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Bombayed Underwear

From Makiko Suzuki, via the Internet :

Fujisawa:- Monday, 20. January 1997:-There are many French words imported into English, and vice versa; but they don't always have the same meanings. The other day when I was looking at the new bras and panties for the spring in a catalogue, I remembered a funny story from my Paris days.

My first visit to Paris was the end of my Sophomore year - in Japan the 'rentrée' starts in April, so the students have the 'vacances' from the end of January until the beginning of April - this is not a good season for the 'vacances.'

These days direct flights from Tokyo to Paris are common, but in 1977 students used to buy the cheapest flight tickets via the south. I myself got a ticket from Pakistan International Air to fly via Karachi. It was at the end of January when I left Tokyo for Paris.

The first stop of my plane was Beijing, China; so for me the first foreign country into which I took a step is China. In January it is very cold in Tokyo, but the coldness at Beijing was almost beyond imagining. It was so cold that the windshield of the cockpit was totally frozen, and we had to wait at Beijing for more than two hours until we could finally depart. When we arrived at Karachi, where I was to make the connection for Paris, the plane had already gone. I was obliged to take a plane for London, and then, finally after 36 hours 'en route' I got to Paris. Naturally, my suitcase was lost, but there were no valuable things in it.

A friend of mine, Hélène - for those who have read my previous article, she's the daughter of Pitz's owner - came to meet me at the air terminal at Invalides. She said she had managed to see a couple of films due to my delay.

There weren't any valuable things in my lost suitcase, but I definitely needed some underwear. I told her, and she took me the next day to 'Samaritaine,' a big department store in Paris.

It was at the entrance of this store that we had a horrible misunderstanding due to my little French knowledge - I studied it for two years, but I didn't have enough French vocabulary.

I needed bras and panties and I tried to explain this in French to her. I have 'reconstructed' our conversation below - our actual conversation was in French:

Hélène asked, "So what do you need to buy, Makiko?"

I replied, "First off, I would like a couple of brassieres."

Hélène said, "What? A 'brassiere?' Do you still wear one?"

"Sure," I replied, "Why - don't you wear one?"

"No, we don't wear them anymore," Hélène said.

I was confused, but I said, "Oh... but I would like a couple of them."

The flexible Hélène, "...Okay, we'll try to find one later. And, of course, you will need a couple of slips?"

"Oh, no, I don't wear one," I exclaimed.

"What?! Do you mean it? Don't you wear a slip?" demanded Hélène.

"No," I said, "Not me. My mother sometimes wears one, but I don't."

Hélène looked at me curiously.

We took 15 minutes to reach the cause of our misunderstanding. My French-Japanese / Japanese-French dictionary, in the lost suitcase, was no help.

I knew the English word 'bra' came from a French word 'brassiere,' but actually the French use the word 'soutien-gorge' instead of 'brassiere.' 'Brassiere' means either baby's clothes or a sort of an ancient corset which was used in the 18th century. On the other hand, a 'slip' in French means 'panties' in English. That's why I told her I didn't wear one. She could have had a very strange idea about Japanese women; guarding their breasts and waists with an old-fashioned corset, but wearing no panties.

For those who go to Paris from English-speaking countries, pay attention! You may use a lot of French words in your everyday conversation, but they don't always mean what you think.

Everyone Makes Mistakes

Dear Makiko,

Paris:-Friday, 24. January 1997:- The cross-migration of words from one language to another can indeed have odd consequences. I hope you've gotten your French-Japanese / Japanese-French dictionary back by now, or intend to get a new one before your next visit to Paris.

Just for fun - in addition to the fun I had looking for a suitable object for the photo - I looked up 'soutien-gorge' because, to my tin-ear, it sounds - off - too. I mean, 'throat-support,' what is that?

Like English, French can have words with multiple meanings, so while 'soutien' is generally supportive, 'gorge' can be either 'throat,' 'breast' or 'bosom' - now there's a word you don't hear often - or just like it sounds, 'gorge' as in valley or canyon.

While watching the silly end of the TV-news tonight, I was absolutely knocked out by the report and the video-clips from the Salon de la Lingerie. This 'professional' salon continues until Monday by the way - at Paris-Expo at the Porte de Versailles.

This is a salon where the manufacturers show off their latest creations of 'petits-dessous' and there is only way to truly show these little-nothings properly and that is with young ladies underneath them. With the way things are 'petit' these days, you get to see tiny glimpses of 'petits' and oodles of 'dessous.'

We have just been sitting through two weeks of TV-news reports about the fashion shows - some channels show them uncut and non-stop - but this must be the exclamation mark. Frankly, some of the high-fashion items look like they have no 'petits-dessous' at all; and judging by the numerous peep-holes and lacy frou-frous to see through, you are supposed to know there is nothing underneath.

Well, we all know that we all have nothing on underneath when it comes right down to it. You, me, the empress and Mrs. Murphy's cat are all the same underneath, except the cat is hairier.

Some weeks ago, the big-hats of French TV announced a 'rating system' of little icons that are supposed to show on the screen when something 'hot' is on. I don't see them putting these on the TV-news though. Oh, I shouldn't say that - I can't say I recall exactly what these ratings-logos look like - there's been so few of them, and so much need for them over the last little while.

Regards, Ric

Photo by Erickson of: La Perla©1997
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