In France, it’s unheard of to start a meal with without saying “Bon appetit“. Cheese is served before dessert. Kids are shooshed if they talk loudly in a public place (making the parents far louder than the kids), and it’s just plain wrong to offer chrysanthemums to a living person. It’s a country that sells croque monsieurs in busy pubs during gigs, because even the toughest punk fan enjoys the tenderness of the melted cheese in a ham and cheese toasty. Etiquette differs between regions as to how many kisses are given when greeting someone, but kisses are always the norm.
Every new arrival learns about these cultural rules over the years, and for me, adopting French etiquette was easy. However, there’s one part of French culture that was hard to embrace. It’s that fart sound made by the mouth. You know, when you were a kid and you pretended to make the sound of a fart when your grandma stood up, and all the other grand kids would laugh? That’s an acceptable sound in France. Seriously.
You might be wondering how the fart sound is used. It’s pretty versatile for answering questions where the answer isn’t certain. Here are some examples:
Q: “What do you want to do today?”
A: “Prpppppp.” (meaning “I’m not fussed.”)
Q: “What time does the film start?”
A: “Prpppppp.” (meaning “I don’t know.”)
Q: “That guy was wrong. We have more sun here in the north, don’t we?”
A: “Prppppp.” (meaning “I’m staying neutral.”)
Q: “Up yours.”
A: “Prpppppp.” (meaning “Up yours too.”)
That last one, being more of a hostile one, is aspirated. Imagine huffing at the same time as making the fart sound, and you’ve got the indignant fart noise of that last example. However, that’s used less than the average fart sound outlined in the other examples. I hear it daily in general conversations with my friends and in public.
I was determined never to use this sound as a word replacement. It just sounds so much like a comedy movie line. Imagine my surprise when I heard myself making fart noises when talking in English to some visiting Australian friends recently. They looked baffled at the sound I’d just made — the only reason I noticed I’d made it.
So how do I fix this when talking in English? Prppppp. I’ve embraced it.