Tag Archives: French

French Schoolyard Catch Riddle

The catch: being asked to spell J,T, and P, in a French accent

Context: The informant is currently studying at USC, but as a child, she attended a French/English bilingual school. She explained that as a child, other kids would tell her to spell out “J, T, and P” in a French accent. Doing so would result in the informant saying “jé, té, pé,” after which the kids would laugh, as they had tricked her into saying something that sounded like “j’ai pété”, which means “I farted” in French.

Analysis: This is very similar to a typical elementary school catch of asking someone to spell “icup” (resulting in saying something that sounded like “I see you pee”). In Jay Mechling’s chapter on Children’s Folklore from Elliott Oring’s Folk Groups and Folklore Genres, Mechling notes how the child’s body features greatly in children’s folklore, specifically bodily functions. This is an example of humor based on the taboo of bodily excretion; the joke is played on an outgroup and results in them saying that they have done something that other children find embarrassing or gross.

Reynard the fox

–Informant Info–

Nationality: French

Age: 39

Occupation: Housewife

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): French

(Notes-The informant will be referred to as TS and the interviewer as K)

Background info: TS is a mother of 3 who grew up in Nice, France, and moved to Los Angeles when she was in her 20s. She noted that this story was told to her only by her older family members while laughing, never by her mother or other children.

K: Ok, so can you tell me the name of the story, where you heard it, and the context of the performance? Like under what circumstances was it told.

TS: Yes, yes. It is called Reynard the fox, and it is a very very old story. I only ever heard it from my grandparents after they had too much wine *laughter* because it was a dirty story and didn’t teach any uh lessons like so many of uh…I don’t know the word in English…Legende? Uh, fable?

K: Yea, a fable, like a story that teaches you a lesson?

TS: Exactly! It was only really told in the uh house because it was dirty *laughter* it’s not something you tell your child at a dinner.

K: Ok, go ahead, and make sure you even tell the dirty parts *laughter*

TS: Ok ok, it goes that uh Reynard was a fox who had done many many horrible crimes, like robbing and rape and murder, and had done so many that the king lion himself wanted to punish Reynard. But Reynard was tricky. The king sent out his best hunters to bring Reynard in but Reynard had managed to uh…trick all of them and getaway.

K: Can you elaborate on that? Tricking the other characters?

TS: I’d love to! Bruin the bear is tricked because Reynard says there is honey inside a tree and he gets stuck. Tybalt (sometimes goes by a different name) the cat is tricked because Reynard sends him to a chicken coop owned by a priest, and gets locked inside by Reynard. Reynard alerts the priest, who beats Tybalt but Tybalt retaliates by biting one of the priest’s testicles off *laughter*. Eventually, Grimbert, a badger who is also Reynard’s cousin, manages to trap him. But when Reynard is brought before the king, he uh…throws everyone under the bus I think is the phrase?

K: Like sabatoges them?

TS: Yes! So Reynard does that to everyone that tried to capture him by saying they hid a treasure from the kind and only Reynard knows where to find it so the king frees him! But reynard flees. Later, he is found by Cuwart the hare, and Belyn the ram. He murders Cuwart, puts his head in a bag and gives it to Belyn, and tells him to uh bring the bag to the kind.

K: Good god

TS: Told you it was dirty *laughter*. So when Belyn does, she is executed by the king. By the time everyone uh understands they have been tricked again by Reynard, he has already fled and was never caught.

This was a very interesting story to hear. I think most notably is how the informant said specifically it’s not like a traditional fable, as it doesn’t teach a lesson, but people still regarded it as such. It’s a very satirical story, and it’s meant to be a sort of social commentary mocking the aristocratic people of the time. There are so many different versions of the story, due mainly to its old age, that nearly everyone comments on a different thing in society. Many on the aristocratic people, some on food, some on the crime itself. It’s interesting how many variations there can be of the same story.

For another version of this story, see: Anonymous. (1982). Le Roman de Renart. Champion.

The bee and the orange tree

–Informant Info–

Nationality: French

Age: 47

Occupation: Teacher

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): French

(Notes-The informant will be referred to as DK and the interviewer as K)

Background info: DK is a mother of 1 who was born in the United States and moved to France when she was young, moving back to the US in 2017. She notes that she was told this story all the time but has not heard of it once in the US, and when she has brought it up to other people, they have never heard of it.

K: Ok so, what’s the name of the folklore, how do you know of it, and what’s the context of the performance? Like when is it told, under what circumstances?

