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Going Up – Escalators, Stairs, And Shelves In French Posted by on Aug 22, 2018 in Vocabulary

There are many everyday words that can slip by unnoticed in textbooks. Learning how to perfectly conjugate le subjonctif is important, but realizing you don’t know how to ask for les toilettes ou un tourneavis (the bathroom or a screwdriver) at the wrong time will lead to a difficult situation.

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under CC0.

Le métro (the subway) may sometimes have to deal with unusual obstacles or long delays, but it’s generally a very reliable and easy way to get around Paris. However, even if the task of riding le métro is relatively painless, it has led to memorable French lessons for me.

Un jour (one day), while changing stations avec mon ami (with a friend), le métro tested mon vocabulaire français (my French vocabulary). In the underground maze of stairs, escalators, and moving sidewalks I needed to navigate the hallways before successfully changing lines.

Making our way through the station, I realized we were heading in the wrong direction and wanted to tell mon ami. Le seul problème (the only problem): I needed to use the word escalator, but I didn’t know how to say it en français:

Regarde !
Quoi ?
Euh…. il faut aller là bas !
Où ?
Là bas où il y a un… une étagère mouvante ?
Une quoi ?
C’est comme une étagère, mais c’est automatique….
Quoi ?
Suis-moi !

Look!
What?
Uh… we need to go over there!
Where?
Over there where there’s a… a moving shelf?
A what?
It’s like a shelf, but it’s automatic….
What?
Follow me!

Mon ami was confused, but didn’t want to let me wander off on my own. Une fois (once) we arrived at the escalator the laughter started:

Un escalator !
Ah.. ouais c’est ça…. Il n’y a pas d’autre nom pour ça en français ?
Euh, tu peux dire un escalier mécanique, mais un escalator se dit aussi.
D’accord ! Merci !
Mais c’est bien un escalier mécanique ! Pas une étagère !

An escalator!
Ah… yeah that’s right…. There isn’t another word for that in French?
Uh, you can say mechanical stairs, but escalator is said as well.
Alright! Thanks!
But it’s mechanical stairs! Not a shelf!

I then realized I had made une faute (a mistake) when I first tried to say where we need to go. The words for stairs and shelf sound similar en français and I confused them when trying to explain un escalator!

Un escalier – Stairs
Une étagère – Shelf

By the time we reached the top of l’escalator, I was embarrassed from making such a silly faute, but knew I would not forget how to say it again. The whole exchange was a fun example of how thinking in English can sometimes help with new French vocabulary.

Au moins (at least), I didn’t mix up les genres des mots (the gender of the words)!

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About the Author: John Bauer

John Bauer is an enthusiast for all things language and travel. He currently lives in France where he's doing his Master's. John came to France four years ago knowing nothing about the language or the country, but through all the mistakes over the years, he's started figuring things out.