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Eight reasons Swiss-French is better than French-French

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Photo: Dylan Cantwell
12:29 CET+01:00
Swiss-German may be the dominant language in Switzerland, but with nearly a quarter of the population declaring French as their main language, there’s no shortage of people to celebrate the 21st annual French language week, which kicked off in Bern on Thursday.

The week is a lead-up to the International French-language Day on March 20th, created to commemorate the founding of the International Francophone Organization (OIF) on 20 March 1970.

Some 15 Swiss cities will celebrate the French language with lectures, film screenings, concerts, theatre and gastronomic activities.

And there’s plenty to celebrate. From Swiss people’s super-clear pronunciation to their much more straightforward way of saying any number over 70, there are many things the francophone Swiss could teach their neighbours over the border.

1. Numbers are so, so much easier

Enough with having to make a mental calculation before you can say 93 in French. While Parisians grapple with quatre-vingt-treize (four twenties and 13), the Swiss cut to the chase with nonante-trois (ninety-three). So follow their lead and scrap the French soixante-dix (70), quatre-vingt (80) and quatre-vingt-dix  (90) for septante, huitante, nonante.

2. Franglais works

The Swiss are partial to a spot of franglais, just like the rest of us. No need to garer your car in Switzerland, you can parquer instead.

3. They have a word for pint (or thereabouts)

Rather than ordering une grande bière, the Swiss have a handy word for a large beer, une chope, which refers to a 50-centilitre glass or tankard. Not that they ever use centilitres anyway – order your alcohol by the dl, or decilitre.


Photo: Quinn Dombrowski

4. You can look forward to things

Yet to devise a satisfactory way of saying they are looking forward to doing something, we can only conclude that the French don’t really look forward to much at all. But the Swiss do, employing je me rejouis de... to express their happiness at a forthcoming event.

5. You can order a coffee upside down

Well, not literally. But the Swiss word for a café au lait (a coffee with milk) is the cute renversé, which specifies that the milk should be put in first, much in the manner of old-fashioned English tea drinkers.

6. Service is service

Admittedly, service in Switzerland isn’t always the best, but while their actions may not be the quickest, politest or happiest, Swiss bartenders, shop workers and waiters are certainly quick and polite when it comes to acknowledging your merci. Instead of the ultra-formal French Je vous en prie, you’ll often hear the simple Service. Sometimes you even get a smile with it.

7. There’s nothing small about breakfast

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The Swiss don’t have a petit-déjeuner for breakfast but a full-on hearty déjeuner – which the French call lunch. Just to confuse those over the border a bit further, come to Switzerland for dîner and you’ll be having lunch not dinner, while a Swiss evening meal is closer to the British supper, souper. And if you’re in the countryside around tea time, you might just get invited for a quatre-heures, a sort of high tea at – you guessed it – 4pm.


Photo: Kate Hopkins

8. They speak clearly

Newcomers may not understand everything they say all the time, but at least you can hear the words. Unlike typical French mumbling, French-speaking Swiss speak noticeably more clearly. So while you may not know what a natel, a cornet or a carnotzet* are, you could probably spell them.
 

*a mobile phone, paper/plastic bag and a wine cellar

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