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  • Writer's pictureCarsten Sprotte

Déjà vu? Says who?

What you may not already know about the word "déjà"


The first French word on which I'll offer a finer focus is the very one that names the digital magazine :


D é j à



In spite of its wacky forward and backward accent marks, déjà is one of those few French words that are easily pronounced by anglophones, and even recognized by those who speak no French, thanks to its systematically mispronounced derivative expression déjà-vu that most certainly does not rhyme with me and you!

The meaning and usage of déjà depend on the context, of which there are about five.


1. Most commonly, the adverb can be translated to mean "already" or "sooner than expected." Il est déjà l’heure de partir ? = Is it already time to leave?


2. Close to that meaning, but slightly different, is the translation “before”. Tu as déjà visité Paris ? Non, jamais. = Have you ever been to Paris before ? No, never.


3. The translation “at least” may be closer in this context: On est tous encore en vie, c’est déjà ça. = At least we’re all still alive.


4. In spoken French you may hear déjà to mean “again”. On parlait de quoi, déjà ? = What were we talking about again?


5. In idiomatic French, you’ll hear déjà served up to mean something like “for starters”. Déjà, arrête de parler avec la bouche pleine ! = First of all, stop talking with your mouth full!


Finally, there’s the well-known déjà-vu, but this too has other meanings than the one English speakers expect, which is something already seen or experienced. Cette expérience lui semblait du déjà-vu. = The experience felt like déjà vu. The French also use the expression to mean that something is old, rehashed, or well-trodden. C’est du déjà vu, ce scénario. = That’s an old scenario. Before someone invented the noun form déjà-vu, there was the simple verb conjugation: J’ai déjà vu cette voiture quelque-part. = I’ve already seen that car somewhere.


Finally, there’s the well-known déjà-vu, but this too has other meanings than the one English speakers expect, which is something already seen or experienced. Cette expérience lui semblait du déjà-vu. = The experience felt like déjà vu. The French also use the expression to mean that something is old, rehashed, or well-trodden. C’est du déjà vu, ce scénario. = That’s an old scenario. Before someone invented the noun form déjà-vu, there was the simple verb conjugation: J’ai déjà vu cette voiture quelque-part. = I’ve already seen that car somewhere.


Déjà that you déjà in theory master the subtleties of déjà, here’s a true story.

Déjà-vu ?

I once invited a client to the sumptuous tea room at the Musée Jacquemart-Andrée (pictured to the right).

A waiter appeared, sooner than we expected, to remind everyone of the closing time. “Mesdames, Messieurs, le salon fermera dans quinze minutes.”

To which a client at the neighboring table exclaimed: “Déjà !?”

The waiter put on a rascal smile and replied: “Non, pas déjà. Dans quinze minutes !”

Now, even though this little poke of humor can be translated directly into English using the word always, I have a hard time imaging it so. Let’s give it a try. Waiter says “We’ll be closing in fifteen minutes.”

Client exclaims “ Already?!”

Waiter replies “No, not already, in fifteen minutes.”

Ha, ha. The reason I have a hard time imagining the scene in an anglophone environment is that the French have a peculiar proclivity to play on precise definitions.


Now that all this is clear, you may wonder what exact meaning I intend to give to the digital magazine called “Déjà” devoid of any context. It means “already” in the sense “sooner than expected.” Hence the subtitle : your new life in France is déjà as good as real!

 

If you’re contemplating a real French property purchase, know that the cultural subtleties are as important as the legal process. Don't try to do French real estate "the American way". Let yourself be guided by someone who masters French culture...and enjoy the learning process. Contact me at carsten@exquisitefrance.com

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