False friends - faux amis in French


I don't have a photo for you of les gradins, or bleachers, in Nimes. I hope this "seat" will be a good stand-in. More about Gallic gradins in the story column, below. (Update: we now have photos of the gradins (see story column and mille mercis to Michaelpatrick Callahan for his photos of the Nimes arena).

les gradins (lah grah-dahn) noun, masculine, plural

    : bleachers.

Audio File: Download MP3 file

Les gradins à Nimes ont tremblé pendant le concert.
The bleachers in Nimes trembled during the concert.


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

Les gradins... we call them bleachers, back where I come from. And back where I come from the "gradins" are placed in a field -- and not within a two-thousand-years old stone arène.*

Arene (c) Michaelpatrick Callahan
photo (c) Michaelpatrick Callahan

Just when I think I am the only one impressed by this fact, the man seated next to me (my husband) exclaims: c'est impressionnant: deux mille ans!*

Another impressive thing, according to our friend Bernard is that for 5000 seats the concert organizers have calculated only 10 porta-potties!

Waiting patiently in line with the men, I notice a remarkable contrast: the modern porta-potties are lined up within an ancient stone alcove. They look as out of place as horse-drawn carriages on an autobahn.

"That's just on this side of the arena," I argue, figuring there must be more toilets on the other side.
"Then make that 20 for 5000," Bernard replies, adjusting his calculations, and I think about how it's both fun and funny to listen to a Frenchman point out the peculiarities of his own country.

*   *   *

Will it be "The Virgins" or "The Ting Tings," I wonder, when the second band walks onto the stage. I have never heard of either one. For that matter, I haven't heard of Franz Ferdinand, for whom to see we travelled to Nimes.  I guess that makes me officially middle-aged if I can't keep up with the music scene. On second thought, that's an unfair statement: just because I can't keep up with the music, doesn't mean my contemporaries aren't on top of things. Looking around, there are a fair number of people my age, and beyond.

Speaking of age... my eyes focus on the child seated in front of me. He couldn't be more than 8 years old. What's he doing at a rock concert, I wonder? He is seated beside his middle-aged mother. The tendresse and the fragility of the two is so palpable it hurts. What is she doing at a rock concert? Once again I am judging things... when the reality is: nothing is as it seems.

A young woman lights a cigarette and the boy, seated beside her, seems bothered. He discreetly lifts the hood on his gilet* and covers his face. Finally, his mother switches seats, so that she might breathe in the smoke, in place of her son.

Another young couple is seated side by side, but existing in two different worlds (neither here nor there):  They are texting friends on Facebook. I begin to feel smug about just how present I, myself, am, in time to enjoy the here and now in this amazing Roman arena on a mild, midsummer night. Only, my sage self-image is shot when Jean-Marc points to his iPhone screen, which is showing the Google search results. "It's The Ting Tings" he replies, after I have asked him to identify the band that we are currently watching. I guess I am just as plugged-in to technology as the others. I am dependent on Google search.

Next, the speakers blast. The sound is so startling, so mind-numbing, that I begin to think about mes oreilles.* If my eardrums are vibrating... just think about that little boy's eardrums. At least he has his hood on. I notice that some people have thought to plug their ears with les boules Quies.* Smart.

Gradins (c) Michaelpatrick Callahan
photo (c) Michaelpatrick Callahan

When the band finishes, the audience begins to stomp their feet making the bleachers tremble... and creak. It occurs to me that things can and do collapse and that we are more fragile than we like to think. As I once told a friend, as he raced to reach the French Alps in time (in time for what? in time to arrive faster?): On n'est pas immortel!* (I was pregnant at the time, the time which corresponds to just when my incessant worrying began.)

I realize that I am worrying needlessly. Worrying is a sign of age. I'm afraid I'm getting old. No, I am not old. I still have friends twice my age. Now that's saying something, not that I can hear what the something that's being said is... what with all the noise!

I look at the fragile little boy in front of me and wonder, once again, what is he doing here? He looks so out of place. I turn around and notice the row of young women seated behind me. I imagine they are thinking the same of me: she looks so out of place!

If I had the guts to talk to the girls, I might assure them that more than out of place, I feel out of time. Those millenia-old stone walls, they're whispering my name... while 21st Century speakers scream "baby."


Post note: more and more, my motto is: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. And so I spent the rest of the concert "banging" my head against the invisible wall before me, in beat, in rhythm, and rockin' with the best of them. The concert was amazing! Many thanks to friends Cari & Pierre Casanova for getting us tickets!

Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--are welcome and appreciated in the comments box.

See a 5 minute video from the concert. (If you are viewing this edition via email, you will need to click over to the blog to view the clip.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~
les arènes (de Nîmes)
= the amphitheater, coliseum; deux mille ans (m) = two thousand years; le gilet (m) = sweatshirt; une oreille (f) = ear; les boules Quies (fpl) = ear plugs; on n'est pas immortels! = we are not immortal!


At the superette in our village, I saw this charming advertisement for a bed-and-breakfast.

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