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The most bizarre food-based French idioms

Catherine Edwards · 24 Dec 2015, 10:43

Published: 24 Dec 2015 10:43 GMT+01:00
Updated: 24 Dec 2015 10:43 GMT+01:00

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We all know the French are proud of their cuisine – and rightly so. In fact, it seems like they can’t stop talking about food, because culinary terms find their way into some of the quirkiest idioms that crop up in everyday life. Here are some of our favourites explained.

C’est la fin des haricots | It’s the end of the beans

Photo: Jimmy_Joe/Flickr

This saying, which also exists in Italian, dates back to a time when beans were a readily available food which the poorest families could still afford. So when even the beans had run out, you were in a difficult situation, with nothing left. You can use it when you've run out of options or feel like a situation couldn't get any worse.

Raisonner comme une citrouille | To reason like a pumpkin

Be honest... would you trust this guy's judgment? Photo: Paul Albertella/Flickr

Pumpkins aren't known for their logical abilities, so if someone compares you to one, it means they think your argument is flawed. Synonyms include 'raisonner comme un pantoufle' (a slipper), 'comme une casserole' (a saucepan) and 'comme un coquillage' (a shellfish). 

Avoir un coeur d’artichaut | To have the heart of an artichoke

Photo: naturalflow/Flickr

We're not sure how they found this out, but apparently the French think artichokes make rubbish boyfriends. So if you hear someone described as having the heart of an artichoke, you might want to steer clear of dating them; it usually means that they are fickle in love and can never stay faithful for long. The comparison probably comes from the structure of the vegetable - lots of layers, and a small heart.

J’ai la pêche | I have the peach

Photo: Bruce Tuten/Flickr

In English we might say someone is ‘full of beans’, but when a Frenchman is feeling really happy or energetic, we say they’ve got the peach. And giving someone a peach (donner la pêche) means to uplift someone or cheer them up. Apparently the French really love their peaches.

Ramener sa fraise | To bring one’s strawberry

Photo: Jeff Kubina/Flickr

If you hear French friends complaining about someone who ‘always brings their strawberry’, you might picture someone with an emotional attachment to fruit. Odd, sure, but not enough to really annoy anyone. But the actual meaning is closer to ‘sticking one’s nose in’ – it means someone who always gets involved or gives their opinion even when it isn’t wanted or asked for.

Raconter des salades | To tell salads

Photo: Junya Ogura/Flickr

English speakers say that liars are ‘telling porkies’, but the diet-conscious French have a healthier expression for ‘lying’, so watch out for anyone with a reputation for 'telling salads'.

Beurré | Buttered

"I'm sooo buttered..." Photo: jeffreyw/Flickr

If someone tells you they were 'buttered' the previous night, they didn’t have a run-in with a dairy product - they’re trying to show off about how drunk they got. The expression probably comes from the phonological similarity to 'bourré', which has the same meaning.

En faire un fromage | To make a cheese out of something

Photo: Joi Ito/Flickr

Cheese is up there with water and oxygen in terms of necessity for French people, so if someone ‘makes a cheese of something’ they’re making a big deal of it – usually unnecessarily. If a dairy worker complains about how much they hate their job, then they're making a cheese out of making cheese. An English equivalent would be ‘to make a mountain out of a molehill’. 

Oh purée! | Oh, mashed potatoes!

Story continues below…


Photo: Ivana Sokolović/Flickr

What were the first words you learnt in French? After Bonjour and je m’appelle, many language learners move swiftly onto swear words, but it's easy to neglect the more polite alternatives to les gros mots. If something goes wrong and you don’t want to offend anyone’s ears, ‘Oh purée!' is roughly equivalent to 'oh bother!'

Les carottes sont cuites | The carrots are cooked

Photo: David Goehring/Flickr

You might be surprised to hear someone exclaim in a stressed voice that their carrots are cooked - especially if they're nowhere near the kitchen. But this expression means something is finished, usually used in a negative sense to say that it’s no longer possible to change anything about it.

Long comme un jour sans pain | Long like a day without bread

Sure, she's smiling now, but if you took away that baguette... Photo: Arun Katiyar/Flickr

This saying is used to describe something that’s very, very long – either in time or measurement – and it goes to show just how much the French love their baguettes. There's usually a connotation that it's tiresome or wearying as well, just like getting through a day without any bread.

Catherine Edwards (catherine.edwards@thelocal.com)

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