The new French telephone language


If you want to appear ‘branché’ in France, or ‘with it’, then a part of current French you can’t ignore is telephone language. Parallel to the introduction of mobile phones, a whole new vocabulary has evolved. Before, you would hear a simple, “Je t’appelle” at the end of a conversation to show that you intended to stay in contact. A more informal variant would be, “Je te passe un coup de fil”. Long gone are the days when people would use the verb ‘bigophoner’.

Nowadays, it is important to establish first whether a call should be made to a landline. “Je t’appelle sur le fixe ?”, or, alternatively, to a mobile phone. “Je t’appelle sur ton portable ?” If it is the latter, the first question when the call is made will almost certainly be, “T’es où ?”. As you walk the streets in France you often have the impression that half the population is asking this question of the other half.

Once the geographical location of the caller and recipient has been established, you might think that a normal conversation could take place. That would be to simplify things. You know you’re getting into problems when the respondent complains that he cannot hear you properly, “Je ne capte pas bien”. Worse still is the announcement, “Je n’ai plus beaucoup de batterie”. This is often followed by the confession, “J’ai laissé mon chargeur à la maison, au bureau, chez ma copine,” or some similar variant. The solution then is often to make do with ‘un SMS’. “Je t’enverrai un texto”.

More worrying is when the person explains that the bad quality of the line is because “Je suis en voiture”. They may reassure you that they have ‘un kit mains libres’, but the confession, often leads to a swiftly terminated conversation. After all it is illegal in France to ‘téléphoner au volant’, although you would never think so when you look around.

Of course, if you want to move into the world of  ‘les applis’, or ‘les apps’, depending upon how much you prefer to stick to French or English terms, you will have to deal with yet more vocabulary. You may decide to ‘télécharger une appli’ or to simply ‘surfer sur Internet’ to see what’s available.

You may get into even deeper waters if you have a problem with your mobile phone when in France. A French friend may suggest you try switching it off and then switching it back on, “Vous pouvez éteindre et puis rallumer”. If you have ‘un code secret’ you will need to ‘saisir le code’ in order to ‘déverrouiller l’écran’. Hopefully, it won’t be a serious ‘panne’ and you won’t have to ‘réinitialiser’ the phone.  If so you may need to contact ‘la hot line’. Thank goodness for ‘le franglais’!

Kolibri Languages Practical Guide ‘Meeting the French’ will bring you more insights about the French and their way of life 

Pam Bourgeois


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