My French isn’t that bad, then

French, as I have often remarked on these pages, is fiendishly difficult. It’s a far more precise language than English, so if you use a word that’s slightly wrong or a grammatical construction that is less than perfect, you risk being misunderstood. However, something nice happened to me this week, which shows that years of French lessons and 14 years’ sojourn in France have not been completely wasted.

Up till a few years ago, there was a national contest held every year to find the people in France who mastered French grammar the best. The contest was discontinued, but a publishing house has revived it this year. Entitled Les Timbrés de l’Orthographe, La Poste sponsors it. The writer Philippe Delerm is the patron and president of the jury. Do read his La Première Gorgée de Bière, if you haven’t already. It’s a collection of vignettes about the pleasures of everyday things, written in exquisitely precise French. 

To enter the contest, you didn’t need to be French, but had to have your permanent residence in France on 1st January 2010. You had to answer 30 questions about the French language and grammar and then send in the answers either by post or on the Internet. I decided to have a go, for fun. The qualifying contest closed on 15th January. Not having heard anything, I assumed that I had failed. Not so.

Yesterday, I received an email informing me that nearly 20,000 people had entered. 10,000 of those are going through to the regional finals in April and I’m one of them! After that, 500 finalists will battle it out in Paris in June for the title. The regional finals consist of further questions about French language/grammar and a fiendish dictation devised by Philippe Delerm.

I realise that my chances of getting beyond the regional finals are roughly equivalent to those of an ice cube in Hell. However, I was rather chuffed to have got this far (and presumably to have beaten a few French people at their own language) and am determined to enjoy it. There’s no chance of taking grammar books or dictionaries into the exam room, so I’m going to have to do a lot of mugging up before April.

Anyway, boast over. I do, however, have some other nice news about my blog, which I received today. I’m going to save that for Monday, which is this blog’s first birthday and coincides happily with Valentine’s Day. Come back on Monday and all will be revealed.

Copyright © 2011 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved


  1. Dear Vanessa,
    An American, I have been living in for the last 21 years. I applaud your success as the intricacies of French grammar are notoriously difficult. BIen fait!


    • Hello, Tom. Thank you for your nice comment. I don’t think I covered myself with glory at the regional final, but was content to have got that far. Some days the French flows, others it doesn’t – c’est la vie. I presume you also live in France – there’s a word missing from your comment.


  2. Congratulations….that is one fabulous achievement… As a fellow expat…I am mighty proud of you because I know just how hard that grammar is…xv


    • Thanks so much, Vicki. I hope I don’t come across as too boastful about it. I feel I am carrying a torch for all us expats here.


    • Thanks very much, Bittan. I’m sure I won’t get any further than this, but I’m very happy to have got this far.
      I hope you’re well.
      Love, Vanessa x


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