term for silly frustration: "Oh, rable!"

Jeanne Freeland

Funny, I was just thinking this morning about false cognates, or "faux amis," and one in particular that a French professor of mine told me about some 35 years ago: when he was first in the U.S., he had assumed "douche" was a cognate for "shower," and was most puzzled by the response of some male friends when he announced his need of taking one.


I was in a car with an American girl friend and four frenchmen when a bug of some sort started flying around in the car. "Oh" she exclaimed, "une petite bite ici!" The silence that followed was deafening.

laura @ cucina testa rossa

i was cooking on a lobster boat in brittany and my chef asked me to taste the salad. i "tried" to tell him in french that it needed more salt or "plus sel". all the other cooks doubled over with laughter. the correct way to say it is "plus de sel" not "plus sel" but what they heard me say was "puselle" or virgin. i just told my chef his salad needed more virgins... won't make THAT mistake again!

Mair Buddug

This is for the last Word-A-Day, about Lavendar. I like the lavendar flower tea. It is good for the digestion and has a calming effect.


When I was young, I spent a summer in Provence, hosted by a wonderful French family. At dinner one night, I wished to order the shrimp. I said, "Je voudrais les cravates". Without hesitation, the waiter took off his neck tie and placed it on my dinner setting. Everyone laughed. "Cravate" is a neck tie and "crevette" is a shrimp. Very amusing.


The first time I went to a salon de beaute' for un'epilation, when the beautician asked which body parts I answered "demi-jambe et les airelles". She very politely asked if I meant "aisselles". Wonder if any other confused American has asked to have her cranberries waxed!

Fred Caswell

Most enjoyable story, Kristi -- merci encore!

For a few months une mignone, jeunne, intelligente femme helped me with French lessons -- quelque fois chez elle et quelque fois chez moi.

Unjour chez moi et pendant le lesson elle me monte son beau petit sac a main. Elle me le donne a tenir et je dis "C'est laid" (meaning light or not heavy)en place de C'est leger. C'etait a voir que elle etait very dissapointed and a bit hurt . I apologized profusely. Learned a lot that day!

Ben B

When I asked my daughter if she wanted some "glace à la pêche" she wrinkled her nose and said "eeew! Yuck! Y a des poissons dedans!!" (we live in the usa but are raising our kids to be bilingual)


Once while working in a fabric store in Florida, a very well dressed lady with an accent came in and asked me if we sold any "crap". It was all I could to to keep a straight face and lead her over to the "crepe". I made sure she knew how to pronounce it before she left the store...

Susan Walter

I once told our mechanic that our car ran on 'gazon' (grass). Diesel is 'gazole' in France. I have also, more than once, told an artist that I love them (when I meant I love their work).

Susan Walter

PS. Summertimefun - you are lucky they didn't hear 'plus selle' and Jane Bonin - you certainly can buy watering cans like that still.

susan W

Long ago in a dark alley in Paris we three college girls were accosted by three very drunk and rude young men. My friend shouted "Pigs!" at them in her very best but rusty college French. Unfortunately, it came out "couchons" (shall we sleep together?) rather than cochon. Needless to say, they happily said yes, and we ran for our lives, laughing all the way.


Many years back, while staying with a French family in Grenoble, I confused the verb pleurer with pleuvoir. I told them it was going to "cry' instead of rain. Tsk, tsk. V-I


on a very icy winter's day, our lovely and heavily accented french language tutor at uni had us in fits of giggles all the way home when she ended the class by saying 'and girls, be careful! don't sleep (slip) around!'


In my long-ago student days in Paris, I marched into a barber shop and said to the barber, "coupez mes chevaux, svp." Fortunately he cut my "cheveux" instead.


During a summer in France, my traveling-partner girlfriend who smoked - I swear SHE said it, not me! - kept asking for people to pass the "fumier" (akin to fumer) instead of the "cendrier" (from cendres)!!

Janine Cortell

Asa French teacher of many years, I often heard my students say they were going to "la guerre". What they meant of course was that they were going to "la gare"


On my first trip to Paris with my sister, we were so excited to go to a boulangerie to sample some beautiful patisseries and croissants. There was an American man in line in front of us who was shouting in English at the poor clerks that he wanted a pear tart. They didn't understand what he wanted and were showing him different items, but the man continued yelling. I remembered learning fruits and vegetables in my high school French class so I helpfully offered, "Je pense qu'il voudrait une tarte au poivre." Needless to say, the clerks were even more confused when I informed them that this American man was demanding a pepper tart! I saw the befuddlement on their faces so I started to look up the word for pear in the mini-dictionary I carried everywhere with me, but it was too late. The American man had given up and stormed out of the boulangerie in a huff. Tant pis pour lui!

jim smith

I asked a grocer in Orleans to direct me to the "navets"; suppressing a laugh, she directed me to the "navets blancs".

