Monday, 24 August 2009

False Friends in France and Italy

Normally, being able to speak French is very helpful when learning to speak Italian, and, I would guess, the opposite is also true. Sometimes, however, subtle differences between the two languages can cause you to make mistakes. Every time I cross the border, I get a little bit confused between sì, oui and si (respectively, Italian “yes”, French “yes” and French “yes but I'm contradicting you) and between si and se (French “if” and “oneself”; Italian “oneself” and “if”). Small mistakes that make me sound like a foreigner (with linguistic identity problems perhaps), and nothing compared to the howler I made today.

To understand what happened, you need to know that the verb sentire (si) in Italian means “to feel” or “to hear”, while (se) sentir in French means “to feel” or “to smell”.

I was at the hairdresser's and the conversation, roughly translated, went something like this:

Hairdresser: Are you English, Madame?
Me: Yes. At least, I'm Scottish.
Short pause
Me again: Can you smell it?

Despite the fact that I now have a very nice haircut, I am feeling inclined to hide my face in shame!

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