French Language Blog

La Cheminée Posted by on Dec 7, 2015 in Vocabulary

This time of year in New York, as the temperatures drop, our best friend is…the fireplace! In our house, we have a wood-burning stove so its not just for decorative purposes, it also provides heat in the house. (We still have the heat on, but keep it on low. Our converted fireplace pushes out hot air and effectively heats most of the house.)

In French, the word for “fireplace” is la cheminée. La cheminée comes from the Latin word caminus, which means furnace or forge. La cheminée doesn’t just refer to the chimney (which is called la souche),  but to the fireplace as well as a result of modern French usage. Another word for the fireplace is l’âtre, which literally means “the hearth.” Normally, we burn les bûches (logs) or le petit bois (kindling) in the fireplace.

In 2014, the Paris préfecture had decided to make any wood-burning fireplace illegal due to fears over pollution (Paris has recently been dealing with the highest air pollution levels in Europe). The new law making the use of open-foyer fireplaces illegal within Paris was set to go into effect on January 1, 2015. But, following a public outcry, the law was canceled. According to a December 2014 article, the minister of Ecology, Ségolène Royal stated, «Il faut être un peu raisonnable. Je ne suis pas favorable à une société des interdictions. Celle-ci paraît excessive. Je suis pour qu’on encourage les gens à prendre conscience de la pollution mais (…) je ne veux pas que ce soit par une décision trop schématique, un peu absurde.»

But it’s not just a question of liberty, Royal stated, but the official data on pollution caused by fireplaces is, according to her, “complètement faux.” Not everyone agrees, however. Many environmental agencies say that the data is correct and that the proposed bill was not successful because of vociferous public opinion against it–and not because of false data. An environmental group called La Direction régionale et interdépartementale de l’environnement et de l’énergie (La Driee) states that « Le chauffage au bois en foyer ouvert contribue à hauteur de 23 % des émissions totales de PM10 (particules fines d’un diamètre inférieur à 10 microns) en Ile-de-France, soit autant que les échappements de véhicules routiers. »

According to Le Parisien, this means is the equivalent of “une demi-journée passée au coin d’un feu émettrait autant de particules fines qu’une voiture diesel qui roulerait pendant 3 500 km.”

Our converted fireplace has an insert, which means it is not considered une cheminée foyer ouvert, as designated by the French government, and the law would only have applied to fireplaces without any insert or covering. What do you think about this? Do you think the law should have been passed, or was it rightly canceled?

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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!