Voila, dude!

14 Apr

Merci Google Images

The longer I live in France, the more I see a melding of the American and French cultures. Even in the commercials, there is a lot of English used. I’m not sure if the French culture is aware to what degree, as they may think it is simply advertising speech or an unfamiliar French word that they have now learned. The same is happening in American culture as well with the French language. Some feel that this melding of cultures is dangerous while others think that it is a natural and welcomed evolution for both. Whatever your school of thought, things are changing. The world is becoming smaller and better connected through the amalgamation of movies, TV, streaming video/radio, social networking, podcasts, blogs, you name it. No surprises there, but it did get me thinking about language similarities between French and English.

For just one example, the French use the word voilà like Americans use the word, dude (It’s OK, I still say it too). It reminds me of the Rob Schneider skit where he compares the word ‘dude’ to ‘Aloha.’

When I first arrived in France, I heard people use voilà, as my dad would say, like it was ‘goin’ out of style’ (Southernese for ‘a lot’). People used it in so many ways, it took me a while to understand the differences. Voilà literally is a contraction of ‘voir’ (to see) and ‘la’ in this instance, meaning ‘there.’ In the US, it has more of a ‘presto’ connotation, which is also one of the French uses along with many others. Voilà can be used in the following ways as translated to English:

1) See there or it’s there.

2) That’s it!

3) There you go!

4) That’s obvious (should be obvious).

5) So be it (what can you do about it?) Somewhat futile situation, apathy.

6) You’re right.

7) You’ve got it! (the hang of it.)

8) A response to surprise or like presto

The word also comes equipped with a sound effect, similar to what we would call a ‘raspberry’ or dare I say, fake flatulence noise? Just for fun, try holding air in your mouth with your cheeks puffed out. Then, let the air out quickly to make the sound effect. To release the air quickly and to fine tune your sound effect, you can use your index finger and gently poke one of your air-filled cheeks to let just enough air out to sound authentic. My belle soeur (sister-in-law who is a French-speaking Belgian) is a pro at this and I credit her with the perfect technique. 

Literally, for the first 3 months, I simply learned the word used in all the appropriate scenarios and many French had no idea that I didn’t speak the language. It was the perfect answer when you have no answer! The word dude may be the closest thing to it, but I think it still may fall a bit short. Perhaps using a ‘what’s up’ as a compliment may get you closer to the meaning. So, Voilà (insert sound effect-ppbbtt) my friends, if you can understand the multiple usages of the word and master the technique of the sound effect afterward, you too can survive in France! As you can see, it really is an amazingly versatile word. Use it freely, just don’t forget the accent at the end, s’il vous plaît!


Posted by on April 14, 2011 in Daily life in France


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7 responses to “Voila, dude!

  1. wherewander

    April 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    When a new beginner English class starts, one of the icebreakers is to write down on the board the English words we use every day without noticing they are borrowed words. From the top of my mind, taxi, sandwich, sweater, for sale and there are many more!

    • expatriotgames

      April 14, 2011 at 1:23 pm

      Ah, good one! I’m a geek like that…love to learn how words come into being (linguistics, I suppose) and how they morph. Fascinating stuff, thanks for sharing. OH and have fun in the JUNGLE this w/e!!!

      • wherewander

        April 15, 2011 at 4:40 pm

        Thank you!! I´m leaving tomorrow morning. My flight from La Paz to Rurre got cancelled (small airline, no electronic tickets) so I guess I´ll be buying the tickets in La Paz and I´ll be there on Sunday. Cannot wait!!

        Happy to hear that you love that sort of stuff. Me too!! when I´m back, I´ll share some other funny stories with you!!!

  2. Michi

    April 14, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Hahaha, Spaniards totally blow the air out of their cheeks too. I never noticed I was doing it myself until my mom pointed it out when I went home for a visit.

    • expatriotgames

      April 14, 2011 at 2:09 pm

      Exactly! It’s contagious, isn’t it? Didn’t know they do that in Spain too, excellent! Do they also say, ‘vale’ for OK in your area? I heard that all the time and seemed to be another version of voila…Thanks for reading and adding your Spanish flair to the conversation!

  3. stracciastella

    April 14, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    Awesome post! It wasn’t until I read this that I noticed that I use “voilà” in so many situations as well! It’s just THE french word, right?
    When I first came to Switzerland and in school had to learn French, this was the only word I knew without having to learn it. (And also the famous “ça va?” of course, lol.)

    • expatriotgames

      April 15, 2011 at 8:42 am

      Hi Stella, you are so right (voilà)! And you read my mind on ‘ça va’, that could be another post, lol! Thanks for chiming in!


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