How the French have a different perception of time and what you need to understand

It's time you understood

Share Button

think it is fair to say that the French have a fairly ambivalent attitude towards time. Anyone who has held an office job here will know that a meeting scheduled for 9am rarely starts before 9:15, and any appointments with doctors and dentists are usually booked on the basis of what the medical secretary feels will work best in the professional’s diary. This is seldom what does work best, (funnily enough appointments can actually take a full 20 minutes or more) so you get used to expecting a long wait if you arrive for an appointment on time. While this can be infuriating if you are not used to it, the French seem to find this “normal”.

It is interesting that this notion of approximation carries over into the French language for certain expressions involving time. For example, the expression for a fortnight – as in two weeks, fourteen days – is in fact “quinze jours” or “une quinzaine”, meaning fifteen days. When it comes to telling someone about what happened last night the French will say “cette nuit” literally meaning this night, but when talking about what they are going to do tonight they also say “ce soir” – this evening.

However, in some instances the French are actually more precise in their use of expressions for time than you might expect. One example of this, (in my case, learnt the hard way), involves the use of the work “prochain” meaning “next”. In English, an appointment made for “next Thursday” means the Thursday of the following week. Here French speakers are actually more accurate than Anglophones because “jeudi prochain” literally means the next Thursday to come, which may be in the same week or even tomorrow. The same is true for the use of “dernier” meaning “last”, so “mardi dernier” means the last Tuesday that occurred, and not Tuesday of last week, as in English.

The use of “en” or “dans” is also a precise science when used to express time in French. “En une semaine” and “dans une semaine” do not mean exactly the same thing, even if both may be translated by “in a week”. “En une semaine” means it will take a week to do something, the duration will be one week, whereas “dans une semaine” means something will start in one week’s time.

I still haven’t found a satisfactory answer as to why delays are generally given at “dix jours” (rather than one or two weeks) for most purchases. I can only assume that this is to give suppliers more time to complete their orders, whilst still appearing to be a lowish count in terms of the number of days required.

There are many French expressions involving time, one of my favourites is “Ce n’est pas demain la veille” which literally means “tomorrow is not the day before [something]”, a rather elaborate way of saying that something won’t be happening soon. For instance, you might say that when it comes to understanding timekeeping in France “ce n’est pas demain la veille”

 

 

Rotating Ads

Place your ad here

Going out

Who the hell is Sugar Sammy? – That moment your wife tells you you’re going to see a French-speaking comedy in Paris

GOING OUT
Anglophones in Paris are fortunate to be able to enjoy a thriving English-speaking comedy scene, with regular stand-up nights across the city. Personally, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing most of these and have even [...]

Community News

COMMUNITY NEWS

360€ for 50 Hours Tuition!!! The Newest French Language School in Paris offers the most accessible rates

French language classes at Centre Zenith in the 20th arrondissement began on October 18th 2018. Founded by Sourav Choudhury, Centre Zenith brings experienced and native French speakers to the classroom where courses are explained with […]

Random Stories

Cover features

Just for Fun

interviews

Health

Family

Living

LIFE

Grumpy in Paris – 5 ways to beat the upcoming ‘winter blues’

Living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world has its many perks. A wealth of galleries, museums, delicious food, beautiful walks and a melodic language under no matter what context. But all pros have their cons and one of the lesser points of Paris these days is the ‘rentrée effect’ where people have come back from their holidays, said goodbye to summer and are now waiting for winter (even though we’ve only just hit autumn). Here are some ways to beat those winter blues and enjoy the colder season ahead … […]

Education

EDUCATION

INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS & RESEARCHERS: GET ANSWERS TO THEIR QUESTIONS AND PAPERWORK IN ONE SINGLE PLACE! WELCOME DESK PARIS 2018

FOR THE 16TH CONSECUTIVE YEAR, THE CITÉ INTERNATIONALE UNIVERSITAIRE DE PARIS HAS SET UP A MULTI-SERVICE WELCOME AREA FOR FOREIGN STUDENTS AND RESEARCHERS, FROM THE END OF AUGUST THROUGH NOVEMBER, WITH THE SUPPORT OF THE CITY […]

COMMUNITY NEWS

Non-Profit – The Paris Institute for Critical Thinking begin university quality courses in English

Paris is hard to beat for its cultural and intellectual vibrancy. But the city’s English-speaking inhabitants – whether from France or abroad — do not have many opportunities to employ the language in sophisticated intellectual […]

Use our IG hashtag #expatriatesmagazine - We print our favourites

Something is wrong.
Instagram token error.

Random Listing

  • Becoming Maman
    Becoming Maman, a comedy show about raising French kids one bilingual tantrum at a time. Amber and Sarah aren't French, but their children are.[Read more]