French Expression of the Day: Madeleine de Proust

In a poetic reference to writer Marcel Proust, every French person - and everyone in the world - has their very own 'madeleine de Proust'. The burning question is: what is yours?

French Expression of the Day: Madeleine de Proust

Why do I need to know madeleine de Proust?

This a highly common expression in France and you will be able to let everyone notice that your French literature knowledge is on point.

What does it mean?

A madeleine de Proust is an expression used to describe smells, tastes, sounds or any sensations reminding you of your childhood or simply bringing back emotional memories from a long time ago.

You may for example hear someone say: Le parfum de la lavande, c'est ma madeleine de Proust. Ca me rappelle mes vacances de famille en Provence. – The perfume of lavender is my Proustian madeleine. It reminds me of my family vacations in Provence.

Je bois toujours un chocolat chaud quand je suis triste. C'est ma madeleine de Proust, ca me remonte le moral. – I always drink a hot chocolate when I'm sad. It is my Proustian madeleine, it makes me feel better.

Where does it come from?

The saying comes from Marcel Proust's famous novel, Du côté de chez Swann, or Swann's Way, published in 1913. It is part of his lifetime's work À la recherche du temps perdu – In Search of Lost Time or sometimes published as Remembrance of Things Past.


French literary great Marcel Proust. Photo: Dutch National Archives

In this book, Proust writes about his mother offering him tea and a madeleine to warm him up. The taste of the shell-shaped cake dipped in tea unintentionally caused him to be overwhelmed by emotion, and has him reminiscing about a time of his childhood when he was given the same snack.

Over time, the expression became so popular that neuroscience researchers have been trying to scientifically explain the idea of unwitting memory, and philosophers have associated Proust with major thinkers on time and memory.

For more French expressions you can CLICK HERE to see our full list




Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


French Expression of the Day: Je baisse, j’éteins, je décale

If you live in France, you're likely to start hearing this expression more and more.

French Expression of the Day: Je baisse, j'éteins, je décale

Why do I need to know je baisse, j’éteins, je décale ?

Because if you will be living in or visiting France during the winter, you will likely see this slogan a lot.

What does it mean?

Je baisse, j’éteins, je décale – roughly pronounced juh behss, jay-tahn, juh day-kal – translates to “I turn down, I turn off, I offset (or I delay).” 

This is the slogan that the French government said they would be using to publicise their energy savings plan, ahead of possible shortages during the winter of 2022. It is intended to encourage écogestes – environmentally friendly individual behaviour. 

READ ALSO Cold water, 19C and speed limits – How the French government plans to save energy this winter

The first part “je baisse” (I turn down or I lower) is intended to remind people to turn down things that consume a lot of energy, such as the heating. It should not be confused with the vulgar phrase je baise – I fuck. As far as we know, the French government has no particular stance on that. 

The second part “j’étains” (I turn off) refers to devices that can be switched off when not in use – for instance, electronics that can be unplugged when on standby or turning off the lights in rooms you are not using.

And finally, the third part “je décale” (I offset/ I delay/ I shift) refers to adjusting the time of day when one does things. The French government used this phrasing to motivate people to shift the time of day they might do their laundry or dishes, in an effort to encourage that these activities be done outside of peak hours. 

The slogan is part of the French government’s publicity campaign known as Chaque geste compte (every action counts), intended to encourage people to lower their energy consumption this winter.

You can see a glimpse of the advertisement below:

Use it like this

Je baisse la température de l’appartement à 19C pour que nous utilisions moins d’énergie. – I turn down the temperature in my apartment to 19C so that we use less energy.

Normalement, je laisse la télé allumée pour m’aider à dormir la nuit. Maintenant que nous essayons d’économiser l’énergie, je l’éteins. – Normally, I leave the TV on at night to help me sleep. Now that we are trying to reduce energy consumption, I turn it off.