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French expression of the day: À quelle sauce seras-tu mangé?

If a French person asks you about the sauce you will be eaten with, read this before you run for the hills.

French expression of the day: À quelle sauce seras-tu mangé?
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know à quelle sauce on va être mangé?

Because it's a very odd-sounding expression if you don't know what it means.

What does it mean?

The full expression is really ne pas savoir à quelle sauce on va être mangé, which means 'not knowing what sauce one is going to be eaten with'.

But the expression is only figuratively – the person is not asking you to choose between bérnaise and sauce au poivre – and really means 'not knowing what to expect' of something or someone.

The French like to play with the culinary pun though, for example in this cartoon of Carlos Gohsn, infamous French business man and Renault Nissan CEO-in-hiding: “What sauce will Carlos Gohsn be eaten with” here means “What will be the fate of Carlos Gohsn?”



Use it like this:

The meaning depends on the context and you can use it to say you don't know what lies ahead, how you will be received, how something will go.

If you are meeting the French in-laws for the first time and you say Je ne sais pas à quelle sauce je vais être mangé, it means 'I have no idea how they will receive me'.

Le bac changent cette année et les élèves ne savent pas encore à quelle sauce ils vont être mangés. – The bac (final exam in high school) changes this year and the pupils don't know what to expect.

L'entreprise a annoncé des restrictions budgétaires et les salariés voudraient bien savoir à quelle sauce ils vont être mangés. – The business has announced budgetary restrictions and the employees would like to know how this will affect them.


Ne pas savoir quoi attendre – not knowing what to expect

Ne pas savoir comment on va être reçu – not knowing how one will be received


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For members


French Expression of the Day: Robin des bois

He's the legendary Englishman who is surprisingly relevant to French political discourse.

French Expression of the Day: Robin des bois

Why do I need to know Robin des bois?

Because you might be wondering why the French reference this English outlaw during protest movements 

What does it mean?

Robin des bois roughly pronounced roe-bahn day bwah – is the French version of “Robin Hood” – the legendary outlaw who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. 

Robin Hood is part of English folklore, with the first references to him occurring sometime during the 13th or 14th century. He did not become Robin des bois for some time – as the legend did not spread to the majority of French people until at least the 18th or 19th century. 

Robin des bois most likely made his big entrance on the French stage in the 19th century when the novel Ivanhoe (1819), which tells tales of medieval England, was translated into French. 

The fabled outlaw was welcomed by the French, particularly romantic writers and thinkers of the time who saw him as a symbol of the fight against the aristocracy. 

But the French had their own versions of Robin Hood before the English legend made its way to l’Hexagone – like the “Louis Mandrin” who supposedly rebelled against corrupt tax collectors during the Ancien Regime. 

Over the years, the French – particularly those on the political left – have evoked “Robin des bois” during strikes and protests, and it’s relatively common to see protest movements or direct action groups name themselves after Robin Hood.

The English outlaw also had his own French television series between 1963 and 1966 – though this time he was called “Thierry La Fronde” and he lived in France during the Hundred Years’ War.

Use it like this

Nous devons nous attaquer aux actions de Robin des Bois afin d’aider la classe ouvrière à payer leurs factures d’énergie, a déclaré le syndicat dans un communiqué de presse. – We must take action like Robin Hood to help the working class pay for their energy bills, the union said in a flyer. 

Le restaurateur était un véritable Robin des Bois – il avait tendance à surfacturer les tables des riches et à sous-facturer celles de la classe populaire. – The restaurant owner was a real Robin Hood – he had a tendency of overcharging tables of rich people and under-charging those of poor folks.