French expression of the day: Ce n’est pas le Pérou

This expression is not one you hear every day, but it's got an interesting backstory.

French expression of the day: Ce n’est pas le Pérou
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know ce n’est pas le Pérou?

It’s an old and diplomatic way of saying that something is not top notch.

What does it mean?

Ce n’est pas le Pérou literally means ‘it’s not Peru’.

It’s an old French expression inspired by the idea that Peru was the country where you could find Eldorado, the land of gold.

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire used it about the government's solidarity fund, which provides up to €1,500 to small businesses and self-employed to help them through the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus.

“C'est pas le Pérou !” Le Maire said, and thereby admitted that, for many, €1,500 would not cover all of their expenses. But it was a whole lot more than nothing, he said.

Back in the day when Europeans were searching for Eldorado, they explored the untrodden lands of South America convinced that piles and piles of gold were awaiting them.

So Pérou became incorporated into the language as a symbol of a treasure or fortune.

Use it like this

Saying ce n'est pas le Pérou, is kind of saying 'it's not Eldorado' – it's not a goldmine.

You're not blowing it off as utterly worthless, just casually implying that it's not like you won the lotto.

It is however not that commonly used anymore, so more modern versions are:

Ce n'est pas grand-chose – it's not that much
Ce n'est pas énorme – it's not major
Or, in case you want to get down with the youngsters, say:
C'est pas ouf / c'est pas fou / c'est pas dingue – it's not incredible

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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.