French Language Blog

Living in a Box Posted by on Apr 19, 2016 in Culture, Music, Vocabulary

Ok, I’ve never actually lived in a box, but I have spent my fair share of time in one. You see, the French term for a night club or disco is “boîte de nuit” … and “boîte” is the French word for “box”! And even though I was only 16 when I first went to France, my host brother Fabrice was 20. And he and his friends would often take me out dancing on the weekends at one of the many “boîtes de nuit” scattered around Paris and the suburbs or even while we were on vacation ‘en Bretagne’.

I wasn’t much of a drinker*, but I did love to dance. And for my money, France has some of the catchiest, danciest music around. I didn’t understand the words, but I got the beat, and a noisy “boîte” was a great place to avoid conversations which were still hard for me and my limited French in the early days of my time in France.

En souvenir de ces jours (ou plutôt ces nuits!) heureux (As a reminder of those happy days (or nights!)), I’ve selected a couple of my favorites songs from then and now.

Tombe pour la France (Fallen for France) by Etienne Daho was at the top of the charts in July 1985 when I first got to France. It was the first French song I fell in love with, and it’s still one of my favorites. It’s very much a product of its time!


Les Rita Mitsouko had many hits in the 80’s. C’est comme ça (That’s how it is) is pop fun with an equally colorful video.

Et Alors! by Shy’m is a more contemporary take. I first heard this song during a 2012 trip to Paris and it has since found a permanent place on my play list.  (The expression “et alors!” is an interjection that might be translated in English as “And . . . ?”, or “So what!”,  or even “What’s it to you / what business is it of yours?”)

Mika is an artist who sings in English as well as French. When you hear “what she tells me” (Elle me dit . . . ) you’ll know why this song makes my list of great “danse” (dance) songs. [The French ‘actrice’ (actress) Fanny Ardant appears in this video as the woman in the red dress.]

Over the years, Fabrice and I and our friends had a number of memorable nights out on the town, including one epic night where we went to not one, not two, but three different ‘boîtes’ after watching the “défilé (parade) and “feu d’artifice” (fireworks) on the Champs-Elysées commemorating France’s “bicentennaire” (bicentennial) in ‘juillet’ (July), 1989. As the sun came up the next morning, we ended up back where we started, on the Champs-Elysées, for “des croissants et du chocolat chaud” (croissants and hot chocolate) at a café that was just opening its doors for the day, exhausted but happy.

Vocabulary Primer

boîte de nuit – night club, disco

la chanson – song

chanter – to sing (je chante, tu chantes, il/elle/on chante, nous chantons, vous chantez, ils/elles chantent)

le chanteur / la chanteuse –  the singer

danser – to danse (je danse, tu danses, il/elle/on danse, nous dansons, vous dansez, ils/elles dansent)

le groupe / un groupe de musique –  the band / a musical group

la musique – music


* Even though I was only 16 and the drinking age in France is 18, many places – then and now – don’t ask for ID for anyone who seems more-or-less of age.


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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Since my first trip to France at 16, I have been a passionate francophile. I love the language, food, music, art, people, and more that make France and la Francophonie in general such an amazing part of our global community. Having lived in France and studied the language and culture for over 35 years, it is my great pleasure to be able to share a little bit of my deep love with you through this blog.