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French expression of the Day: Gauche caviar

Actually nothing to do with food, this is an expression that you might hear flung about as campaigning hots up for next month's municipal elections.

French expression of the Day: Gauche caviar
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know gauche caviar?

Well firstly you need to establish that you're not being offered a tasty fish snack if someone says this you and it may also come in handy as an insult.

What does it mean?

Literally translated as 'caviar left' this is actually a derogatory political term roughly equivalent to 'champagne socialist' in English.

It's used for people who espouse leftist or socialist values but live the lifestyle of the elites.

So if you know someone who is always banging on about solidarity with the workers while at the same time splurging on an expensive lifestyle and paying their cleaner the bare minimum this is a good insult to fling at them.

Vous parlez de solidarité mais en réalité vous n'êtes qu'une gauche caviar – You talk about solidarity but really you're just a champagne socialist

Ces politiciens gauche caviar séjournent tous dans des hôtels cinq étoiles – Those champagne socialist politicians all stay in five-star hotels

There's a fairly heavyweight list of French politicians, artists and intellectuals who have been accused of this, including Dominique Strauss-Kahn (although it's possible that wasn't the worst thing about him), François Mitterrand, Anne Hidalgo, Bernard-Henri Lévy and Françoise Sagan.

Alternatives include gauche de salon (drawing room socialist) or gauche Toscane after the favoured holiday destination of a certain type of European elite.

Just as in English, there isn't really an alternative for a right-winger who has sold out on their principles. The term droite cassoulet briefly featured in political discourse in 2008 but it was a joke, coined by comedian Anne Roulanoff.

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

This expression is more than just your last order at the boulangerie.

French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

Why do I need to know tarte à la crème ?

Because if someone uses this phrase to describe you, you should probably be a bit offended.

What does it mean?

Tarte à la crème – pronounced tart ah lah krem – literally refers to a cream filled tart, or a custard tart, in English. However, this expression has more to do than just baking. It is another way of describing something that is boring, predictable or commonplace.

This expression comes straight from Moliere himself. In the 17th century, there was a popular rhyming game called “Corbillon.” The phrase “Je vous passe mon corbillon” (I pass you by corbillon) is said, and then it is followed by “Qu’y met-on?” (What does one put on it?) To keep the rhyme up, people must respond with something ending in an -ON sound.

In the play, “L’Ecole des Femmes” (The School of Wives), one character says the ideal woman would respond to the question with “tarte à la crème” which is obviously the wrong answer. The right answer would be tarte à la citron (lemon tart). Molière did this on purpose to poke fun at the fact that disgruntled fans would send poor actors cream tarts to express their frustration.

It was a way of ridiculing his critics and showing he was unimpressed by their method of showing discontentment at his plays. Over time, the phrase went on to describe things that are commonplace or boring. It is often used to describe entertainment related topics, such as books, movies, or plays.

A synonym for this phrase in French might be banal and in English you might say something is ‘vanilla’ to describe something that is fairly unexciting.

Use it like this

Le film était vraiment tarte à la crème. Je ne recommande pas d’aller le voir au cinéma, vous pouvez attendre de le voir une fois qu’il sera gratuit en ligne. – The movie was really boring. I don’t recommend going to see it at the movies, you can simply wait to see it once it is free online.

Je pense que l’album est tarte à la crème. Elle a pris tellement d’idées d’autres artistes que ce n’est vraiment pas original du tout. – I think the album is predictable. She really took plenty of ideas from other artists and it was not original at all.