They say that English is more precise than French, but check this out.
A friend had a stomach ache, and I asked a mutual friend how she was doing.
"How is Arantxa? Does she still have mal au ventre?"
My friend looked at me askew, and corrected,
"She doesn't have mal au ventre, she has mal a l'estomac,"
"Stomach, belly, same thing," I said, with a wave of my hand.
"Tut! Tut!" she corrected in that tsk-tsk sort of way the French have, "it's not the same thing at all."
"Yes it is," I said, totally sure of myself. "If you have a stomach ache or a belly ache, there is no difference."
"No, no," she replied. "This part here is the estomac," she explained, touching right below her ribs, "where it's connected to the esophagus and leads to the small and large intestines. Your ventre refers more to your belly, where your fallopian tubes and uterus are. She would say she has mal au ventre if she had menstrual cramps, for example, but mal a l'estomac if it had something to do with digestion."
I swear she said this. I can't remember the last time someone actually mentioned their esophagus. But then again this friend has a touch of hypochondria, so she knows her shit. (Pardon the pun, really.)
It occured to me that in English, as far as I know, we do not make the distinction. Nor do we ever, as I can recall, touch right underneath our ribs to indicate digestion problems. In short, we have no clue about anatomy, or are much less fascinated by all things digestive than the French. A French person once even told me that laughing was good for the digestion. Which of course made me digest even more.
I even checked in the dictionary. "Ventre" is "stomach, tummy or belly" and "avoir mal au ventre" is "to have a stomach or tummy ache." Further down, "uterus or womb."
"Estomac" is translated exactly the same : "Stomach, tummy". "Avoir mal a l'estomac" is no different: "To have a stomach or tummy ache."
As a last resort, I called Arantxa herself.
"Okay, question," I said in Spanish, "do you have mal al estomago or mal al vientre?"
"Al estomago," she said, in a definitive way.
"So there's a difference in Spanish too?"
"Of course," she said, "you say estomago if it has to do with digestion and vientre if it's has to do with your period or things like that."
Okay. I stand corrected. We do not know where our stomachs are. We just bitch about cramps. I think we even touch the right part of our bodies for that one.
Chew on that for a while....
(Sorry, couldn't resist)