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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TF9xsk3tmoA. Sadly, I can’t find a proper French example.