So if you're heading off to spend the holidays with French people, here are a few French classic phrases to help get the conversation going.
1. Joyeux Noël – Happy Christmas
A basic one to start with, but if you're spending Christmas Day with someone it's nice to wish them a happy Christmas.
Once you’ve figured out how to say Joyeux Noël to really impress, try saying it it in some of France’s regional dialects. The examples below are Breton, Corsican, Provencal, Alsatian and Basque.
Nedelag Laouen, Bon Natale, Bon Nouvè, E güeti Wïnâchte, and Zorionak
If you want to wish someone a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year you can also say Bonnes fêtes de fin d’année or just Bonne fêtes.
2. Qu'est-ce que le père Noël t'a apporté ? – What did Father Christmas bring you?
Perhaps more appropriate for children, but there's nothing wrong with keeping the magic alive and asking adults what they got for Christmas either. If you want a slightly more grown up version you could ask Tu as reçu des beaux cadeaux ? – did you get some good presents?
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Although bear in mind that Christmas in France tends to be less consumer focused than in the UK or the US, so people are less likely to talk about the mountains of expensive gifts they have received.
Especially for adults, presents are often more of a token than something hugely expensive.
3. Je me régale, c'est trop jolie/génial/intéressant – I love it, it's really pretty/great/interesting
Nevertheless, people may well get you a gift and here are a few more effusive ways to say thank you than a simple merci
If the gift is clothing or jewellery you can add Je le porterai ce soir/demain soir.– I'll wear it tonight/tomorrow night. Or if it's something for the house you could say Il sera parfait dans la cuisine – It will be perfect in the kitchen.
4. Santé/à la tienne/tchin-tchin – cheers
One way to cheer up any occasion is to start drinking, and here's how to toast people.
When you make a toast in France is considered polite not to drink until you have clinked glasses with everybody present, and you should look a person in the eye when you are clinking glasses with them. Not doing so is not only considered rude but legend has it that it will condemn you to seven years of bad sex. One to avoid.
5. C'est délicieux, comment tu l'as fait ? – This is delicious, how did you make it?
If your new mother-in-law has cooked Christmas dinner for you, it would be wise to praise her cooking, whatever she has produced. And asking for la recette (the recipe) or how to make a particular dish might be a good idea too.
6. Quelle est la tradition française de noël que tu préféres/Quel est ton plat de noël préféré? – What is your favourite French Christmas tradition/favourite Christmas dish?
If conversation is flagging, why not start a discussion of Christmas traditions in your respective countries. Christmas in France tends to be less prescriptive than in other countries – especially in the matter of what to eat on Christmas Day – so lots of families have their own traditions familiale or family traditions.
One thing that does tend to happen everywhere though is La Réveillon – the Christmas Eve feast of seafood which generally involves crevettes, moules, coques, palourdes, langoustines, homard (prawns, mussels, cockles, clams, langoustines and lobster) and always les huitres – oysters – which are a big Christmas tradition in France.
If you're spending Christmas in Brittany, local legend has it that the dead return to join in the Christmas Eve feast at midnight so that's something to look forward to.
Glass clinking is taken seriously in France. Photo: AFP
7. Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison – Christmas on the balcony, Easter around the fire
If things are getting really strained there's always the weather to fall back on.
The above is a traditional French proverb expressing that mild weather at Christmas is usually followed by a harsh winter.
But 2020 was a year of extreme weather in France, from record-breaking temperatures during the canicule/vague de chaleur (heatwave) during the summer to les tempêtes/orages et les inondations (the storms and floods) that followed during the autumn, especially in the southeast, so there should be a good few minutes of chat to be had from the weather.
And if you're sure it's not going to cause an argument you could also speculate that the extreme weather could be due to changement climatique – climate change.
8. Oui, c'est vraiment bizarre – Yes, it's really weird
And if all else fails, start describing a particularly bizarre Christmas tradition from your country.
9. Le Brexit ? Actually no. Just no. However long the gaps in conversation get, don't be tempted to go there.