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Face-to-face with "la face"

In his new travel video on the Parisian suburb of Saint-Mammès, Daniel Benchimol uses the word face quite frequently when giving directions on getting around town:  

Face aux péniches de Saint-Mammès, arrêtez-vous quelques instants face au numéro quarante-et-un.

Facing the barges of Saint-Mammès, stop for a few minutes in front of number forty-one.

Cap. 7-8, Voyage en France: Saint-Mammès

Face à Saint-Mammès, nous sommes à Saint Moret-sur-Loing maintenant.

Opposite Saint-Mammès, we are in Saint Moret-sur-Loing now. 

Cap. 39, Voyage en France: Saint-Mammès 

Face à is a useful expression meaning "facing," "in front of," or "opposite." You can even put the verb faire in front of it to make the verbal expression for "to face," in the sense of both "to be in front of" and "to cope with": 

La NASA a dû faire face à une avalanche de données et de preuves embarrassantes. 

NASA had to face an avalanche of data and embarrassing evidence. 

Cap. 7, La Conspiration d’Orion: Conspiration 3/4 - Part 3 

The word face is used in a number of other directional expressions, such as en face (across, opposite), as the lead singer of Babylon Circus uses it when lamenting the seating arrangement of him and his love interest: 

Je suis assis en face, et pas à tes côtés

I’m sitting across from you and not by your side

Cap. 23, Babylon Circus: J’aurais bien voulu

They might not be sitting close, but at least they’re maintaining eye contact by sitting face à face (face-to-face)!

Unsurprisingly, the French face is related to the English "face," but it usually doesn’t refer to the front part of your head. French actually has two words for that: la figure and le visage. (To see some incredible French faces, check out our interview with artist and master visage-painter Niko de La Faye.)

Sometimes face can in fact mean "face," mainly in a figurative sense: 

Ça change pas la face du monde, mais qui sait? 

That doesn’t change the face of the world, but who knows? 

Cap. 26, Le Journal: Laurent Voulzy 

Il peut voir la face cachée des choses.

He is able to see the hidden face of things. 

If you're particularly concerned about your reputation, you might make a lot of effort to sauver la face (save face) or worry that you might perdre la face (lose face). 

By itself, la face generally just means "side" (synonymous with le côté). Chef Wodling Gwennaël uses face in this way when explaining his delicious recipe for fried scallops: 

On va les saisir à peu près une minute sur chaque face.

We’re going to sear them for about one minute on each side.

Cap. 14, Les Irrésistibles: Recette - Saint-Jacques poêlées

Face also applies to the side of a coin, namely, the "heads" side (that is, the side that usually features someone's face). So whenever you want to settle something in French with a coin toss, you can say: 

Pile ou face

Heads or tails?

Voyons les choses en face (let’s face it): the word face has many faces! In other "face"-related news, make sure to check out our Facebook page for all the latest information from Yabla. 

 

Vocabulary

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