The first scholarship holders of the autumn are already in Grand-Popo, and it’s time to continue our course in Beninese French. So here are some phrases you hear really often after arriving to Villa Karo.
“Tu es en train?” (“You are [do]-ing?”) is a commonly asked question and related to the expression “Tu as fait un peu?” (“Have you done a little?”). Both refer to working, and can also be seen as compliments of just “doing something” in general. Georgette Singbe notes often that it’s common in Benin to try to avoid silences, and so the silence is broken for example by asking somebody if “they’re [do]-ing” – the same way a silence is broken in a dinner table by wishing others “bonne digestion”, because of course there is no point in wishing “bon appetit” if the meal is already finished. “Tu es en train?” is also interesting because it is weirdly missing its end, the part about the verb “faire” (“to do”): “the normal” way to ask would be “Tu es en train de faire…” plus something. But, the end is missing and because of this, the phrase is actually, literally saying something close to: “Are you in a train?”
“Pas de quoi!” (“It’s nothing”) is an everyday equivalent of “je vous en prie” (“You’re welcome”) which can be heard in Benin almost only in restaurants. We Finns find this phrase very cozy, since we also like to say, in a “negative” manner “Ei mitään” or “Eipä kestä” instead of “You’re welcome” or “Ole hyvä”. For some reason “De rien” (also “It’s nothing”) is not so often used in Benin, “Pas de quoi” is much more common.
And then there is “C’est gratuit!”, which means essentially the same thing as “Pas de quoi” and which can be funnily used also in situations which, in fact, are not free of charge (gratuit) at all, like in restaurants. “C’est gratuit” expresses the doers willingness to help: “it’s on the house” (even when it isn’t).
So here you go, pas de quoi, c’est gratuit! More is in a train, mera är på väg!