French word of the day: Le Fleuve (31/8/2023)

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When is a river not a river? When it is a ‘fleuve‘! Yes, today’s newsletter is about that thing that has made Paris the city it is today (not the Eiffel tower), the Seine river.

Now for anglophones, if you type in Google Translate “how to say ‘river’ in French?”, it will tell you that it is ‘une rivière‘. But take it from me, your French friends will look at you in baffled bemusement if you try to call the grand ole Seine ‘une rivière‘!

That is because it is a bit of a “faux amis” or “false friend”, in that a river like the Seine is so large that it is called ‘un fleuve‘. (No questions why fleuve is masculine and rivière is feminine.)

To summarize the French-English translations:

  • Un fleuve – large river
  • Une rivière – small river
  • Un ruisseau – stream

So the reason this has come up is that it is the end of the summer and one of the main goals of Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, is for people to be able to swim in the Seine.

Yes, in that large natural flowing body of water, so abundant a tributary it is defined in French as a ‘fleuve,’ and not a ‘rivière‘.

The key point to note here is that some of the swimming and triathlon events in next year’s Paris Olympics are meant to be held in the Seine, rather than a swimming pool. And the Olympics are only 11 months away.

Over 1.2 billion euros has been spent on this goal of cleaning the Seine for the Olympics, instead of building more swimming pools. (There are only 37 pools in Paris, so a few more wouldn’t have hurt.)

Well the current result is that the end of summer is here, and there has been no Seine-swimming (or Canal Saint Martin swimming) in sight. There were supposed to be some events held this past couple of weeks in August for triathletes to test out the water, but all of them have been cancelled due to “poor water conditions”.

Well the current result is that the end of summer is here, and there has been no Seine-swimming (or Canal Saint Martin swimming) in sight. There were supposed to be some events held this past couple of weeks in August for triathletes to test out the water, but all of them have been cancelled due to “poor water conditions”.

So you can imagine the uproar of all these cancellations and the money being spent on this, instead of just building a few traditional Olympic-size swimming pools. (Duh, it is too late to start building now!)

Swimmers in next year’s Olympics will have to try to compete in the Seine, dodging leftover debris from transport ships, commercial haulers and cruise ships, all the while hoping no one gets ill.

The Opening ceremony is also meant to be held as a parade along the Seine, so it is not like they can shut down water traffic for a week beforehand. The mayor’s office insists there is no Plan B, so get your popcorn ready.

Anyway, speaking of the Seine, have you heard French singer Vanessa Paradis and Sean Lennon’s song La Seine from the movie ‘A Monster in Paris’?

I hear the moon singing a tune
La Seine, La Seine, La Seine
Is she divine, Is it the wine
La Seine, La Seine, La Seine

La Seine – Vanessa Paradis

The song is currently stuck in my head after my kid came home singing it from day camp. Paradis has both a French and English version, so don’t hesitate to Youtube it!

In other news:

  • While the north of France has been quite cool this summer, the south has been sweltering. One French dad was so appalled that his newborn was in a Bordeaux hospital without air-conditioning during 37°C (99°F) temperatures, he made national news spending €400 to put in a mobile air-conditioner.
  • Education Nationale released a video featuring French children speaking English to mark the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. However, the video was pulled down within a day, after the government body noticed that they somehow managed to pick quite a non-diverse cast of kids.

And new in the blog:


Hall of Mirrors at Versailles: 16 facts and history

Get the facts about the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in France. From its history, interesting facts, famous treaties signed here, and more.

Hugh Capet, King of France: 11 Facts and history

Learn about Hugh Capet, the man who was elected King of the Franks and would go on to found the Capetian dynasty that ruled France for centuries.

Eggs in tomato sauce (Oeufs à la tomates)

Get the recipe for French oeufs à la tomates also known as Eggs in tomato sauce, for a provençal take on a herb-filled shakshuka.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Aa

    Actually, the difference between a fleuve and a rivière is that a fleuve flows to the sea whereqs a rivière flows to a fleuve or to another rivière. Not all fleuves in France are large rivers.

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