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




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French Expression of the Day: La clim’

You'll definitely want to know about this during the summer.

French Expression of the Day: La clim'

Why do I need to know la clim’?

Because the lack of green spaces in cities might find you looking desperately for fresh air.

What does it mean?

La clim’, pronounced la-cleem, means air conditioning, it is a shortened version of la climatisation.

Climatisation comes from the word climatiseur, which itself comes from Klima in Greek and means the inclination of planet Earth from the equator to the poles. This inclination of the planet on its axis is responsible for the seasons and if you find yourself in a French city in August your inclination will definitely be towards climatisation.

Air-conditioning in private homes is not common France, some hotels have it but not all and in the summer months restaurants will often advertise air-con if they have it, as a way of luring in hot-and-bothered tourists.

If you find yourself desperate for cool air, head to a supermarket – almost all French supermarkets are air-conditioned in the summer. Or for a more fun option just head to the nearest city fountain or water feature and join the locals who are splashing around to cool off.

Use it like this

Il fait très chaud, avez-vous la clim’ dans votre hotel ? – It’s really hot, do you have air-con in the hotel?

Je n’aime pas mettre la clim’ en route car cela est mauvais pour la santé et l’environnement – I don’t like turning on the AC, it’s bad for my health and for the environment

Il fait froid, peut-on s’il vous plait éteindre la clim’ ? – It’s cold, could  we turn off the air-con?

La clim’ fait beaucoup de bruit, pouvons-nous la mettre en sourdine ? – This AC is really noisy, could we turn it down?


Un climatiseur – the formal name for an air-conditioner (in French the air conditioning is feminine by the air conditioner is masculine)

Un ventilateur – a ventilator

Un Brumisateur – a ‘fogger’ – these machines which pump out cool water vapour are often seen on the streets and in parks during the summer

Un Rafraichisseur d’air – an air freshener