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.

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French Phrase of the Day: Syndrome de la bonne élève

Why being a good pupil can sometimes be … bad.

French Phrase of the Day: Syndrome de la bonne élève

Why do I need to know Syndrome de la bonne élève?

Feeling under-valued at work despite doing everything – and more – asked of you? You may have ‘good student syndrome’.

What does it mean?

Syndrome de la bonne élève – pronounced sin-dromm de la bon ell-evv – translates, as we’ve already hinted, as good student syndrome. 

You may well also see it written as syndrome du bon élève (pronounced sin-dromm doo bon ell-evv) – but this is predominantly a female issue.

It refers to someone in the workplace who tries their hardest to work to the rules, do all the jobs asked of them – and more – and yet is overlooked in favour of co-workers who don’t necessarily put in the same hard graft.

It’s not an official ‘syndrome’, but mental health experts do recognise it in many people – particularly women.

It is a hangover, according to features in magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire, from school days when girls are considered to be harder workers and less trouble than their boy counterparts.

Marie Claire labelled it a “destructive perfectionism … which affects the mental health of the women they become, while preventing them from embracing positions of responsibility’.’

Use it like this

Le syndrome de la bonne élève touche essentiellement les femmes dans le monde occidental. – Good student syndrome mainly affects women in the Western world.

Cette question d’éducation est d’autant plus marquante que le syndrome du « bon élève » affecte généralement les femmes – This question of education is all the more striking because “good student” syndrome generally affects women