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The 9 'English' phrases that will only make sense if you live in France

Emma Pearson
Emma Pearson - [email protected]
The 9 'English' phrases that will only make sense if you live in France
All photos: AFP

English-speakers in France are naturally focused on learning French, but along the way something funny happens to your English.


Whether it's dodgy translations, those pesky faux amis or just French words for which there is no real English equivalent, spend long enough in France and your English will start to take on a slightly unusual twist.

Here are some of our favourite 'franglish' phrases.

QUIZ How well do you know your French faux amis?

I was controlled twice during the confinement

The nationwide lockdown that French residents experienced in March and April is known in French as le confinement so English-speakers frequently use confinement in everyday speech when referring to it.

In French un contrôle means being stopped by the police, which happened a lot during the lockdown as police checked that people had the necessary papers and contrôlé par la police means being stopped by police.


You might be perturbed when you see this. Photo: AFP

Sorry I'm late, the Metro was perturbed

In French perturbé means disrupted or disturbed and as such it's common while travelling on public transport to hear announcements about a certain service being perturbé - running late or at a reduced service.

As it sounds very similar to the English word perturbed - an old-fashioned term meaning a person who is disturbed or worried - it frequently slips into English sentences. And if you're worried about your delayed train you could say that you're perturbed about the perturbation.

I need to call Ameli about my rib 

For most of the world, Amélie is the delightful Paris-set Audrey Tautou film, but for French residents Ameli is something far more important - your means of getting state-funded healthcare.

The assurance maladie en ligne (online health insurance platform) is known as Ameli and is crucial in registering for the French health system and ensuring that all your details are up to date so you will swiftly be reimbursed for healthcare costs.

Despite its healthcare role, the rib mentioned here is actually an acronym - RIB or Relevé d'identite bancaire - which is the slip you need to hand over every time you set up a direct debit or give your bank details to the government.

We're expecting a precision later

Précisions play a crucial role in French life, especially when there are a lot of complicated rules to understand.

The format is usually that ministers announce the main framework of any new rules and précisions - full details or clarifications - are released later. It's not quite the same as the English meaning of precision, which means a quality related to being exact, careful or neat.


I'm on telly-travail so I haven't washed in over a week

The French verb télétravailler means to work remotely from home but in French it's often also used as a noun - le télétravail.

It has been recommended by the government during the Covid-19 epidemic which means a lot of people who usually work in offices have been talking about it, and the consequent slight fall in standards of personal grooming and what constitutes a workwear wardrobe.

We have a lot of of reanimated patients 

This is more of a classic faux ami, a French word that sounds very like an English one but actually means something different. In French en réanimation means in intensive care in hospital.

So during the pandemic we have heard a lot about patients en réanimation - intensive care patients. Unfortunately in English reanimation means bringing someone back from the dead, so telling an English-speaker that you have 1,076 reanimated patients is likely to cause them to start screaming about zombies.

READ ALSO How mastering the French language really messes up your English


It's fabricated in France

'Fabriqué en France' is a label that many goods carry with pride - meaning made in France.

In English, however, although fabricated does still have a meaning of being manufactured and a fabricator is still a job title, its more common usage is related to telling lies.

'That's a totally fabricated explanation' means you are completely making this up. Thus if you boast about something being fabricated in France, an English-speaker's mind if more likely to run to lies and dodgy claims rather than the suggestion of high-quality manufacturing that the phrase is supposed to embody.

My skin is still really sensible, I think it was the tear gas at the manif

When you first start learning French you're on red alert for all the 'false friends' that the language contains, agonisingly aware that you must not confuse conservateur (preservative) with préservatif (condom) but as you progress you will find some slipping the other way - especially on products whose labels that you look at all the time.

Your face wash might say that it's for peau sensible, but in English that is sensitive skin, not sensible. As for the manif - yes the English words demo or protest march exist but somehow it sounds a lot better in French.

Be quick, it's nearly apéro time

Your friends back home will wonder how you got so obsessed with pre-dinner drinks and snack, you will wonder how they get through the week without at least one apéro (apéritif) and why there is no real equivalent of this in the English language. 

READ ALSO Nine French phrases that English really should have too

Did we miss any? Tell us your favourite French-English hybrids by emailing [email protected].


Comments (2)

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Anonymous 2020/08/18 08:45
I attended a talk about Asian Hornets at a beekeeping association in the UK last year - the speaker was an Englishman who has lived in France for many years and operates a pest control business. I had no trouble understanding him and the Franglais that crept into his talk, but he had to stop several times to clarify for others. You don't really appreciate how much your English changes living here until you find yourself in a situation like that.
Anonymous 2020/08/17 16:58
Too true! This is a handy guide. A lot of my British friends had no idea what I was on about when I say we were getting "controlled". But as a Canadian born anglophone, I must admit that I use the term "fabricated" to mean made, probably because it is a bilingual country and a lot of francophone words slip into every day use there.

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