Crib Sheet for a French Tryst

Heather Hartley

With February 14th comes longing, a surfeit of the color red, and why not, a sexy, perhaps clandestine rendezvous. The noun rendezvous sounds more slippery and mysterious than one of its well-worn, less salacious-sounding counterparts, date, and boasts a long history back to the sixteenth century with the early meaning “a location to group troops together.” Among a zillion other things, rendezvous has come into its own contemporary usage of “a chosen hot spot to meet,” and the French, with grace and subjunctively conjugated verbs, know just how to do this. Where would literature be without the sensual, plentiful rendezvous of Emma Bovary and Rodolphe? Marcel and the madeleine? Colette and her courtiers and courtesans? But wherever you may find yourself—Paris to Persia, Naples to Napoli—anyone can partake of a rendezvous.

And whether yours involves wingtips, nightcaps, smoke machines or none of the above, here’s a little lexicon to keep your dance card full:

le 5 à 7—the 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. In the hyphen of time between work and home are two lost, blissed out hours reserved for lovers.

une aventure—a fling. Found throughout history, not limited by peerage, demographics, or wireless carrier.

une liaison—often more noteworthy than une aventure, it can involve at least one breathless décolleté, a couple songs by Edith Piaf and a handful of furtive glances.

une affaire—among other things, a business deal, or a super good deal on something, not necessarily involving cost. Une affaire can be more sobering and less spicy than anything mentioned in the list above.

Mon Jules

mon jules—my boyfriend, my lover.

mon petit chou—literally my little cabbage, otherwise my dear little one.

ma mie—my inside part of the loaf of bread, or you may prefer the figurative version, my sweetheart.

ma puce—a motley choice of meanings including my thumb, my flea, my electronic chip or my sweetie, my darling.

mon lapin—my bunny, my dear.

poser un lapin—with this expression, you literally set a bunny rabbit down or figuratively stand someone up, depending on your mood.

la littérature rose—your rendezvous with erotica a la française.

You may prefer the more public barstool to the intimacy of the boudoir from 5:00 to 7:00, or a café to a cabaret, or dropping the rabbit altogether. These are just ideas, a little crib sheet that fits in the palm of your hand.

Heather Hartley is Paris editor at Tin House. She’s the author of Knock Knock, released by Carnegie Mellon University Press. Her poems and essays have appeared in or on PBS NewsHour, The Guardian, and elsewhere. She has been Co-Director of the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop literary festival and lives in Paris.