Capitaine France!

Adjusting to France, Learning French

The French make a lot of sounds.  I’m not talking about pronunciation of their language, such as the elusive “r” sound or little things they say like “voila” and “oh la la”.  I mean, we all know about those because how else would we be able to make fun of a stereotypical French accent when we want to (and let’s face it, at some point in everyone’s life you will want to)?  No, I’m talking about noises; sounds that the French make constantly that are not based on any particular word.  There are three examples that come to mind:

“pffffff”  to make this sound exhale out of a barely opened mouth that is relaxed.  This is primarily used when one finds something irritating.  The level of irritation is irrelevant.  I will provide the following two examples:

Ex1:                                                                                                                                                   “The boss just called a meeting for tomorrow morning.”                                                               “C’est vrai?  Pfffff”.

Ex2:                                                                                                                                                     “The doctor says that we will have to amputate.”                                                                           “Merde.  C’est vrai?”                                                                                                                            “Oui.”                                                                                                                                                  “Pfffff”.

“uuuP” to make this sound basically just say “upsy daisy” without the “sy” or the “daisy”.  It’s like pronouncing “up” as though the word were going to continue past the “p”.  This is most commonly used at the completion of a task or perhaps mid-task.  Examples:

Ex1:                                                                                                                                                 MB is whining about not having any cheese, I go and retrieve it and as I hand it to him I say  “uuuP”.

Ex2:                                                                                                                                                             A waiter reaches across me to remove a plate, as he picks it up he says “uuuP”.

“pbt” to make this sound, blow air out of a stiff mouth that is just open in the middle, your tongue should go from the bottom of your mouth to the top, this should be done quickly (yes, I am sitting here making these sounds over and over again trying to figure out a way to describe them).*  This sound is used sort of like a punctuation, usually of a definitive statement.  Examples:

Ex1:                                                                                                                                                “I’m going to take this parking spot even though it is illegal. Pbt.”

Ex2:                                                                                                                                                 “Do you think that we should save the rest of the foie gras?”                                                “No, I will keep eating it until I am sick. Pbt.”

After a year in France, these sounds have even started creeping into my vernacular and it amuses me every time I let one slip.  I mean, Americans don’t have little noises that they make; unless you count general whoopin’ and hollerin’ (I go Southern with certain words) which is hardly as charming as “uuuP” or as coolly blasé as “pfffff”.  These sounds in French lend a cartoon-like essence to the language, and really, to the French themselves.  Sort of like an old Batman comic but instead of the sound bubbles saying things like “kapow!” or “zap!” they would say “uuuP!” and “pfffff.”.

My version would go something like this:

Capitaine France Strikes Again! 

By day he is just another disgruntled, chain-smoking Parisian; but by night he is Capitaine France!  Protecting the Parisian streets from vulgar tourists and chain restaurants!

A couple in tennis shoes walks by talking loudly in American accents.

“Well June, I don’t know where we should eat.  I don’t see anything I recognize.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake Carl, there’s a TGI Friday’s in the ninth-E-M, we can just go there.”

After stubbing out his cigarette, in swoops Capitaine France flying overhead.  He throws a stinky cheese bomb down at the couple.

 It makes a loud sound as it hits the ground,uuuP!””.

Suddenly a gaseous odor enters the air.  The couple both starts hacking and coughing.  After a minute, they both become high from the smell being emitted from the cheese; they walk off like zombies towards a cute French bistro.  Satisfied, Capitaine France begins to fly off but not before a sleazy promoter steps in front of the couple.

“Don’t go to this place, instead you should go to Café Americain, they serve burgers.  Here is a brochure.”

For a moment, the couple is snapped out of their trance.  Horrified, Capitaine France turns back and throws his lethal baguettes at the sleazy promoter.

He lets out a “pfffff”” as he throws them. 

The lethal baguettes do their job and the couple continues into the cute French bistro.  Capitaine France finally lands in front of the restaurant.

“Mon travail est fini,” he proclaims as he pour a glass of red wine.


