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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Seven phrases to help you fit in on a night out in France

Over the festive period it's not beyond the realms of possibility that you will find yourself on a night out with French friends or colleagues, so we asked French blogger Sacha Aulagnier to help us out with some phrases you might hear.

Seven phrases to help you fit in on a night out in France
All photos: AFP

There's a popular theory that France doesn't really have a drinking culture, but while it's true that you'll see less binge drinking in France than in many other countries French people – especially younger ones – are in fact very fond of a night out drinking.

If you're invited to join them, here are a few phrases you can slip in to conversation to make you sound cool

READ ALSO Five TV series that will help you speak French like the locals

1.  Tiser

This is French slang for drinking, roughly equivalent to boozing in English. 

As-tu à tiser ce soir? – Do you have drinks tonight?

If you want to remain more formal the French word for alcohol is alcool but if you're being invited out for drinks it's likely someone will say tu veux un verre? – do you fancy a drink?

2. Caisse

This French word's more usual meaning is a checkout or till, but it also has some slang meanings.

It can be used as a slang word for car, but can also be used when someone has had too much to drink.

'Drunk' is not however the best way to translate this expression into English. A more accurate equivalent could be “partying hard” or maybe “caning it”. 

Tu as vu Nicolas aujourd'hui? Non, mais carrément il avait pris une caisse pendant la soirée.

Have you seen Nicolas today? No, but he was really caning it during the party.

If you're going to use the word caisse, it is always paired with the verb prendre (to take).

If you're looking for a more straightforward way to say drunk you can use ivre – as in the Facebook group Ivre, il . . . (Drunk, he . . .) which collects local newspaper headlines from around France about the antics of drunk people.

READ ALSO The drunken antics that prove that France is embracing binge drinking

3. Résoi

This is a verlan (reverse French slang) version of the French word soirée – party.

So if you're planning to host an event that is perhaps a little less formal, with fewer canapés and more binge drinking, résoi would be a good way to describe it.

Résoi chez moi ce soir, mecs – Party at my place tonight guys.

There is another verlan version for party which is teuf, an inverted version of fête, but it is less commonly used than résoi.

4. Cloppe

If you're on a night out with French people it's likely to involve not only drinking but smoking. As you might know, French people smoke a lot especially during a party and une cloppe is a slang term for cigarette similar to the English ciggie, smoke or fag.  

If you haven't brought your own and want to smoke someone else's French people tend to use the verb 'to tax' for this.

Je peux te taxer une cloppe? Can I nick a ciggy/ Can I bum a smoke?

5. Sam

As a responsible drinker you would not of course be thinking of drinking and driving, so you will need a Sam. This is French slang for the person who is not going to drink, or the designated driver for the evening.

The expression comes from a French government road safety campaign to promote driving without drinking. The acronym stands for Sans Accidents Mortels (no fatal accidents).

Qui se fait Sam ce soir ? Pas question, je ne fais pas Sam, c'est mon anniversaire ! – Who's the designated driver for tonight? No way, I'm not being the one who drives, it's my birthday!

6. PLS

And of course if you're really responsible you might also want to know this, in case someone takes the drinking a little bit too far.

PLS stands for Position Latéral de Sécurité – also known as the recovery position in which you should place a drunk person so they do not run the risk of choking on their own vomit. While you will hopefully never have to use this on a night out, the phrase PLS has entered more common usage to describe the process of recovering from a night out.

Aujourd'hui je ne fais rien, je suis en PLS sur mon canapé à regarder Netflix – Today I'm not doing anything, I'm recovering on the couch, watching Netflix

7. Gueule de bois

If things aren't quite bad enough that you require a whole day to recover, but you are still feeling a little fragile then you have a gueule de bois – hangover.

This literally translates as a 'wooden face' but is used to describe the tender head, churning nausea and vague sense of existential dread that follows a good night out. Simply speaking, a hangover.

J'ai la gueule de bois aujourd'hui, je crois que j'ai bu trop de vin chaud à la fête de Noël – I feel hungover today, I think I drank to much mulled wine at the Christmas party.

If you've found these useful, head to Sacha Aulangier's blog french-iceberg.com to learn more about French culture and language.

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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