Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wordsmith Wednesdays: Garçon! There's a fly in ma soupe

I was astounded to see that the little French phrase card that came with Fluenz French (and we'll dissect -- or eviscerate -- that little piece of learning software in a future post) gave the following translation for signaling a waiter: Garçon! Are you kidding me? No one's successfully gotten served by calling a waiter Garçon! since Edith Piaf. You might as well call LeBron James "boy," which happens to be, of course, the literal translation of garçon.

The custom of calling waiters "boy" dates from an earlier era, when France had more of a class system. And even then, you really weren't calling him "boy," you were using a shorthand notation for the French term for waiter, which is garçon de café. Nowadays it's considered rude, if not downright insulting, especially if your garçon is a fille or over the age of 12.

So what do you call a waiter. Monsieur? I've seen it done, but that's not quite right either, because it's putting you and the person serving you on the same social stratum (France still has a class system). The correct answer is, you signal the attention of a waiter in France more or less the same way you do in the States. If and when he wanders by, you raise your hand, smile, and plead, S’il vous plaît? 

If that fails, then try monsieur/mademoiselle/madame. If you're still being ignored, say in a loud voice for everyone to hear, Garçon!! That's sure to get his attention.

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