*In the movie French Kiss, Kevin Kline tries to pull of this sound multiple times; there is an example in the last few seconds of this trailer: Sadly, I can’t find a proper French example. 

20 thoughts on “Capitaine France!

  1. Hehe funny post. I still think the little noises are funny, but never catch myself using them. I guess my subconscious is trying to resist becoming that much more French.

    And «uuup» is actually written phonetically as «Hop!» I’ve seen it before in magazines and commercials. Because you don’t pronounce the «h», it sounds like «up». My colleague just made that sound a few minutes ago lol.

    1. That is impressive – stay strong – the noises have completely taken me over when I speak in French! AHHH – yes, now that I see you writing it I think I have seen it written out before! Thanks!!

  2. “Hop-là”, another great post!

    “pbt” — I had to watch the Kevin Kline video to get what you meant. It grosses me out. I think you describe this sound in a very classy way. I often call it “the diarrhea fart”. I’ve heard other people describe it as “the fart sound”. I try not to let this one slip into my vernacular .. the other ones are okay. Every time my bf uses it I ask him if he farted.

    Another favorite of mine (okay, it is my favorite) is “Bon ben…”. It’s addicting and my chéri says it all the time. The “ben” part kind of has the same vibrational charm as “Ommm”/”Aummm”.

    1. YES! The “Bon ben” – Xav is saying this constantly. Haha – and yeah, I was going to make a reference to “pbt” sounding like a little fart but then I thought I should just let it go, ha!

    1. Ah yes, I can see that working as well – it was definitely tough trying to figure how to spell them and describe them! Will check out the link – thanks for passing along!! 🙂

  3. Ah, yes, I thought there was a ‘h’ on hup! I see it’s ‘hop’, in fact…

    I listened to my son’s side of a phone conversaition when he was in sixieme, which went: ‘mffff… ben…. ouai…. ben….. omffff….. ouai…’ for about three minutes! My son can grunt in French!

    So, I love Capitaine France. I hope he returns to save the day again!

    1. Haha, right?! It always amuses me listening to my Fiance’s phone conversations…like no need to use actual words. Hilarious! YAY – glad you liked Capitaine France – I do think he may become a re-occurring character like France itself (it was just too much fun to write it)! 🙂

  4. The way everyone starts their sentences “bahhhhhhh . . .” – bugs the crap out of me. Not sure why, I just feel like it’s their version of “like”, because they start with it and add it after every other word in a sentence.

  5. Fun post! I was never in Italy long enough to figure out all their “sounds” but the one that sticks out is “Bo!” for “I don’t know.”

    1. Ha – love it! Clearly, I will need to go on some long trips to Italy in order to investigate! I really do think that these little types of things are so charming. 🙂

  6. LOVE IT!
    Yes, hop-là is one that has crept into my vocabulary and that I use pretty much all the time. Hop-là…if I’m tossing something to my hubby; hop-là as I struggle to get my laptop bag into the car. It’s a beautiful expression.

    Okay, I also loved that you added the link for French Kiss; I love that movie!

    1. Me too – I use hop-la constantly! Haha – glad that I am not the only one who loves that film! I know it is cheesy and Kevin Kline’s accent is SO not right but it is still a lot of fun!! LACTOSE INTOLERAAAAAAANCE! Love it.

  7. Reblogged this on Trying to be Conscious and commented:
    As a Frech teacher, I enjoy the blog Bread is Pain very much. It’s about an American expat living in France, getting crazy trying to learn French and describing French habits in a funny way. I enjoyed her last post so much that I decided to share it here. It’s a list of the sounds the French make other than words. If you know a French person, you know what it is: pffff, baah, rhooo, etc. Nick always makes fun of me when I make such noises.


    1. Uh oh, actually, i tried to reblog this but the format was really all messed up and I couldn’t share it properly on social networks so I deleted it :(. BUT I am sharing your post directly on my facebook and will add your blog to my blogroll. Keep up the funny words 🙂

      1. Thanks so much Cecile!! I appreciate the plug for sure!! Weird that the format messed up…hmmm…I’m sure it has something to do with my pathetic understanding of all things technical. So sad.

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