The Sex-Pat: When You Need Subtitles for Your Sex Life

Dating is complex enough when you and your partner do speak the same language. When you’re naked and not bi-lingual, things get interesting.

“Jeveuxtekhfsklajfhlsdkjfhks,” he whispered into my ear.

I inhaled the scent of his skin. His hair grazed across my cheek as he kissed softly down my neck.

“Mmhmm,” I answered.

“Toncuuuuulmondieu! Je vais -kjdljaslaskdhak-une fessée-kjdhfkslajdhflsk,” he went on.

“Mmmhmm,” I said again as he unzipped my dress, pulled it off and pushed me onto the bed.

He looked at me for a moment and instructed me to stand up on the bed.

I did, happy to show off my new lingerie – thigh highs, garter belt and all. French lingerie costs a fortune but enhances the body, mind and soul. Slowly I began to slide my bra straps off my shoulders. We stared at each other, heartbeats setting the rhythm of the room. I waited to see what his next move would be. He narrowed his gaze, took a step towards the bed and… said something about beets.




Beets? Why beets?

He licked his lips and nodded towards me. “Tourne-toi” (turn around), he said.

I did.

Okay but wait, seriously, what the fuck was that comment?

By Rowena Waack (Flickr Creative Commons)

By Rowena Waack (Flickr Creative Commons)

I turned back around and squinted at him, as if that would help a French word to register in my mind or for him to explain himself in English. Neither happened.

“Beets?” I asked.

He burst out laughing. Then he came over to the bed, swept me back down, took my hand and put it over his pants. “Une bite, mon amour.”




But hold on.

I repeated the words to him to make sure I got it right. “Une bite?”

He nodded.

“Why is it “une” bite? It’s a di- why would it be “une” not “un”?”

(For all of you non-French speakers out there, “une” is a feminine article, “un” is the masculine article.)

“Chérie, je ne sais pas. I did not make ze language,” he replied, beginning to unbuckle his own belt sensing my imminent preoccupation. (#DatingWriters/EditorsProblems)

“It just doesn’t – like, logically, that doesn’t make sense,” I sat up, annoyed at this nonsensical grammar.

By Rowena Waack (Flickr Creative Commons)

By Rowena Waack (Flickr Creative Commons)

The French language has a way of assigning genders to inanimate objects (une chaise – a [female] chair, un livre – a [masculine] book) but, the purpose of a penis is to be animate…at least as it pertains to its biological purpose…I am digressing, but it is attached to a man – you all know what I am saying.

“Can we discuss zis later, papillon?” he asked, now taking off his own shirt.

I said fine. Even though he called me a fucking butterfly again.

He got on top of me and started kissing down my body.

“Asdjwerlkjdsfadslkfj pour moi,” he said, lips at my naval, eyes locked on mine.

I smiled at him and closed my eyes. No idea what he said, but sure, mec.

“Asdjwerlkjdsfadslkfj pour moi,” he repeated.

I ran my hands through his hair. Whatever buddy, if you’re happy I’m happy.

“Asdjwerlkjdsfadslkfj pour moi?” he said again.

Wait. That was a question. Was that an inflection? That was definitely an inflection. Shit

I opened my eyes. His face was close to where it needed to be, but alas he was waiting for me to respond to whatever the hell he just said. I wasn’t sure what to do so I just smiled at him coyly, hoping my silence would make me seem mysterious instead of “special”.

“Putain, leschosesquejeteferaiàtoi- kjashdkrtyryrtyrsajhd?”

He raised his eyebrow mischievously, waiting for another reply.

I tried to decipher what he’d just said, but it wasn’t happening. He opened his mouth to say something else and out of sheer panic, I pulled his face back up to mine and kissed him passionately so he couldn’t say anything else.

Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Jordan Nadler, I live in Paris and I don’t speak French well.

The problem with the French language is that everything sounds beautiful and romantic

Dating is hard enough when you can understand everything your partner is saying. Dating-while-foreign comes with its own set of challenges, including but not limited to not knowing what the hell is being said to you while you are naked on top of or under somebody.

Sometimes that’s sexy. Sometimes it is in those most intimate and vulnerable of moments you remember how far from home you are; the adventure you are in, the craving you had to experience life through a completely different lens. You feel your foreignness – and his (or hers, or theirs, whatever you’re into) – and relish in it.

But sometimes you just want to lose yourself in the moment and you can’t do that it you’re more focused on trying to understand his reflexive pronouns than the fact that he can flick his tongue like an anaconda on 50mg of adderall.

The problem with the French language is that everything sounds beautiful and romantic, and every sentence sounds like one long melodic word. Especially when the person’s face is buried in your neck or elsewhere. No matter what they say, it sounds like you’re elegantly being courted. There are disgusting idioms in French that still sound like you are having a respectful, quaint exchange with a civilized human being. It took me months of his consistent dirty-talk before I realized what a [fun] filthy, lunatic I was dating.

There were times during Skype-sex that I legitimately had to have Google Translate open

A few months into our relationship, his job began to take him out of town, so we had to take things online from time to time. The lack of physical contact turned him into some kind of prurient savant. There were times during Skype-sex that I legitimately had to have Google Translate open. At one point I was sure he was going to trigger some DGSE (French intelligence) software somewhere based on all the words he was using to describe what he wanted to do to my “chatte”. PSA: “Chatte” is an entirely different word than “chat” – a cat – which I learned the hard way when I inadvertently told a group of people at a restaurant I had to leave my pussy back in America and missed it terribly.

