Mad Men’s “Zou Bisou Bisou”

Gillian Hills

Mad Men’s “Zou Bisou Bisou”

By Patricia Tennison

Le seminar de Paris Cafe Writing en juin est complet. That’s easy to read: The June seminar is filled.

The Paris writing sessions are in English, but in France we are surrounded by ... French. So let’s take a closer look. It’s pretty easy to translate that first sentence into English but for a non-native French speaker making subtle word choices can be tricky.

Take the English words “filled” or “full.”

In high school French class many of us learned that if you’re full and don’t want any more to eat, you don’t say Je suis pleine (literally: I am full) because that actually translates to—giggle, giggle—“I am pregnant.” (More specifically, I am a pregnant animal. A pregnant woman is enceinte.)

Two correct phrases when you’re full and don’t want more, say, boeuf bourguignon, are J’ai trop mangé  or Je n’en peux plus.

And French is filled with pitfalls:

a filled-out form = un document rempli
filled pastries =  les gâteaux fourrés
two filled teeth = deux dents plombées
a sun-filled room = une pièce ensoleillé

A New French School in Chicago

Although I’m pretty comfortable now with my French language skills, I still take occasional classes while in Chicago. (I prefer to do that fine-tuning in Chicago. When I am in Paris, well, the curtain’s up and I just go with what I have.) The standard solution for classes around the U.S. is the Alliance Française, where I have taken classes and even volunteered in the library.

Luckily, however, my favorite teacher from the Alliance Française has just opened his own school here in Chicago. Erwan Sorel is the best, a superb and charming teacher. Two hours fly by in a group conversation class with a little glass of wine, plenty of talking en français, and lots of tips not necessarily in the textbook.

So polish up your own French. At Erwan’s new L’École Française in the Lakeview neighborhood, you get a placement test then select classes from beginners to advanced. Call 773-857-1322 or go to

For example, I just learned from Erwan last week that when the French want to start a sentence with “because” they never use the very common word parce-que. Instead, they might use comme or puisque: Comme je travaille ... or Puisque je travaille ...  I didn’t know that.

And it’s the same with the word  “also.” The French don’t start a sentence with aussi. Instead, they might choose de plus or en plus.


However, even Erwan could not save me from a recent faux pas. This time the mistake was a listening error.

I had just purchased a lovely bottle of perfume in Paris, and while we were chatting, the sales clerk said, “Des champignons pour vous,” as she dropped several perfume samples into my sac.

That was charming: both the free samples and the use of champignon, the word for “mushrooms.” The samples must mushroom into more business, right? A little French slip into capitalism.

That night I was visiting a French friend and I shared my gifts with her.

“Pour toi, des champignons,” I said, practicing my new phrase.

She stared at me, then broke into laughter. “Des échantillons! É-c-h-a-n-t-i-l-l-o-n-s! ”

A sample, échantillon, of the ever-allusive French language.

Sing a song of 'Mad Men'

Remember the “Zou Bisou Bisou” song that Megan sings to Don Draper in the recent Mad Men TV episode? Gillian Hills, a Ye Ye singer from the ’60s, recorded the song in 1962. It’s a kick. To hear and see Gillian sing the song, click here:

The photos: From the left, des champignons ; French ‘60s singer Gillian Hills; Paris Café Writing participant Toni, starting her morning at a little cafe in the Marais.

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