August 22, 2004

The French and the Piraha

The Piraha aren't the only people with an unusual approach to numbers. In the French of Southern France there are some odd goings on too. The French franc was revalued by a factor of 100 in 1960. In the South (I don't know why, but this seems not to happened in the North) people continued to use Old Francs for some purposes, most notably for real estate and cars. A house listed for 40,000,000 F is actually selling for 400,000 NF I haven't been there in a while and don't know to what extent this is sitll the practice. Anyhow, one day twenty-some years ago I was walking with a friend on his farm in the Dordogne. The previous day I had lent his mother 100 NF. He said to me:

T'as prêté 10,000 balles à maman. [You lent Mother 10,000 francs.]

Je viens de t'en rendre 30. [I just gave you back 30 francs.]

Ça laisse 7,000 balles que nous te devons. [That leaves 7,000 francs that we owe you.]

10,000 OF
-   30 NF
 7,000 OF 

The generalization seems to be that Old Francs are used for larger sums, with the boundary somewhere between 30 and 70.

Posted by Bill Poser at August 22, 2004 05:45 AM