False friends - faux amis in French


Domestic Gist. It has taken me years to understand the art of homemaking. I'm not there yet--loin de là--but, in bites, little by little, I am beginning to "get" the domestic gist of bucolic bliss. In today's picture: another spent sunflower from the garden (I harvested the seeds for sowing next spring); homegrown tomatoes, too! The blue Portuguese tile fits into a beautiful bread board that friends Annabelle and Bill gave me: useful, practical, beautiful. 

barjot (bar-zhoh) adjective

    nuts, crazy

noun: nutcase

une bande de barjots = a bunch of nutcases

Interesting word history: the French word "barjo(t)" comes from the verlan "jobard".

Audio File and Example Sentence: Download MP3 for "barjot"

Une bande de barjots est partie sauter à l'élastique.
A group of crazies left to go bungee jumping.

A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse

Faux Amis... and Loopy Friends & Family

My first year in France I ran around telling everyone that my friends and my family back home were nuts! I hadn't meant to call them crazy, didn't intend to imply or insinuate insanity. No, I had no idea that the compliments I was lavishing on my loved ones were translating themselves into mean morsels of mental illness, no thanks to a single, misused mot.*

"Oh, then there's my grandma," I'd gush, in conversation with the French. "Elle est vraiement SPECIALE!" I would insist, only to notice the confused looks on the interlocutors' faces. Turns out I was telling my audience that grandma had a screw loose.

I continued to put my foot into my newly formed French mouth with doozies such as:

"My best friend? Oh, I met her in 10th grade." With a nostalgic look and a sentimental smile, I would then tack on that confusing-to-the-French English qualifier, "special":
"Yes, she is special," I'd sigh. Only, this is what French ears were hearing me say:
"Yes, she really isn't dealing with a full deck!"

The misunderstandings continued as I bragged on and on about my "batty" family. I loved to talk to the French about my soeur aînée,* whom I admire for her beauty, her coolness, and her intelligence. "She is really A CASE!" I'd boast to the French, proud (it seemed) to share the same peculiar genes.

My poor parents were not spared of the "out there" accolades, either, as I bragged on and on about my "dingue* Dad" and "mad mother". At least that's what they must have sounded like to the French, who were literally taking my word for it!

No confusing conversation would be complete without praise for my French teacher, Madame Wollam, the one whose encouragement would change the course of my life. Mist in my eyes, I'd proceed to eulogize her as "such an odd duck, that one!"

What with peculiar parents, odd aunts, fruity friends, taré* teachers, nutty neighbors, and a goofy grandma... the French surely suspected I was a chip off the ol' block, born out of the batty bunch back home that I proudly claimed as my own.

Whether kooky, batty, bonkers, or nuts...
loco, dotty, cracked, or bats...
fruity, daft, or mad...

I was unwittingly painting quite a portrait of my "precious ones" on the other side of the pond* or, rather "over the cuckoo's nest"?

There is no moral to this story, only a cautionary note: no matter how lovely your friends and your family are, no matter how sweet... never say they're "special" lest the French misunderstand them to be crazy, fresh out of a padded cell.

Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--always welcome and appreciated in the comments box. Be sure to tell us about your own embarrassing language gaffes and misunderstandings.

And speaking of family... you might enjoy Anne Morddel's French genealogy blog. Qui sait? Maybe you have some eccentric French family of your own? 

~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~
le mot (m) = word; la soeur (f) aînée = older sister, dingue = crazy; taré = completely crazy; pond = synonym for Atlantic Ocean

*     *     *
Currently listening to....

Paris to Cuba Paris to Cuba by Mario Grigorov. that immediately evokes an aural landscape, a narrative of striking up a wandering romance with a stranger, a paseo through Plaza Vieja or a sunset on the Seine. Lilting, sensual brass sections flirt with gentle vocals on "I See" , "Every Little Moment" , and "Snake Eyes" - the three tracks which feature singer, Melissa Newman. Blending hints of Pink Martini, Madelyn Peyroux and Buena Vista Social Club, the percussion section laps as a wave on an empty beach. It is easy for the listener to get lost in the guitar solos, mysterious accordion and nostalgic, sweeping strings. This is not your typical jazz or world record.


Upcoming events: I will be joining a panel of three other authors at the American Library in Paris. Four expats and authors discuss their fish-out-of-water experiences living in la belle France.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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Evelyn Jackson

Kristin...I can't get the link to work that talks about your American Library event in Paris...when is it going to happen?? The photo is stunning!

Debbie Turner Chavers

Oh Kristin! I love!!! this post. I am still laughing as I type. So the moral of your post must be how to have a good morning giggle.
It is 6:20 am here in Tennessee and I thank you for my bit of sunshine via your post this morning. It is raining here, with a light warm breeze and the wind chimes are softly ringing on the screened back porch.

