Pomiers calenderWe had a visit from les pompiers this weekend. Tout va bien — they were on their annual fund-raising tour. Every January, they come around selling their calendriers. This is an easy word to remember because it is similar to English. Not so Agenda. This is also similar to an English word, just not the right one. Not long into my first job in a French-speaking environment, the secretary popped her head around the door and asked if I would like un agenda. Since I was unaware of any meetings I was expected to attend, I thanked her and declined. It was not a question to which she was expecting a reply, or certainly not in the negative.
‘I’ll give you one anyway,’ she said, placing a sizeable leather-bound business diary on my desk.
My small donation to les sapeurs-pompiers de Lanouaille would not get me such a weighty volume, but la calendrier is helpful for the numbers on the back. Everyone in France should have them branded into their memory: 18 Pompiers, 17 Gendarmerie, 15 Samu. Fire, police, ambulance. I hope you never need to call them.
Where did the French name for a firefighter come from? Pompiers is easy to guess as they pump water onto fires. Sapeurs is a historical legacy from Napoleon I. The first fire brigade (in Paris, of course) was a military brigade of sapeurs, from which the English got sapper. The Paris Fire Brigade is still a military unit under the army’s command.
It will not have escaped your notice that the Olympic Games are being held in France this year. Our pompiers had a lot of fun posing for le calendrier. My favourite is July, which features synchronised swimming!

  • Les pompiers firefighters.
  • Tout va bien Everything’s fine.
  • Un calendrier A calender.
  • Un agenda A diary
  • La gendarmerie The police station
  • SAMU (Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente) Ambulance service