I’ve heard a lot of amusing stories about this one and as I explain more about this word you’ll see why. Préservatif is similar to the word preservative in English. Generally, when we ask if food has preservatives we’re referring to a chemical-based ingredient added to food to prolong its freshness. Préservatif is one of those “faux-amis”, (words that are the same in both languages but have very different meanings). I will elaborate with this little anecdote: One of our friends was in a restaurant one day and ordered some soup. She asked the waiter in French if the soup had “préservatifs” in it, thinking that she was saying ‘preservatives’. The waiter grinned from ear to ear and assured her there were no “préservatifs” in her soup. In fact, what she asked was if there were any condoms in her soup. Préservatif is the French word for condom. The word she should have used was conservateurs.
I actually saw this in reverse one day while visiting a winery near Bordeaux. In the little shop there on-site, in addition to the wonderful bottles of wine that were for sale, they had a display of jams. The little sign posted above the display said “Sans conservateurs/No conservatives”. Maybe they were fooled by the “faux-ami” thing too. I reckon they reasoned that conservateurs translated to conservatives in English, rather than “preservatives” which sounded a little too close to ‘condoms’, or maybe they just thought that it wasn’t necessary to warn people that there weren’t any condoms in their jams.