French Expression of the day: Être à l’ouest

This French expression is one you need to know if you're feeling a bit tired and out of sorts today.

French Expression of the day: Être à l’ouest
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Why do I need to know être à l’ouest?

If you’re feeling a bit worn out as the year draws to a close this expression might well apply to you.

What does it mean?

At first glance you might think that être à l’ouest (to be in the west) is a geographical expression and it can be used literally. 

You could say le soleil se couche à l'ouest (the sun sets in the west) or les Bretons sont à l'ouest de la France (the Bretons are in the west of France.)

But you can also use this expression to describe someone on a day when they’re feeling a bit off. If someone is à l’ouest it can mean that they are ‘spaced out’, ‘unable to pay attention’ or ‘not with it’, normally because they are really, really tired.  

For example you might hear someone complain Je n’ai que dormi deux heures, je suis à l’ouest aujourd’hui. (I only got 2 hours sleep, I’m really not with it today.)

Or talking about someone else, Il a oublié qu’on se voyait aujourd’hui. Il est completement à l’ouest. (He forgot that we were seeing each other today. He’s completely spaced out.)


There are a few different theories as to where this French expression comes from.

Some believe is an adaptation of the English expression ‘to go west’ which during WWI meant ‘to die’ or ‘be killed’.

Others think that it comes from the days when Parisian theatres were all situated in the east of the city and actors tended to live in the west, meaning they went west to go home after work when they were tired.

Or it might come from the fact that the sun sets in the west bringing darkness, the unknown and sleep with it.

How do I use être à l’ouest?

Elle était tellement à l’ouest qu’elle à loupé son vol.

She was so spaced out that she missed her flight.

Ça va? Tu as l’air un peu à l’ouest aujourd’hui.

Are you ok? You seem like you’re not really with it today.



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French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

This expression is more than just your last order at the boulangerie.

French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

Why do I need to know tarte à la crème ?

Because if someone uses this phrase to describe you, you should probably be a bit offended.

What does it mean?

Tarte à la crème – pronounced tart ah lah krem – literally refers to a cream filled tart, or a custard tart, in English. However, this expression has more to do than just baking. It is another way of describing something that is boring, predictable or commonplace.

This expression comes straight from Moliere himself. In the 17th century, there was a popular rhyming game called “Corbillon.” The phrase “Je vous passe mon corbillon” (I pass you by corbillon) is said, and then it is followed by “Qu’y met-on?” (What does one put on it?) To keep the rhyme up, people must respond with something ending in an -ON sound.

In the play, “L’Ecole des Femmes” (The School of Wives), one character says the ideal woman would respond to the question with “tarte à la crème” which is obviously the wrong answer. The right answer would be tarte à la citron (lemon tart). Molière did this on purpose to poke fun at the fact that disgruntled fans would send poor actors cream tarts to express their frustration.

It was a way of ridiculing his critics and showing he was unimpressed by their method of showing discontentment at his plays. Over time, the phrase went on to describe things that are commonplace or boring. It is often used to describe entertainment related topics, such as books, movies, or plays.

A synonym for this phrase in French might be banal and in English you might say something is ‘vanilla’ to describe something that is fairly unexciting.

Use it like this

Le film était vraiment tarte à la crème. Je ne recommande pas d’aller le voir au cinéma, vous pouvez attendre de le voir une fois qu’il sera gratuit en ligne. – The movie was really boring. I don’t recommend going to see it at the movies, you can simply wait to see it once it is free online.

Je pense que l’album est tarte à la crème. Elle a pris tellement d’idées d’autres artistes que ce n’est vraiment pas original du tout. – I think the album is predictable. She really took plenty of ideas from other artists and it was not original at all.