French phrase of the Day: Parigot tête de veau

Want to join in with a lively discussion on the manners of Parisians? We have just the phrase.

Why do I need to know Parigot tête de veau?

OK, need might be a strong word, but this is a funny expression if you want to join in with some general slagging off of people from the capital and their ways, which happens more than you might think in the bars of la France profonde.

What does it mean?

Well Parigot is a slang term for Parisians and tête de veau you might be familiar with from menus – calves' head. Put together it is a less than flattering phrase about the inhabitants of France's capital.

French dictionary l'Internaute primly explains that this is “a rhyming expression referring to the bad reputation of Parisians due to their rude and grumpy side”.

READ ALSO French regional stereotypes – grumpy Parisians and drunk northerners

It's fair to say that to the rest of France, Parisians have a certain reputation for being rude, grumpy and snobbish (we'll leave you to make up your own minds on that one, but we've met some delightful Parisians) so this phrase has a general meaning of “arsehole Parisians” in the same way that someone from northern England might refer to Londoners as “shandy-drinking bastards” – it's not the actual phrase that's important, more the sense you are conveying.

The other commonly heard phrase for Parisians is another rhyming one – Parisien tête de chien (dog-headed Parisian) which means broadly the same thing and the two phrases are often heard together.

But don't worry, Parisians have a retort – campagnarde tête de lard – broadly implying that people who live in the French countryside are thick and stubborn.

While we wouldn't advise getting caught up in French culture wars, if you want to learn about the age-old city/countryside conflict in France, check out the comedy song Parigot tête de veau.


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French Expression of the Day: La montagne qui accouche d’une souris

This phrase might sound anatomically impossible, but it happens more often than you'd realise.

French Expression of the Day: La montagne qui accouche d'une souris

Why do I need to know la montagne qui accouche d’une souris?

Because this is a fun way to add in French fables to everyday conversation.

What does it mean?

La montagne qui accouche d’une souris – roughly pronounced lah mon-tahn-ya key ah-coosh doon sohr-ees –  translates precisely to “the mountain who gives birth to the mouse.” 

The expression does not literally have to do with mountains and mice – instead it comes from French folklore, and refers to obtaining mediocre or ridiculous results after embarking on an ambitious project. In English you might say it’s a let down, or perhaps a somewhat similar phrase might be ‘all mouth and no trousers.’

Dating back to the 17th century, la montagne qui accouche d’une souris was made famous by Jean de la Fontaine, a fable-writer and poet. In the fable “La montagne qui accouche” (The mountain who gives birth) everyone is expecting that the mountain will give birth to a city ‘larger than Paris’ and are subsequently shocked when it births a small mouse. 

It is meant to be a metaphor for expecting a lot and then obtaining something small or insignificant. You might see this phrase used as a critique for a policy or plan that was meant to create lots of change, but in reality has had little impact.

Use it like this

Ils se sont vantés que le nouveau programme social aiderait des millions de personnes, mais presque personne ne le connaît ou n’a été aidé par lui. Est-ce la montagne qui accouche d’une souris? – They boasted that the new social program would help millions of people, but hardly anyone knows about it or has been helped by it. Is this a case of all mouth and no trousers.

C’est la montagne qui accouche d’une souris lorsque seulement cinq personnes se sont présentées à la fête alors qu’il devait y en avoir cinq cents. – The party was a massive let-down when only five people showed up when there were meant to be five hundred.