Ça me dépayse.

Ça me dépayse.

sahm day-pay-EEZ. Click below to hear this.*


It’s exotic.

Nathalie (La Délicatesse, again) is accustomed to “normal” French restaurants. So when Markus takes on on their first date to a Chinese restaurant, it’s a new experience for her. She looks around at the décor somewhat wide-eyed, and Markus asks if something is the matter. Ça me dépayse, she admits with an amused shrug.

Unless I am mistaken, Paris does not have a Chinatown like the ones in large American cities such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. The “foreign” restaurants tend to be from the former French colonies: Morocco, Vietnam, Algeria. So the little Chinese eatery Markus has chosen might well seem exotic.

At least that’s the translation chosen by the subtitle writer. Another possibility that I like is It’s disorienting, or I feel disoriented. Which makes for a nice pun, since being disoriented means that you can’t find the East.

I like the French word dépaysé, though. Loosely translated, it means I feel pulled out of my country. Transplanted, uprooted, turned loose in unfamiliar territory. It can happen to anyone, anywhere. It still happens to me occasionally in the town I’ve lived in for 20 years, because some of the main roads go diagonally and I like right angles: north, south, east, west.

As for pronunciation, the verb dépayser is formed from the noun le pays, which has two syllables, not just one: /pay-EE/. The letter y performs double duty. Its first function is to modify the pronunciation of the a from /ah/ to /ay/. Its second function is to form the second syllable, pronounced /ee/ as is usual for y when it is used as a vowel. So that exception to the rules must be maintained for the verb; otherwise it becomes unrecognizable.

*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file:

ca_me_depayse.mp3

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