A time and a place for everything

When to correct the other guy’s grammar–and when not to.

One evening I was riding the métro home, minding my own business, when a very, very drunk man got on.  He was carrying an open bottle of some sort of hard liquor, and occasionally took a swig.  (This and other obscure vocabulary items discussed in the English notes below.)  He was so plastered that he could barely stay on his seat as the train swerved.  He ranted incoherently–really incoherently.  (After he left, I asked the guy next to me: Pardon me sir, was he speaking French?  (If it’s in italics, it happened in French.) He gave me that look that people in Paris (and New York) give you when approached by a stranger before deciding that you’re OK, and then said: Of a sort.)

A young woman got on the train and took a seat.  She had her phone to her ear, and was talking.  The drunk, ranting guy leaned over, put his fingers to his lip, and said: Shhhhhh.

Bizarre, hein?  No–in a Parisian context, this actually wasn’t surprising at all.  The general French approach to politeness is: don’t do anything that would inconvenience the other person.  A very noticeable way that this works out is that in general, the French tend to communicate more quietly than Americans do.  Indeed, the first thing that I notice when I get off the plane in the US is how loud everyone is–I clear Customs, go sit in the United club, and find myself listening to the cell phone conversations of every random stranger within earshot. In Paris, if you see someone talking on the phone on the train, the chances are excellent that they’re not French–it’s just not done.  So, it wasn’t that bizarre for a shitfaced lunatic to interrupt his raving to say shhhhh to someone talking on the phone on the métro—he might have been hammered, but she was being rude.  In America, someone would have said some equivalent of “it’s a free country, she can talk on the phone if she wants to.”  People did hush him up when he got too carried away, but no one criticized him for saying shhhhh to the girl on the phone–that’s just logical, quoi...

For an extended discussion of the “don’t inconvenience the other guy” principle in French culture, see Raymonde Carroll’s Cultural misunderstandings: The French-American experienceor the original French version, Évidences invisibles: Américains et Français au quotidien.  Carroll’s book is the uber-citation on American/French cultural differences.

I thought about the drunk guy on the train and his shhhhh just now when I stepped out on my balcony (I have the good luck to have an apartment on the étage noble) for a cigarette–and overheard a delivery guy in the street below speaking on his phone.  Avant qu’elle apparaisse, he said–before she appears.  Even though I’m in France, where correcting other people’s grammar is just part of daily intercourse, I suppressed the urge to yell avant qu’elle N‘apparaisse–who doesn’t hate to see a good opportunity to use the ne expletif be wasted?–on the theory that this guy’s day was already going poorly enough without the shame of having some random foreigner fuck with his langue de Molière.  A time and a place for everything.

For the meaning of étage noble and the significance of what floor you live on, see this post on Parisian apartment buildings.  English notes below.


English notes

swigthe amount drunk at one time; a gulp.  (Merriam-Webster)  Some examples from the English Preposition Corpus, courtesy of Sketch Engine, purveyor of fine linguistic data sources and search engines therefor (note the lack of an E at the end–therefor is a different word from therefore):

  • I scowled into the night, took a swig of my beer and dumped the rest over the side of the deck .
  • I picked up the bottle beside me and took another long swig.
  •  If, after a stiff swig of nectar, we were to watch further developments, we’d find that in another 100,000 years or so, or even longer, exactly the same thing would happen again, and the compass would swing back suddenly to its original position.

How I used it in the post: He was carrying an open bottle of some sort of hard liquor, and occasionally took a swig

plasteredslang for drunk.  Some examples from the enTenTen corpus (just under 20 billion words of English scraped from the Web), again courtesy of Sketch Engine:

  • Once Dolly and I got really plastered together.
  • An hour or so later, the Englishman is really plastered. 
  • Jonathan is so ugly; I could only have sex with that double bagger if I was really plastered
  • And by “former glory,” of course, we mean “a time when college-aged people used beer pong as an excuse to get so plastered they sometimes made sexual overtures toward bar stools.
  • Only to realise the switch happens yet again and you’re there staring at the mouth of Gingy the Gingerbread Man (Midgett in a triplicate role with Sugar Plum) so plastered on that baking sheet like an angry drunk.