DK: It’s called uh..The translation would be The bee and the orange tree. It was always told to me when I was little, in like school, or my parents and people like that. It’s kinda like Cinderella, you know? It was told like that.

K: Yeah that makes sense! Uh whenever…whenever you’re read you can tell the story.

DK: Ok. The story goes that there was this princess called uh Aimée who was lost after a ship wreck. She drifted to a little island in her crib, where a lot of uh…ogre’s lived. They only took her in because they wanted her to marry their son when she got older, normally they eat people who come ashore. When she was uh 15 I believe, she was told she would marry that ogre but the thought of that disgusted her. She went for a walk along the beach and found a man, who was actually her cousin, but neither of them knew that or could uh…say that. After a little while, the man, a prince, discovered who she was because she had a locket with her name on it. The little ogre said it was time for them to marry, and she fled but hurt herself on a thorn so she couldn’t walk. The prince went to find her when she didn’t show up and got captured. I don’t really remember the details here so I’m sorry

K: Thats alright! Just whatever you do remember tell me, even if its confusing

DK: Alright, uh so Aimee managed to trick some of the ogres into eating each other and found an uh magic wand somehow. Using it, she made herself speak the prince’s language and he told her everything. She used the wand again to distract the ogres and flee, but one of them followed them using his…magic boots. She would use the wand to disguise herself and the prince each time the ogre came close. She turned herself into a bee and the prince into an orange tree and stung the ogre, and in the chaos, the wand was stolen so they were stuck like that. Later, another princess fell in love with the orange tree, who was the prince. Aimee stung her out of jealousy, and the other princess ribbed a branch off the tree to defend herself, causing blood to flow out of the wound. Aimee left to fetch balm for the wound. A fairy came by while she was gone and detected the enchantment on the prince, turning him back. The prince explained the situation, and when Aimme returned the fairy uh turned her back also. They returned home to her parents and got married. The end *laughter*.

Dried Sausages


Original: Ces six saucissons-secs-ci sont si secs qu’on ne sait si s’en sont.

Translation: These six dried sausages are so dry that we don’t know if they are.

Background: K is a 22 year old from Fairfax County, Virginia. He currently resides in Los Angeles, California. K has spoken French for nine years. 

Context: This tongue-twister was told to me at a hangout among friends.

Analysis: I thought this tongue-twister was interesting because the informant, K, did not grow up around French speaking people. Instead, he began learning French in middle school, where his teacher taught them this tongue-twister. Despite learning the tongue-twister nearly a decade ago, it’s stuck with him.

Informant: Shut the box is a game I picked up from a friend. She just liked collecting wooden crafts and games she had in her childhood. I think she had this while in France? It’s been a while since I asked her about it.

Interviewer: Do you remember when she first told you about it?

Informant: I asked her about the game one Thanksgiving because it was out on a counter as one of those party games. It looked like a homemade set, I wanted to know if it was easy to make.

Interviewer: And then she was the one who taught you how to play?

Informant: Yes, it was a long game but a lot of fun.

Interviewer: How do you play it?

Informant: Well, you need 2 dice and the specially designed box. In the box is a row of numbers counting from 1 to 9. The object of the game, as the name suggests, is to shut the box. To accomplish this the player whose turn it is has to roll the dice and add up the dice to get a total. With that number in mind the player has to use the numbers in the box to make that same total, this is indicated by flipping the numbers in the box down. If a player rolls a total they can no longer make with the numbers in the box, that total becomes their score. If a player manages to flip all the numbers in the box down, they have won the game and have the satisfaction of shutting the box. If no one manages to shut the box, the person with the lowest score wins.

Interviewer: Is there a limit to how many people can play?

Informant: No, this game is played one person at a time so as long as everyone is patient you can have as many players as can sit ’round a table.

Background: My informant learned about and how to play this game from a friend on an unspecified Thanksgiving. It is now apparently played every year by both the informant’s friend and herself. It drew attention because it appeared homemade. When asked, the friend allegedly said that it was part of her childhood while growing up in France and wanted to share that memory with her children.

Context: It was a casual interview setting, playing games when the informant’s husband brought this specific game, prompting me to ask about its origin. This specific copy of the game was a handmade set by the informant’s husband.

Thoughts: There is something appealing about the game. There’s definite satisfaction in flipping the tiles down, and even more so when one is lucky enough to shut the box. A lot of the game seems to rely on luck and an understanding of probability.

For more instructions, please see: Allan, Sean. “How to Play Shut The Box: Games Rules, Strategy & Instructions.” SiamMandalay, 25, Sept, 2017.