Home, Sweet Home…

There’s no place like home.

While we are all sitting at home, confined inside our houses and apartments, it is a good time to think about the meaning of the word “home” and how it differs from “house”.  What does it really mean?  How many definitions are there and which, if any, is most accurate or correct?  Does every language have an equivalent, or even a different designation for house and home?  It was recently brought to my attention that in French this distinction can be made. For house, there is maison (which could also be home) or even domicile; otherwise there is foyer for home, but the usage is very specific and is a word that also refers to the hearth, or fireplace, words often used metaphorically for the warmth of the home.

Home is where the hearth is.
Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Yet my question is really whether people think of the two words, house and home, differently or use them interchangeably without considering even a nuanced difference.  For me, a house is simply where you lay your head at night, but a home is something more abstract.  It is a feeling, or maybe even an ambiance.  For some people it may be where they were born, spent their formative years, where they had their first memories, where their family is now, or anywhere that their family currently is, or even any place that they are currently living.  They may go “home” for the holidays, to their childhood home, for example. However, if their parents moved somewhere, would they then have two homes? If not, would the new house be their new home, or would the old one forever be home and the new one just where their parents are now?  How do they choose? My family has moved 5 times since I was born, and my “home” is none of those places.  I do not have a single memory of the place where I was born, and the place where I spent my first 15 years in school is not special to me.   

How does a person feel when he is home? Does he have a different feeling when he is elsewhere?  If a person goes on vacation or goes to visit friends, does he have a different feeling in those places?  What can a person do to make the place where he lives feel “homey”?  For me, home is a place that I have chosen because it is a place where I have found myself to be most comfortable.  It is a place where I can be myself, where I am free to express myself, where everyone is so open about who they are that no one person stands out. It is a place welcome to all manners of lifestyle, and has been so throughout its entire history, so this welcoming attitude is really built into the fiber of the city, as if part of its “cultural genetics”.

This home of mine is a place that embraces three of the things I value most, food, community, and leisure. Food is celebration, as is evidenced by the fact that all of our festivals here involve, or even feature, food.  There are countless food festivals here, too many to mention, and we have nearly run out of weekends in the year for them.  We have a caring, warm, embracing community here. Neighbors speak to each other, look out for each other, smile sincerely and warmly as if they have known each other all their lives.  Shopkeepers remember their customers, remember their orders, say hi and even learn their names.  I have never felt so important as a customer anywhere else but here.  

As for leisure, it is a way of life, nay, it is an art form in this town.  We must move slowly here, being just too hot and soupy most of the year to bother being in a rush. It feels sometimes like walking through a pool of water thigh-high, my legs heavy and slow.  Yet, what is the rush? Our goal is to enjoy life, to the fullest, and our festivals are evidence of that, not many lasting less than an entire weekend.  Our meal times are an event.  I once spent 3.5 hours at a table in a restaurant.  We had long finished eating, but were too busy enjoying the conversation and finishing wine to realize the time that had passed.  That is the point.  The waiter never pressured us to finish our meal either.  

My porch with a book and coffee!

The pace of life is exceptionally slower here than other places I have been, like Tokyo or Paris, where I often felt pushed along with the current, adrift on a sea of people. The frenetic pace of cities like that was dizzying and left me feeling wind-blown.  Only after leaving Tokyo, 30 minutes into my train ride home and over two rivers, did I feel as if I could breathe again.  Where is everyone going in such a hurry?  For us here in the deep South, here in soulful New Orleans, porch-sitting is a local pastime.  I often sit on my porch, occasionally talk to neighbors walking by, watch the birds, breathe the banana-infused, Magnolia-soaked air, while reading a book with a nice hot cup of coffee next to me, letting the time slip by. I dreamt of that one day.  When I awoke, I smiled and said, “Yes, that is it. That is what I want.”  That is what home feels like to me.


I would love to hear your contributions!  Make a comment below and tell me what home means to you.

Louisiana English à la française!

Here in New Orleans we have a very particular way of life, from our mannerisms, customs to even our way of talking. Some of our expressions may seem bizarre or even foreign to those outside of the city.  Because of my long experience studying French, I have slowly come to realize that the reason for this must be the French influence on the city. Some of these expressions seem to be a direct translation of the French, and the locals using these expressions may not even be aware of it. I have in fact pointed this out to some of my students who seem genuinely surprised that the expression in French is more or less exactly what we say here in English. This could possibly be explained by the fact that generations separate the native French speaking inhabitants from the citizens of Louisiana today. French was officially banned from public schools and government buildings in 1916. It took awhile for English to take over and during that time, many French speakers were probably translating.

Joan of Arc Maid of Orleans in the French Quarter, gift from France
Photo by Morgan Hjelm on Unsplash

In Louisiana, for example, a popular expression is “making groceries”.  It is what we do if we go grocery shopping, yet no one else in America will “make groceries” when going out shopping.  This is easily explained by the fact that faire les courses in French is “to do errands or go shopping” because faire in French is both “make or do”.  

However, there are many more examples than that, especially involving the verb passer, to pass or spend.  Here you will often hear people say they “pass a good time”, not the more common “have a good time”, most probably because the expression in French is almost exactly the same, passer un bon moment.  They might also say variations, like passer un bon week-end, passer une bonne soirée.  People here might also “pass by your house”, meaning to come see you.  This too is a literal translation of the expression passer te voir (come to see you).  In other uses for the verb passer, people in Louisiana will also “pass the vacuum” when cleaning the house, which seems to come directly from the expression in French passer l’aspirateur.

One final “frenchified” way of speaking that is common in Louisiana is the use of pronouns, especially repeated ones for emphasis.  It is very common to hear people say things like “Me, I like it me.” As in, “I like me some gumbo, me”, or even “Him and me, we go there often.”  I suspect that this is a hold-over from French which is a language that uses repeated words, not vocal stress, to emphasize words or to clarify who the subject is. Therefore, the French might say, “Moi, je l’aime bien.” (Me, I like it/him a lot.) Or “Lui et moi, nous y allons souvent.” (Literally “him and me”, in order to say “he and I, we go there often.”)

Finally, a very unique Louisiana term that we use here is banquette, which is used to refer to the sidewalks here, where the French would use the more modern term trottoir, meaning pavement.  This may seem like a uniquely Louisiana French term that the French outside of Louisiana do not use at all.  There are quite a few of those examples as well. However, this is a very different situation, as it is more a case of 19th century French still being used in New Orleans.  In my 1877 edition of a French-English dictionary from Cassell & Co., a banquette was a “footway of a road”.  That would actually make a lot of sense for its day, since sidewalks were not paved in New Orleans at the time. It was more likely a slightly raised side of the road alongside of the houses.  

There may be many more examples of this that I have not yet come across. I do believe that our French roots run deep here, and that while French was almost wiped out here one hundred years ago, it never really went away.  It went underground for a while and has reemerged stronger than ever. French words are a part of our daily lives, in the naming of streets, buildings, magazines, foods, shops, social organizations and so on. Additionally, much of that French-ness is also a part of the way we express ourselves, even while in English.  

This is a work in progress, so stay posted to receive updates to this article. If anyone has more expressions to share, I would love to read your comments below.