Lately my favorite question to ask French people is Comment dit-on ‘awkward‘ en Francais?* It all started a couple weeks ago at a dinner party between two Americans and three French people. I’m not sure how it came up, but Zoe, the other American and myself kept coming back to the subject, because as far as we’re concerned “awkward” is an extremely important word in the English language and we were determined to figure out a proper translation. C’est ‘bizarre’, we got in response, but were far from satisfied. If one is to go on a “bizarre” date, still it is far from a truly “awkward” date. And take characters like Napoleon Dynamite – he’s far more awkward than bizarre. A distinction must be made.
So I continued the discussion later last week when having lunch with two dear old French friends. Étranger was the first word to come to their mind. But in my mind, that translates to “strange.” To be awkward may entail being strange, but still I am an étrangère in Paris, and thus the essence of foreigner doesn’t cut it either.
As my quest to define “awkward” in French continues, I’m starting to wonder if the word really even exists here at all. Nearly every French person is impeccably dressed (or at least classically dressed). I hardly see any awkward teenagers here the way I do in the US, with bad skin, hair that needs a little TLC, and uncomfortable body language that screams “awkward”!!! So perhaps beyond translation, I’m off to discover if the French even know what it is to be awkward…
[Note: The images above from awkwardfamilyphotos.com represent exactly the issue I seek to define.]
*Comment dit-on [en Francais] translates to “how do you say…?”