French phrase of the Day: Opération escargot

Snails play an important role in life in France - and not just on dinner plates.

French phrase of the Day: Opération escargot
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know opération escargot?

Because you probably want to avoid them.

What does it mean?

Un escargot, as is fairly well known, means a snail. Move the topic on to French dining clichés and it won't be long before the Gallic habits of eating snails will be mentioned, although in fact, like frogs' legs they're not exactly ubiquitous on French menus.

But the snail has a couple of other meanings as well.

Firstly in some areas, mainly in the south east, a pain aux raisins is known as an escargot after its shape.

But the other type of snail is something you will want to avoid.

Une opération escargot is defined as “an action consisting of provoking a significant slowdown in traffic, or even a blockade, for protest purposes”.

It's what in English we would probably refer to as a rolling roadblock, the practice of disgruntled drivers – often hauliers or farmers – driving very slowly along a road causing huge tailbacks behind them.

They're a popular tactic among French unions, protest groups and organisations so if you see that an opération escargot is planned, you know to find an alternative route.

It's frequently seen in headlines, such as these ones 

Paris: opération escargot d'autocaristes sur le périphérique – Paris: rolling roadblock of bus operators on the ringroad

La CGT organise une opération escargot lundi – The CGT union is organising rolling roadblocks for Monday 

But it's also well known enough to be used in conversation as well.

Vous avez trois heures de retard ! Désolé, il y a eu une opération escargot sur l'A10 – You're three hours late! Sorry, there was a rolling roadblock on the A10.

READ ALSO France facts: Snails need a ticket to travel on a train


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French Expression of the Day: Découvrir le pot aux roses

You might do this while gardening or while reading the tabloids.

French Expression of the Day: Découvrir le pot aux roses

Why do I need to know découvrir le pot aux roses?

Because if you enjoy celebrity gossip, then you probably will find good use for this phrase

What does it mean?

Découvrir le pot aux roses – pronounced day-coov-rear le pot-oh rose – literally translates to ‘to discover the pot of roses.’ 

You might use this expression when finding out about some exciting gossip or maybe when discovering what your partner secretly planned for your anniversary, as this phrase in actuality is what you would say when you learn something secret or hidden. 

In English, when discussing secrets, you might say someone has ‘spilled the beans’ or ‘let the cat out of the bag,’ but the French phrase is more about the person who has found out about the hidden item or truth, not the person who told it, as it ‘spill the beans’.

The origins of this French expression are not what you might expect, historically, the phrase has little to do with the flowers.

During the Middle Ages, the verb ‘découvrir’ had the meaning of ‘to lift a lid’ and at the time the phrase ‘pot aux roses’ referred to a small box that wealthy women used to store their perfumes, as well as their makeup. They often used these boxes to keep secrets, letters, or notes that they did not want others to stumble upon.

Use it like this

Pendant l’afterwork, Sarah a raconté à tout le monde les secrets les plus fous sur la vie privée du patron. Je ne comprends pas comment elle a réussi à découvrir le pot aux roses. – During the work happy hour, Sarah told us all about the wildest secrets of our boss’ personal life. I don’t understand how she managed to unearth that gossip.

Il a découvert le pot aux roses lorsqu’il s’est connecté à l’ordinateur de son colocataire pour regarder simplement son mail. – He discovered the secret when he logged onto his roommate’s laptop to just check his email.