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La Toussaint: Flowers and Faux Pas

Created: Wednesday, 25 October 2017

I think there’s a reason ‘faux pas’ originated in France; they conjured it up for foreigners like me who often make seemingly small but quite significant cultural and linguistic errors.

My favourite recently has to be my partner’s nickname.  Before arriving in France we decided to find what pet names to call each other in French, one of which is ‘mon canard’ (my duck). Whether Google is right about this phrase remains to be seen, but I like it. I was overheard calling my partner this only to be met with jovial sniggering. Confused, I inquired thinking it was not a term used in the way Google had led me to believe, but no, my slight mispronunciation of this affectionate term had turned out sounding like ‘mon connard’ -- my idiot (the reality is that 'idiot' is very polite for the meaning of this word!).

Errors in cultural etiquette can be just as, if not more, embarrassing. The most important one to note, particularly at this time of year, is chrysanthemums. You’ll see them popping up around supermarket entrances and stalls on market days and overflowing the local florist -- and it’s not just because they’re in season.

The 1st of November is All Saints Day, or La Toussaint, and here it is a public holiday where the French go out in numbers and place flowers on the graves of their departed loved ones in preparation for the following day -- Commemoration of the Dead (not a public holiday). The flower of choice for this is the chrysanthemum  - a symbol of grief and one that is also chosen for funerals.

This is exclusive -- do not give these flowers to a French person as a way of thanks or any other gesture, it will not be met well!

Thankfully I have been pre-warned about this particular faux pas, but I am certain to stumble across another.