SHARE
COPY LINK

FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Expression of the Day: ‘C’est la galère’

Were you among the miserable people who squeezed themselves into a jam-packed Metro this morning? You might want to learn this expression to deal with the ongoing transport strikes.

French Expression of the Day: 'C’est la galère'
Photo: Deposit photos
Why have we chosen this expression?
 
This is an expression which is readily used by the French when they've got something to complain about, which, if the cliché is to be believed, happens frequently.
 
But it's for a certain type of complaint.
 
It could be long traffic jams, a never-ending search for a decent apartment, an endless cycle of French paperwork or chaotic school transport, as seen in he headline below: “c’est la galère!”. 
 
 
 
 
 
So, what does it mean?
 
In an informal situation, galère can be used to mean “hellish”, “difficult” or to describe something as a “chore” or a “pain”. 
 
It comes from the verb galérer which means “to struggle” or “to have a hard time/a lot of hassle”.
 
The French use C’est la galère as its own expression in an informal setting to describe any ongoing problems they are facing so could be translated as :It's hell, it's a mess, it's a nightmare.
 
They also use quelle galère!  to mean “what a mess!” or “what a nightmare!”.
 
And when you're out and about in France, you’ll hear it said out loud when there are problems on the Metro or when there are strikes causing people troubles and it is often used when talking with friends. 
 
Of course, you can change the tense of the verb “être” if you want to talk about issues you’ve already struggled through — “c’était la galère” (“it was hell”) or difficult situation that are coming up — “ça va être la galère” (“it will be a pain”). 
 
Origin
 
“Galère” is also an old maritime word meaning “galley” — the type of ship that uses oars and sails. 
 
Working on these ships was considered a terrible job because it entailed endless hours of rowing in awful conditions. “La peine des galères” was a punishment that condemned French criminals into forced labour on ships for years on end. 
 
It’s no wonder, then, that “la galère” has come to describe a feeling of endless struggle.
 
Examples
 
From the newspaper clipping above:
 
Transports scolaires: “c'est la galère!”
School transport: “It's hell!”
 
C'est la galère sur les routes du Val-d'Oise
It's hell on the Val d'Oise roads.
 
And here are some more examples:
 
1. On a toujours un long chemin à faire. C’est la galère
We still have a long way to go. What a nightmare.
 
3. Tous les trains sont annulés. C'est la galère!
All the trains are cancelled. What a mess!
 
Alternatives
 
C'est pénible – It's hard/difficult/arduous/gruelling
 
Or you could use aother informat expression “c'est la bagne” meaning pretty much the same as “c'est le galère”.
 
And if you want to say “it's a nightmare” you could just say “c'est un cauchemar”. 

Member comments

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

FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Word of the Day: Soixante-huitard

About one in five people of a certain French generation can be described using this term.

French Word of the Day: Soixante-huitard

Why do I need to know soixante-huitard?

Because it references a very important part of French history and culture.

What does it mean?

Soixante-huitard – pronounced swah-sahnt wheat arr – literally means sixty-eighter. While its translation might sound a bit like a sports team (ex. Forty-niners),  this term in French has an important political and social context behind it. 

A soixante-huitard is someone who participated in the famous May 1968 protests in France. With the backdrop of the Prague Spring and the American Civil Rights Movement and anti-war protests, French students and striking workers demanded a more egalitarian world in May 1968. 

This period of civil unrest lasted seven weeks and even forced then-President Charles de Gaulle to temporarily flee to West Germany. The events of this time have had a profound effect on French culture and politics. 

Around 11 million people – 22 percent of the population at the time – was involved in some way or another, and these days, those people are referred to as un soixante-huitard or une soixante-huitarde (for a woman). 

Though the term is typically reserved to refer to those actually involved in the protest movement, it can occasionally be used as a way to describe someone who has held onto the far-left ideas or sentiments from the 1968 movement.

Use it like this

Il a gardé ses convictions d’extrême-gauche longtemps après 1968. C’est un vrai soixante-huitard. – He held onto his far-left beliefs long after 1968. He is a true sixty-eighter. 

Tu pourrais être surpris que ta tante ait une soixante-huitarde. Ses opinions ont certainement changé avec le temps. Tu ne l’aurais jamais deviné ! – You might be surprised that your aunt participated in May 68. Her opinions have really changed with time, you would never have guessed it.

SHOW COMMENTS