The relationship didn’t last but he set me up for the following few years in Paris, such as when an Uber driver texted me this from the front of our locked car:


“Je voudrais venir t’arracher un bon baiser,” translates roughly into, “I would like to come snatch a good kiss from you.” However, the word “baiser” by itself means “to fuck” – one of the first sex terms French Dirty Harry taught me. So, as I sat locked in homeboy uber driver’s car as we drove down the Quai D’Orsay for the following ten minutes I was under the assumption he had just written me that he wanted to come back there and give me a good fucking. I immediately screenshotted the message and sent it to my French friends to find out just how dangerous a situation I was in, but it turned out to be only mildly horrifyingly inappropriate.

Dirty talk, in any language, comes at different levels and through the filter of personal preference. I once dated a German guy who had a childlike glee about him whenever he’d use the word “fuck” in bed and found that it did not mortally wound my soul. According to him, a German man would never casually use profanity in bed with a German woman. I cannot verify this, as I have never been a sexually active [or inactive] German woman. (However this German man did teach me a French term…bifle…which I will let you look up yourselves.) And yet I briefly dated an American Marine in Paris who once texted me something so filthy in the middle of the afternoon that I stopped in my tracks while crossing a street and nearly got hit by a car.

Try to imagine a scene in which Betty-Joe from Mississippi starts getting it on with her boyfriend, Billy-Bob but will only speak dirty to him in Spanish

What struck me as so weird is that I have a couple of French girl friends here in Paris who have confided that they never talk dirty to their [also French] boyfriends *in French* but would in English. It feels less crass to them that way. This would just never happen in the States! Try to imagine a scene in which Betty-Joe from Mississippi starts getting it on with her boyfriend, Billy-Bob but will only speak dirty to him in Spanish in order to keep up appearances…

There are also lead-ups to sex that differ from culture to culture. The British will either be incredibly reserved/refined or they will be whatever the dead opposite of that is. Italian/Latin men will always display their peacock feathers if not physically follow you down the street yelling “Bellissimaaaa!” American men tend to be a bit more stoic but are still outgoing, and many Frenchmen purple-prose their way into women’s beds. Sometimes it is not even what is said, but the way in which a line is delivered.

“Who is my little bird?” he said. My French wasn’t good enough to reply: “I will fly the fuck away from you if you do this again”

Marina Khorosh, author of DbagDating.com, is a 30 year-old Russian-born New Yorker who recently moved back to Manhattan after living in Paris for years. She describes being on a date with a French guy in Paris who at one point turned to her and exclaimed, “Tu m’excites!” (You excite me!) “I started laughing,” she admitted. “I totally killed the mood. He then yelled at me and the magic was over.”

Symonne Torpy, a 26 year old Australian who has been living in Paris for the past few years recalls, “I had a couple of experience with Brazilian-French guys who would brag endlessly about their moves in bed. When I eventually slept with them (despite the bragging – that was a definite turn off), it was horribly formulaic. I guess I come from a culture (or maybe just a gender) that doesn’t valorise “moves”, and I found it bizarre that Brazilians would have this narrative in common.”

I had an ex in Paris who would relentlessly refer to me as his “little bird”. He would say it as if I was a child, while squeezing my cheeks, before usually following it up with something completely inappropriate. “Qui est ma petite oiseau?” (Who is my little bird?) he would ask after I’d say something funny or order a cocktail or breathe. Then he’d usually try to slide his hand up my dress. My French wasn’t good enough to reply, “I will fly the fuck away from you if you do this again,” but it also had me wondering who would want to fuck a “little bird”? Was that a Basque thing?


Dirty talk comes in all kinds of shapes, sizes and languages. I highly suggest if you are relocating to a foreign country, do some googling. Just know you’re in for a few surprises.

Survival guide

Here is an immediate survival guide for anglophones in France who are sounding-out their way through dirty talk. What To Expect When You’re Sexpecting.

Chat = Cat. The fluffy animal you watch videos of on Instagram and then tag your friends and siblings in so they can share in your joy. (Pronounced: “shaah”) DO NOT PRONOUNCE THE “T”. I repeat: Do. Not. Pronounce. The. “T”.

Chatte = Pussy. As in vagina. You may now pronounce the “t”.

Bite = Dick. (Pronounced, “Beet”) If you are naked with a guy and you hear him say “beet”, you may go ahead and assume he is not talking about root vegetables. You’re welcome.

Baiser = To fuck. (Pronounced “Bayszay”) But saying, “Baise-moi” (Fuck me) in French to French people is not thrown around as casually in bed as is sometimes the case with hookups in America…or at least the country of New York City from which I derive. It’s a bit more of an intense thing to say here.

Un baiser = A kiss. (Not, “a fucking”) Your Uber driver should still most definitely not be saying he wants to do this to you, though.

Une fessée = A spanking. (Prounounced: “Une fessay”) Fun all around.

Cul = Ass. (Prounounced kiiiiind of like: “Kew”) However the French word for “Neck” – “Cou” – sounds so annoyingly similar. “Cou” is pronounced more like “Coo”. So you have “Kew” with a barely there “w”, and “Coo”. You will probably fuck this up at some point, too. It’s fine. They’ll possibly find it endearing.

Photo courtesy of Rowena Waack (Flickr Creative Commons)

Jordan Nadler is a NYC writer/journalist who moved to Paris in search of creative fulfillment & better carbs. She can generally be found on the Left Bank w/ a glass of something in one hand and a pen in the other.