For members


Ten need-to-know regional words and phrases from around France

Here are ten words and phrases from French dialects that will come in handy when you're exploring France this summer.

Ten need-to-know regional words and phrases from around France
Photo: AFP
You might think you have French down but when you're travelling to new parts of this wonderfully diverse country, you're likely to come across some words and phrases that you don't normally hear everyday. 
That's right, even if your grammar is perfect and your vocabulary is yet to fail you, with Celtic, German and Spanish just some of the languages that have influenced phrases in common use in regions of France, you could still find yourself at a loss for words. 
Here are ten that will make life easier on your travels:
Pain au chocolat, chocolatine or petit pain?
Something you'll definitely want to get a handle on when travelling around France is the right word for “pain au chocolat”. 
While most people are familiar with the most commonly used name for the delicious breakfast pastry, it goes by a different title in the south west of the country where it's known as a “chocolatine” and it even has a third name in the north of France where people will order a “petit pain” with their morning coffee. 
Daniel Chow/Flickr
“Are you fishing for mussels?”
If you're in Brittany and someone asks if you're going to fish for mussels (Tu vas a la peche aux moules?), it's not because you look like a person who can't get enough of shellfish but instead because they think your trousers are too short. 
Fishing for mussels? U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region/Twitter
In Brittany, as well as hearing the much-loved expletive “Putain!” you'll also hear “Gast!” which means the same thing in Breton.
Adieu = …Salut?
The next one is likely to have confused a few of our readers. In provençal “Adieu”, normally meaning “goodbye”, can be used to mean “hello”.
We just wonder how many people thought they were being rudely rejected from restaurants by otherwise smiling waiting staff… 
Say cheers with a schlouk!
Here's one for if you're celebrating in the eastern Alsace area on France's German border. Having a “schlouk” means a swallow or mouthful.
So if someone's encouraging you to join them for a “schlouk” of beer rather than a “gorgée” like elsewhere in France, now you'll know what they mean. 
Are you a pélo?
For men spending time in Lyon, you'll find that instead of being one of the “mecs” (lads), instead you're a “pélo”. The word is used pretty much exclusively in Lyon and the area surrounding the city.
Or perhaps a gripette?
While for the women out there, being called a “gripette” isn't something you'll want to hear.
If you heard this word in the far north of France where they speak Ch'ti, they're calling you a mean woman (or a “méchante femme” in the rest of France). 
Also listen out for the word “balou” meaning “idiot”. 
“Mean, me?” Cruella de Ville. Joe Busby/Flicker
Meanwhile, in Corsica…
In Corsica, you're likely to be asked at some point “Babin?”, which when framed as a question just means “How are you?” (normally “ça va?” in French). 
Goofing around
In the northern Pas-de-Calais area if you're being silly you won't be told to “Arretez de faire des betises” like elsewhere in France, instead you'll hear “Arretez de faire des cacoulles”.
In Lorraine as an anglophone hearing people use the expression “Mooooon!” is likely to cause you some surprise. Luckily you won't be the only one — it means the person using it is surprised too.  
Public Domain/Wikicommons
For members


Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.


Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty


Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 


And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  


Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.