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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Five Netflix series that will teach you French as the locals speak it

Obviously studying the grammar cannot be avoided if you are learning French - but there are some more fun ways to expand your vocabulary and one of them is watching French TV. Here's our pick of the best series for language learners.

Five Netflix series that will teach you French as the locals speak it
The stars of hit French comedy Plan Coeur. Photo: APF

French telly has over the years earned itself a bit of a reputation for being dull and unimaginative, but with the arrival of Netflix in France there are some great original series being made for the streaming service. Here's our pick of some of the best shows that will offer you an insight into French culture, teach you some new vocabulary and also give you a good laugh.

1. Dix pour cent

What's it about?

The series follows the work, life and loves of agents at talent agency ASK. It's a fast-paced comedy and each episode features a cameo from a French star of stage, screen or internet so it functions as a crash course on the rich and famous of France. It's genuinely hilarious and the stars who feature – big names all – are not afraid to laugh at themselves, so you will witness Monica Bellucci hitting on all the young men in Paris and Jean Dujardin going 'full Day-Lewis' before gnawing the head off a live rabbit.

What will I learn?

There's some industry-specific language so if you're after a career in French TV or cinema this is definitely one for you, but there's also lots of the day-to-day phrases and slang used by the trendy Paris set (which this lot definitely are). As a bonus, you'll also learn which English phrases you can pepper your conversation with to make you sound with-it, and there are a few secret romances too, so your langue d’amour will be top-notch.

2. Family Business 

What's it about?

After learning that cannabis is set to be legalised in France, a Jewish family in Paris set about turning their kosher butchers into a soon-to-be-legal marijuana shop. Cleverly placed comedy lies around every corner with impromptu trips to Amsterdam, new police neighbours and countless family secrets that just can't stay under wraps. 

What will I learn?

As informal and chatty as comedies come, the Hazan family and friends don’t hold back from calling everyone their “frère” or their “mec” one minute to having full-blown family arguments the next. Coming from the less well-off end of Parisian society, you'll hear lots of Verlan plus coarse phrases that get straight to the point in a series that's great for colloquial French. Plus they all speak super-fast so it's a real workout for your language skills.

3. Plan Coeur 

What's it about?

There's something incredibly Bridget Jones-esque about The Hook Up Plan. The rom-com series sees a heartbroken Elsa struggling to get over her ex-boyfriend. As all good friends do, her best mates decide to hire an escort boy to play a new love interest and get her out of her funk. Full of quirky characters and face-palm moments, you won't be sure whether to cry laughing of squirm of awkwardness in this not-so-graceful love story. 

What will I learn?

If you're planning on making a few conquests in France, this one is for you. With a lot of courting and dating between Elsa and Jules, Plan Coeur is perfect for picking up all the phrases you might need in a romantic situation. The episodes are all pretty straightforward too, so this is a great one to get started on.

4. Osmosis 

What's it about?

If you're up for a challenge and into sci-fi, Osmosis could be a great option. Slightly hard-to-grasp at first, it follows a new French technology that aims to match people with their soul mates. Sort of a French version of Black Mirror, the daring technology will make you think, but the series is worth the testing first two episodes. With drama and high emotions around every corner, this pioneering sci-fi series is an intriguing watch. 

What will I learn?

As you can imagine with cutting-edge, love-creating, human-bonding technology, some of the language in Osmosis can be pretty scientific. There’s a lot of talk about how the mind works, emotions and communication too which can leave you with some handy titbits. There's a real mix of people from all walks of life, from schizophrenic teenagers and worried mums to science geniuses and shy young women, Osmosis is a great series to diversify your French. 

5. Marseille

What's it about?

The first-ever French-language original produced by Netflix, Marseille tracks the city’s mayor of 20 years (played by Gérard Depardieu) as he locks horns with former student turned political rival. It's a potboiler with sex, scandal, plotting and definitely no resemblance at all to certain well-known names on the French political scene. Despite the plot, there's nothing too political or challenging about the series – a fun soap opera, Marseille is great to kill some time whilst picking up some French.

What will I learn?

There's not too much politics jargon in here but a few characters (especially those from the banlieue) will give you a crash course in southern French slang and a couple of characters have the famously difficult-to-follow Marseille accent so it's a good introduction if you're planning a visit.

With quite a few X-rated scenes you could also learn some more… specific vocabulary.  

Member comments

  1. Pity they missed out the great policiers the a French produce like Section de Recherches and the wonderful Candice Renoir, both Set in the south of France. Then there’s the 18th Century détective Nicolas Le Floch, great fun oto

  2. Come on, I just started watching Plan Cœur; in no way is it a ‘good one to get started with’. I mean none of these are for beginners, that’s for sure! I think an easier one is fais-pas ci fais ça. But if you are really starting out with French I’d recommend Peppa Pig!