How I used it in the post: He was so plastered that he could barely stay on his seat as the train swerved. 

shitfacedalso slang for drunk.  Don’t use this one in front of my grandmother.

  • The night ended with Patty directing my drunk ass to grab the mattress and set up the bed while I was completely stumbling and shitfaced.
  • Let me get this straight — this stuff supposedly gives you more energy … so you can stay out later, drink more and get more thoroughly shitfaced?
  • The end of the week and I’m tired, over-worked and really just in need of deep sleep so I can get to work the next day with a fresh brain that can fire on all six creative cylinders but I opt to get shitfaced on free beer instead. 
  • In the Black Forest they celebrate by getting shitfaced, setting fire to 800-lb straw-packed oak wheels, rolling them down mountainsides into sleepy villages and making bets on the fates of the panicked peasantry as they flee in terror.

How I used it in the post: It wasn’t that bizarre for a shitfaced lunatic to interrupt his raving to say shhhhh to someone talking on the phone on the métro—he might have been hammered, but she was being rude. 

hammered….and, once again: slang for drunk.  

  • By the time we got to the dessert, I was, to put it delicately, hammered , as you can see from the picture above.
  • Made me want to check out more, especially as I was so hammered that I was in danger of keeling over, and consequently remember very little, other than that it was good.
  • I think the only way I’ll ever feel the urge to try that is if I’m already so hammered that it seems like a really good idea.

How I used it in the post: It wasn’t that bizarre for a shitfaced lunatic to interrupt his raving to say shhhhh to someone talking on the phone on the métro—he might have been hammered, but she was being rude. 

Conflict of interest statement: I don’t have one.  Sketch Engine doesn’t pay me to shill their stuff–I pay them to use it.



5 thoughts on “A time and a place for everything”

  1. Nother better than a good swig to swing ! Thanks for all these slang terms from your area of expertise . I felt you were a good guy : cigarettes,whisky and “p’tites pépées” as they sang, a whole fine program .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So you will understand why I was livid and perplexed on the Navette from Grenoble to Lyon Saint Exupéry recently and having been ordered forwards by the driver when the bus suffered some sort of problem with it’s brakes, I found myself sitting next to a Frenchwoman of something between 28 and 35 years old. We were delayed. All of us were delayed because of the issue with the brakes (which the driver subsequently decided were good enough to get us to the airport 😱). About 20 minutes from the airport the woman’s phone rang and she proceeded to have a loud conversation with the person she was meeting, presumably to travel with. Instead of saying ‘I’m delayed, just go ahead’ as she should have in the circumstances (portables are to be turned off on the navette to avoid perturbation of fellow travelers – NATCH) she thought it fine to not just yack but then take off her seatbelt to don her overcoat and elbow me hard on the cheekbone in the process. As we neared the terminal she told me (not asked by the way) to move so she could get off quickly. I said ‘Non’. She was entirely perplexed. I said ‘we are on the navette, using a portable is forbidden but you have subjected me to 20 minutes of loud conversation and in the process hurt my face when you stuck your elbow in it putting your coat on’. She continued to insist. The other passengers did not intervene, but I felt their silent support. Because I was in the right. In France but not the US, of course 😉 and I slowly and methodically got my stuff together and alighted elegantly where an elderly woman asked me to get her mammoth back from the hold. I felt really the beatific martyr. How I will feel when I leave this country next week for an extended pause, remains to be seen …. a great article M’sieur and I apologise for monopolizing your comment feed with my need to tell this story!

    Liked by 4 people

      1. There is a postscript regarding the return journey but I will save that for another day. In the meantime, we can jointly celebrate the quiet support of the French for what is right. I think they are particularly brilliant at it 😊

        Liked by 2 people

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