Smiling as I sip my morning cup of coffee,


Goodmorning Debbie and Evelyn! Thanks for the "giggles" and for the note about the faulty link. Here's the address for the Paris event:


You describe barjot as an adjective, but your example sentence uses it as a noun. I'm pretty sure it can be used either way. However, if it's an adjective, and you're describing a woman....she's still barjot, or would she be "barjotte" ?

Love your blog !


Thanks Colette, and also to Alan, who also pointed out that barjot is also a noun. (That's a lot of "alsos" in that last sentence, but I can't find a way around it!). Moving on... can anyone tell us if "barjotte" is used, when describing a woman? Merci d'avance!


I was in Paris with a French friend last year and once while ordering something in a restaurant, I asked her about a certain food item. I think it was boudin. She replied that something like it was a "gout speciale". She's used that word a couple of other times and I always interpreted it to mean that it is was a delicacy or something unique. Does she actually mean to say that it is an acquired taste, or that not everyone would like it?


Hola Kristi! I can’t stop laughing... because misunderstandings and trying to literally translate something in Spanish to English or French have taken me into quite some funny or troubled times.

As a Mexican, I would say that is part of my American-life-with-French-husband!

Also, in my family, the word loco or loca (crazy) is actually a complement! Like I think it does for you, means someone is special, funny, different, creative, extraordinary in a way... but even in my own language (Spanish) some people don’t take it that well and give me that confused look too.

En fin... I do think I’m a little loca and love and enjoy being surrounded by “crazy” people!



I was about to post my story, then I had a niggling feeling that I just might have posted it before -- and sure enough

I am beginning to repeat myself! I hope all is not lost until I don't realize I am doing it!

louis plauche'


Here's a Louisiana variation on today's theme..."He/she is not the coldest beer in the fridge". I wonder whether each locale has unique way of describing the "special(e)" among us. We are without question all a little loco at times.

I still enjoy your site often, and just as often find myself thinking fondly of your past kindnesses to me and ma famille.



The most embarrassing mistake that I made 6 months after moving to France was with a car sales manager. We wanted to buy a Berlingo with no back seats, so that we could camp in the back. I looked through the sales brochures for the vocabulary, and then proceeded to tell him that we wanted a Berlingo "sans sieges avant". He laughed and asked how we would drive the car, stretching out his arms to mime driving from the back seat. I never forgot the definition of "avant" after that.

Jules Greer

I am going to start telling tales of you -
remember when you were 18 and talked me into taking you to a very expensive French
resturant for dinner. You actually pretended you were French throughout the entire meal. The waiters loved you. Oh Darling - your accent was magnifique!



Christine Jackson

Oh my, this is funny. You must tell us the words you were using so we don't make the same mistakes!


What a difference an accent aigue can make! When Mark and I were in Quimper in June, we had the "opportunity" to use the normally very clean public toilets located throughout the city center (the ones that wash themselves with a shower of water once the user has departed). We saw one located in the busy area next to the open market and put our 20 centimes into the slot. When I opened the door, I realized it was far from clean and quickly shut it again. As we were walking off I saw some ladies getting ready to waste their money so I quickly advised them that it was "salé" instead of "sale". As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized I'd just told them it was "salty" instead of "dirty"......They probably thought I was a little "barjot" but they politely corrected my faux pas and continued on their way. Then again, maybe my comment wouldn't have been totally wrong if they had piped the wash water directly in from the sea........

Congrats on your upcoming appearance with the other authors. I'm familiar with Stephen Clarke's books as well. It should be quite an evening. Wish I could be there!

Amy Doyle

I learned enough high-school French to test out of lower level college French, but I never learned the difference between the pronunciations of “U” and “OU”, as in “tu” vs. “tout”. As a college freshman, I had a tutorial with my professor, who shared his office with another French prof, both male. We were going through oral grammar exercises wherein he would give me a sentence that I had to repeat back to him in the form of a question. So when he said to me “Nous dinons chez Marie ce soir”, I said back to him “Dinons-nu chez Marie ce soir?” instead of “Dinons-nous?” This sent the two men into snorting fits of laughter. It seemed to last forever. Just when they would begin to calm down, one of them would mutter to himself “Dinons-nu” and they would both be off again, leaving me utterly dumbfounded. Finally, my professor composed himself enough to explain to me that instead of asking if we were dining with Marie tonight, I had suggested that we dine with her in the nude.

My next lesson covered proper vowel pronunciation.


Gorgeous shot indeed... amazing what you can do with simple accessories when you have truly creative abilities. You are so clever, Kristin.

Re. your lovely tomatoes: I am currently trying to grow tomatoes from a plant hanger out on the deck with a Topsy Turvy upside-down planter-- the latest American trend "As Seen On TV." :)

Janet Fisher

Your photographs are absolutely stunning and your composition more than suggest you "get" domesticity.

nadine goodban

BARJOT is invariable since it's already a verlan (inverted syllables)- So, ladies & gentlemen, you all may be BARJO !!!