  3. Two of my favorites are La Mante and The Frozen Dead. Both are very realistic and have wonderful actors.

  4. Marseille? Without French subtitles I’d hardly understand a single word!
    How about the daily soaps like Demain Nous Appartient where you’ll learn a lot as it’s are set in a school, a business, a police station, an office, a hospital, as well as the homes of at least four of the families involved. Been hooked on it for a couple of years now and learned lots. Set in Séte in the south too so it looks beautiful too. As do a lot of the people!

  5. Another vote for Spiral, not only is it a great policier but you can really improve your swearing with this, ever wondered what ‘un bande de branleurs’ might be? Spiral will tell you.

    Even better for those wishing to expand their knowledge of Italian are the two series of ‘Romanzo Criminale’ (based on the real-life Banda Della Magliana criminal gang) which combined violent action, full on hurtling plotlines and terrible 70s fashions with an extensive range of expletives and derogatory epithets (often delivered in regional variants). There was one episode where 40% of the dialogue was comprised of Stronzo! Cazzo! Vaffanculo! and Mangia merde e morte! More TV should be like this.

  6. Are these shows available on Netflix with audible French dialog from the actors, the French language was only available as subtitles.
    Hearing the language spoken is greatly helpful when learning French.

  7. I watched and thoroughly enjoyed Dix pour Cent, with French and French subtitles. I helped me a lot – and you can always rewind when you get a bit lost.

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FOOD & DRINK

Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

From home-made to made in France, organic to artisan, AOP to Red Label - French food and drink products have a bewildering array of different labels and quality marks - here's what they all mean.

Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

In France, there are many different types of étiquette to be aware of when purchasing food, drink or other products. However, this étiquette does not have to do with behaviour – rather it is the French word for label or sticker that might designate certain properties about an item being purchased.

Here are some that you might run into while shopping in France:

Wines and other beverages

French wine often has several different designations and labels that you might come across. In France, wine is labelled based on region rather than grape.

Cru – the word “cru” – translated as ‘growth’ – on a wine label signifies that it was grown in high-quality vineyard or growing site, and provides further proof to where the wine was produced. 

Vin Bio – this designates a product, and in this case, wine as being organic. You will also find a bio (pronounced bee-yo) section of fruit and veg in most French supermarkets as well as plenty of other products with a bio label. Most towns and communes regularly host a marché bio –  a market where all the products on sale are organic.

Here is an example of what the label looks like:

Photo Credit: Economie.Gouv.Fr

To be certified as bio, producers must follow a set of EU specifications around how products are grown, which limit the use of chemicals such as fertilisers, pesticides and weedkillers. The bio brand is a protected mark.

Vin natural – While bio refers to how the grapes are grown, ‘natural wines’ refers to the process of turning the grapes into wine.  

This is more vague than organic as there isn’t an agreed set of standards for what constitutes a ‘natural wine’. Producers label their bottles vin méthode nature (natural wine method) but you’ll also frequently see and hear vin naturel or vin nature to describe these products. In general, it means a wine that has no additives used during the wine-making process and no or few added sulphites, which can mean that natural wines taste different.

Not all organic wines are natural and not all natural wines are made with organic grapes, although the two tend to go together.

Vin biodynamique – Growers who embrace the biodynamic method go a step further and as well as cutting out chemicals they also plant and harvest their crop according to the lunar calendar.

Biodynamic isn’t a protected mark and a biodynamic wine isn’t necessarily organic or natural, but vine growers who go to the trouble of following the lunar calendar are generally pretty committed to producing their product in a more natural way. 

Champagne (capital C) – The sparkling wine known as Champagne can only be produced in the French Champagne region, otherwise it’s just sparkling wine. In fact, the Champagne industry has a skilled team of lawyers tasked with insuring that the name “Champagne” is not being used inappropriately or incorrectly. Champagne is a famous example of the French AOC (more on this below).

READ MORE: ‘The price of glory’ – Meet the Champagne industry lawyers charged with protecting the brand name

Geographic designations and traditional techniques

In France, there are three different labels that determine where a product comes from and whether it was made according to certain traditional standards.

L’Appellation Contrôlée (AOC) – This designation can either indicate that a product comes from a specific geographical area or that it was produced following a certain traditional technique. Under French law, it is illegal to manufacture and sell a product under one of the AOC-controlled indications if it does not comply with the criteria of that AOC. In order to make them recognisable, all AOC products carry a seal, with a number as well as the name of the certifying body.

You can see an example of the label below:

Photo Credit: www.economie.gouv.fr

The colour of the seal indicates the product classification: green for field products and red for dairy products.

