French Daisies

Septembre 8, 2023

French word: Le Fleuve

When is a river not a river? When it is a ‘fleuve’! Yes, today’s word 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 French friends will look at you in baffled bemusement if you try to call the grand 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”.

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.

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.

Aout 4, 2023