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This Junior Took 2 and a Half Semesters of French and Wants You to Know You're Pronouncing "Pret A Manger" Wrong


Photo by Zhangyang / CC BY-SA 3.0

Jack Stokes (W '19) was pleased when he heard that Pret A Manger, a popular chain of sandwich shops, would be replacing Huntsman Hall's Bridge Cafe this fall. Being from Manhattan, where the chain has more than a dozen locations, Jack was familiar with the fast-casual locale. And because he had taken 2 full semesters of French (he claims to have taken another semester, but admits he withdrew halfway through the course), he knew how to pronounce "Pret A Manger" like a true Parisian. But once he got to campus, his excitement faded to disappointment—not in the food, but in the students.

It all began when Jack ran into his ex-housemate on Locust during NSO. The two students exchanged pleasantries, briefly discussed their summer whereabouts, and agreed to "grab lunch next week." It was then that Jack's ex-housemate suggested they try out the university's new dining spot, erroneously pronouncing it "Pret Uh MANE-guhr." Jack, a francophile by virtue of the FREN courses on his transcript, was stunned. "Whoa, pal," Jack recalls saying to his ignorant friend, "it's actually pronounced 'Pray Ah Mahn-jay,'" taking special care to sound as pretentious as possible.

"I just remember thinking, 'Wow, for an Ivy League student, this guy is really not that smart,'" Jack says. "If I was that uncultured, I'd be embarrassed. But to be fair, I did work my way up to Intermediate French, so I have more experience than the average kid when it comes to this stuff."

He soon found that his ex-housemate was not the only untutored swine at Penn, clumsily mispronouncing even the most elementary French phrases. It seemed that everywhere Jack went, he encountered or otherwise overheard people fumbling the articulation of the sandwich shop's foreign moniker. "It was like déjà vu," Jack says, his left hand fluttering delicately, as if to tease the French expression from his lips. "It happened every single time someone brought it up. And every single time, I, being something of an expert in the French language, was obligated to correct them."

"It sounds crazy," he continued, "but having so much knowledge almost feels like a burden."