It is worth keeping in mind that simply being considered an AOC product does not necessarily mean that the quality will be better than a non-AOC product, as it is focused on either geographical location or technique used when cultivating the product. The AOC designation is typically applied to certain wines and cheeses, though it can be extended to other products too.

READ MORE: What does the AOP/AOC label on French food and wine mean – and are these products better?

AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) – the European Union operates a similar geographical protection system that recognises products that are the “result of a unique combination of human and environmental factors that are characteristic of a given territory”.

The two labels are pretty much the same, but the AOC is French and older, while the AOP is recognised on a European level. 

In most cases, in order to apply for AOP designation, the product must already have an AOC recognition at the national level and then it is later registered with the European Commission. 

For France, the AOP concerns certain dairy products – specifically, 45 cheeses, 3 butters, and 2 creams – other foods like “Grenoble walnuts” are also listed as AOPs.

As for non French products, Gorgonzola cheese is an example of an Italian AOP.

La Spécialité Traditionnelle Garantie (STG) – In English this would be referred to as the “Traditional Speciality Guarantee”. This is another European-wide label. It attests that a food product has been manufactured according to a recipe considered traditional.

The first French STG was “Bouchot mussels” which are collected using a traditional aquaculture technique. 

Quality labels

Label rouge – This French label allows you to identify superior quality products. It has been in existence for over 60 years – according to the French ministry of economy, Landes chicken was the first food product to be awarded the label. Label rouge can be applied to food products as well as non-food agricultural products, such as Christmas trees or flowers.

For example, a Christmas tree might qualify for the Label rouge if it is: from the Nordmann or Spruce species, free from parasites (fungi and insects); fitting the proper aesthetic criteria for shape, colour, symmetry and density; and fresh – meaning cut down after November 21st.

Nutri-score – this five letter label designates food products based on their nutritional value. This is regulated by public health authorities. The logo is on packaging and ranges from A (dark green, most nutritious) to E (dark orange, least nutritious).

Artisanale – this is a protected “appellation” (title) that was created in 1998, and it regulates ‘craft’ products according to French law – the most common usages are for bakeries and breweries but it’s used for a wide range of products. 

People running the business must be able to prove a certain relevant education and qualification level and register with the trade organisation or guild for their craft.

For example, bakery owners must register the boulangerie with the Chambre des Métiers et de l’Artisanat and take a preparatory course.

Typically, artisan producers promise to use non-processed materials and they must also follow certain quality rules. For example, bread sold in these artisan boulangeries cannot have been frozen.

French bread and pastry designations

When buying your baguette at the boulangerie, there are some differences to be aware of.

Baguette Tradition – As suggested by the name, this designation means that the baguette was made using the traditional ingredients – only flour, yeast, salt and water. These were decided upon as part of the French government’s ‘bread decree’ of 1993. It also indicates that the baguette is free of any additives or preservatives. 

Baguette – A regular baguette could contain extra ingredients like grains, cereals or nuts – or any chemical additives or preservatives.

Boulanger de France – This label is relatively new in France – it was launched in 2020 in order to help differentiate artisinal bakeries from industrial ones. In order to obtain the label, then the bakery must respect certain quality regulations (eg. salt dosage used in bread, and specific recipes and manufacturing methods). Also, boulangers who apply for this label also commit themselves to favouring seasonal products.

Other French labels you might come across

Fait maison – this means ‘home made’ in French, and the logo for this type of dish looks like a little house.

You might see this label when at a restaurant or when buying food. In essence, it means that the dish was cooked on the spot. It also means that the dish was made with unprocessed ingredients, and that the only processed ingredients are those listed HERE.

Made in France (or Fabriqué en France) – It may be a bit misleading, but the label “Made in France” does not mean that 100 percent of the manufacturing steps for the product were carried out in France, but it signifies that a significant part were indeed done in France. This label is applied primarily to “consumer and capital goods”, but it can also be attributed to certain agricultural, food and cosmetic products, according to the French ministry of economy.

In order to qualify for this label, a part of the French customs body (Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes or DGCCRF) must authorise the label. If a product simply contains colours associated with France or a French flag, that does not necessarily mean it was entirely produced in France.

The penalties for falsely using a “Made in France” label, which are laid out in the French consumer code (article L. 132-2) are up to two years imprisonment and a fine of up to €300,000, which may be increased, depending on whether there were benefits derived from the offence.

Origine France Garantie – This label is awarded by the “Pro France association” to both  food and non-food products that can prove to have had the majority of manufacturing operations (at least 50 percent of its per unit cost) carried out in France and that the parts of the product that constitute its ‘essential characteristics’ were manufactured and produced in France.

Terre textile – This label attests that at least 75 percent of the textile product’s manufacturing was carried out in the French geographical area that it references – for example the label would indicate a part of France, like Alsace, and then below it would say “Terre textile”. 

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