Jennifer in OR

Oh my goodness, I can't think of any stories, but the ones in the comments here are hilarious!! Lovely still life composition with the watering can.


I cracked up reading all the mistakes we have all made learning and speaking French. I remember in Montpellier there was a yearly festival that (to my ears) was the "Foire Roseanne". But I was always confused when my bilingual younger sister in law would complain each year, "I don't know why they call it the Foire Roseanne, there's never any horses there." I always thought Roseanne was some Sainte or local historical figure that was associated with a horse. It was only years later that I realized it was the Foire Aux Anes (Donkeys not horses)

Sara V

My sister wanting to shop in Paris and be respectful to the shop-keepers asked my younger sister what the rules were. "Wear nice shoes, nod to the proprietar and say 'Je regarde'." She did so except she said in several shops until her "Je me regarde" was corrected. "Do you realize you are saying,'I'm looking at myself?"

Trish DeMallie

When spending Junior Year in Paris years ago, missing our families and the traditional turkey dinner, a group of us decided to have a "Thanksgiving Dinner" at Reid Hall. With help from our college, we were able to have roast turkey.

That night, I was seated next to one of the administrators, a lovely French woman, who turned and asked me (I thought) , "Qu'est-ce que c'est que Le Sense Divine?" Thinking this was a rather deep question about God and the meaning of life, I didn't know quite how to respond. When I muttered, "Je ne sais pas," she acted very surprised and replied, "Mais vous avez organize ce diner, et vous ne connaissez pas le Thanksgiving?"

Ann Sanford

Back in the 70's, living in Paris, I was talking to my boyfriend on the phone. Long hair was very in so I had bought a "fall" that day, or what would now be called an extension for my blonde hair. A perruque.
JP: What did you do today?
Me: I bought a parrot! (perroquet)
JP: A parrot?! What color is it?
Me: Yellow.
JP: Where is it?
Me: On my head, of course!
JP: You bought a parrot and it's on your head!!?? (Thinking: these American girls are REALLY crazy!)

Jan Hersh

So glad I came back for a peak. These comments are hilarious!

Alexsandra McGuire

A few years ago I treated my 16 year old niece to a trip to Paris. She had studied a little French and I wanted to give her a chance to practice...

At lunch on our first day she announced to the waiter that she had "un chevaux" (a horses!) in her salad. She meant, of course, that she had un cheveu (a hair) in her salad!

The gracious waiter replaced the salad and waited until he was half way to the kitchen before snickering.

Sandra Price

Early on in our three years here, my neighbor went out of town leaving his tom cat who would occasionally sleep on our porch. Worried about the cat, I asked our neighbor's sister who lived next door "Qui mange le chat?" In the middle of the night I woke up and realized my mistake. To her credit, she answered without breaking into laughter that her mother was feeding the cat.


My story is the other way... As a Belgian migrant in Australia. I started telling my Pommie (Aussie term for English) migrant colleagues about my childhood dog... Mickey, a mongrel... but when they asked me what breed my dog was, I answered "He's just a bastard" (un batard)!

Larry Powers

My wife and I were in France last summer on a bike tour. We were spending the night in Bayeux and on the way to our hotel we passed a Cafe that advertised American breakfast (bacon and eggs). My wife immedtiately decided that we would have breakfast there no matter what time they opened. We also decided that since she was tired and there was a couple of rainy days predicted that she would take the train to Rouen and I would meet her there at 10:00 that evening in front of the Cathedral. After eating I went up to the bar and asked the woman who was working there "Ou est la guerre". After she finished making machine gun noises and explaining to the rest of the patrons what I had said she told me I should have said "Ou est le gare". She then gave me directions to the station, my wife and I met on time in Rouen, and I have never miss pronounced "gare" again.

Genevieve Tilbrook

Years ago, while working in a Language Laboratory, a tutor came out in fits of laughter after just hearing a student repeat; Je voudrais passer une queue de fille instead of 'un coup de fil'. Just as well it was only said in class.

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