Jill in Sydney, Australia

On my only trip to France (so far) I was attempting to find the railway station in a certain town. I asked several people, ou est la gare - only problem was, I was pronouncing it guerre instead of gare. So I was asking them where the war was! No wonder I got some strange looks!

Elizabeth Lima living her dream in Nice

Many years ago, in a lovely restaurant in Carcassone, I was dining with some classmates. It was a 'special' occassion, we were poor students, and we were splurging. Wine was certainly ordered. But when it came time to order dessert, I knew exactly what I wanted, but what came out of my mouth was .. . je suis une crepe suzette . . . We were all rolling at the blunder.


Dear Kristin,

I have been up since 4:30 and this is the first chance I am getting to read your post. I knew from the picture that it was going to be a fun one, and I had to friends are all "Speciale". In fact, I am going to start using this term a lot. Ha ha ! This is the best.

I know I have had similar experiences but just cannot think of them now. How funny indeed.

Unrelated, I do remember when I came to the US I could not figure out the mailboxes, the opening is under the curved top. Not like the red ones in England or the yellow ones or... and one day i was casually feeling the mailbox all over just to find a seam or slot for my letter. I know it must have looked "Speciale".



Jill - that was hysterical!! a very funny image.

Kristin - I LOVE the still-life! The color is outstanding. And I am so impressed with your harvesting of seeds as well as with those huge tomatoes (the water droplets exude succulence)! How do you say Martha Stewart in French? I think you have gotten the hang of domestic bliss quite well. It's an art in itself.

Thanks, also, Jules - for the wonderful little selection from Kristin's childhood.


I have trouble keeping up with the ever evolving slang language of my teenagers...opposite day seems to be most days with "yours truly" appearing to be the "barjot(te)" one trying to decipher what is being said in english let alone another language!! :-)


PS "The art of homemaking" has been very eloquently captured by your lovely photo today!


One of my students went to France as an exchange student with the AFS program. She had taken only 2 yrs. of French and frankly wasn't the sharpest student---got a D for a grade. But what she lacked in academics, she made up for in enthusiasm. She loved France. Her best story upon her return was when she first went to school in France. The teacher kept returning to her during the class to give her a book or tell her how she needed to do something. Every time he approached her she would thank him with, "Merci beaucoup." All the other students would laugh uproariously whenever she said what she thought was "Thank you very much." Her pronunciation was off the mark to the point that she was actually saying the equivalent of, "Thank you, cute butt."


For about a year, I was saying 'Il s'agit de l'amour' pronounced as 'Il s'agit de la mort.' I meant to say 'It's a matter of love,' but I was saying 'It's a matter of death.' Perhaps it's my age, but I don't feel embarrassment much anymore. I just correct my mistakes and get on with life.
Someone once said, 'We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.'

Arthur Schopenhauer said, 'We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people.'

Robyn Daniels

Thank you for that lovely word BARJOT Kirstin. If my books ever get into French translation I will take it as my French 'nom de plume' (Brigitte Barjot?). Lovely shot heading the piece too - your 'maman' paints with canvas oils and brush and you paint with cameras. Hoping to join your Cinema Verite soon so can have more eye candy each weekend. Vive l'artiste barjot qui s'appelle Kristin! Thanks again for these treasured 'souvenirs de France' for us Francophiles 'en etranger'.

robyn xx




Your idea about "Brigitte Barjot" made me laugh!...

How did you manage to get the tomatoes piled up as on a market stall?
The contrast of shape and colour with the ragged / spiky sepals of the sunflower is stunning!

Mon dieu! Une famille de jobards!... et des amis un peu "loufoques"!?
Hmmm I'm sure that Tante Marie-Francoise must have kindly and politely transformed (in her mind) these people into:
-> friends and family "plutôt excentriques!" (rather eccentric!)


A couple of quaint Aussie sayings is that one is "a kangaroo short in the paddock" or "a sandwich short of a picnic"; alternatively one might say "the lights are on, but no one's home"!
One of my GREATEST gaffes was when down in Provence, visiting some really lovely town, famous for the life of a French comedian and the place where they make great pottery and briar pipes for smoking. My friend asked if there was anything in particular I would like to see and I said that I really wanted to see where they made the pipes. I told her I wanted to go "ou on fait des pipes"! "Ah, non", my friend said, "ou on FABRIQUE" des pipes". Seems I had suggested that I wanted to go and see where they did 'blow jobs', much to the mirth of my friends!!

Symptoms of HPV

Sumptuous tomatoes! Home-grown vegetables are the best!

Your post cracked me up. In my country, the word 'special' means someone who needs special attention or someone who is autistic.


Lesley-Ann: I loved your "a kangaroo short in the paddock" and "a sandwich short of a picnic" (as I loved Louis' "not the coldest beer in the fridge"!)

Newforest: thanks for noticing the tomato pile-up. It was one of those "happy accidents".

Thanks, everyone, for the smiles that your stories and comments bring; as my mom, Jules, says: they are the best part of French Word-A-Day.


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