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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Ten very French ways to say you don’t care

The French language is full of ways to express different degrees of indifference and that's before we even mention the famous Gallic shrug.

Ten very French ways to say you don't care
Are you happy to let someone else choose the movie? Photo: Vladimir Fedotov on Unsplash.

Abroad, French people and especially Parisians are infamous for their perceived aloofness, which often is mistaken for an infuriating arrogance.

But the French 'I don't care' attitude is not necessarily a symptom of a superiority complex (at least not always) and can be just a byproduct of the generally slightly lower level of enthusiasm in France compared to some Anglophone countries (French people rarely exclaim things like “oh my god, that was so awesome”).

READ ALSO Decoding the French: They are not rude, it's just a big misunderstanding

However, the French language has a long list of different ways to express indifference – ranging from the family-friendly to some slightly more robust ones. 

Here's a few examples.

1. Je m’en fiche

This is perhaps the expression you will hear used the most. Along with ça m'est égalje m'en fiche pretty much is the queen of the French 'I don't cares'. It's not vulgar like its sister expression je m'en fous, just a little colloquial.

To foreigners, it can be a little confusing that je m'en fiche also can mean 'I'm easy'. If you ask your new French flame whether they prefer a dinner or a movie and they respond je m'en fiche, it doesn't necessarily mean they don't care about the date – they're just saying 'up to you'.

2. Ca m'est égal 

Same with ça m'est égal. This expression literally translates to 'it's the same to me' and is a very common way to express indifference. It's one of the politer versions of 'I don't mind', and it's a surefire to use in formal or professional settings. Your French boss definitely won't fire you for saying ça m'est égal.
 

3. Je m’en fous

Your boss might, however, frown upon you saying je m'en fous. This one, common albeit (very) colloquial, might best be translated to 'I don't give a shit' in English (or something a tad ruder). It's perhaps wise to refrain for using it in front of French in-laws, old ladies, or others who potentially could take offence, but it's pretty safe to use among friends.

4. Je m’en moque

Another politer version. Je m'en moque means 'I couldn't care less'. Moquer means 'to mock', so this expression is playing quite well into the stereotype of arrogant, huffing Parisians with their nose in the air. Te moquer de quelque chose means 'it's not of interest to you' or 'it doesn't affect you'.

5. Je m’en tape

This is like je m'en moque, just a bit more colloquial. Taper means 'to hit', but in this sense its more a referral to se taper, 'to bang' – so it's sort of like saying 'I don't give a toss'.

6. Je m'en cogne 

Similarly, je m'en cogne translates directly to 'I don't give a thump' – cogner means to 'bump', 'knock' or 'hit' something – and also is a way of saying 'I could not care less'. You can also say, j'en n'ai rien à cogner, which means the same.

7. Comme tu veux

Another respectful way to say you don't mind is comme tu veux – 'as you want'. This is perhaps the sneakiest French way of disguising indifference as politeness (if that's what it is), because you push the responsibility of choosing onto the other person. Say you're selecting a movie and your partner asks which one you'd rather watch. If you respond comme tu veux you're both saying 'up to you' and 'I don't mind' – which seems very nice of you.

However, the trap here is that it's difficult to know whether a person actually doesn't care when they say comme tu veux. Take the example above just with the roles reversed, so it's your partner who says comme tu veux and lets you pick the film; it might be that they actually don't care, but maybe they're secretly thinking “I'll dump her if she chooses Bridget Jones' Diary again”.

READ ALSO How did the French end up with their 'crazy' numbers?


8. Je n'en ai rien à foutre

This is a much clearer and much more vulgar way to say you don't care. It can be loosely translated into 'I have nothing to add', but a good English equivalent could be 'I don't give a tiny rat's ass'. This expression is often used to disregard someone's counter-arguments or excuses. Say your friend is late for your group run – like he usually is – and has sent everyone a long text explaining his delayed train in excruciating detail. If you burst out, Je n'en ai rien à foutre, il a intérêt à être à l'heure ! you're saying 'I don't care about all that, he needs to be here on time!'.

9. Je n'en ai rien à cirer

This is a politer version of ne rien avoir à foutre. It means the same – 'I couldn't care less' – but it's not offensive. Cirer is not a gros mot (swear word), it just means 'to polish' or 'wax' (like what you do with leather shoes or fine wooden floors). It allegedly dates all the way back to the 15th century, originating at sea. When French seamen finished polishing the ship and their superior asked them to get back to work, they would say on n'a rien a cirer – we have nothing to wax.

10. Je m’en bats les couilles

Oh-là-là, we've gotten to perhaps the rudest, least parent-friendly one on this list. Je m'en bat les couilles involves both slapping and testicles and should not be used unless you're among friends. Perhaps its closest English equivalent is 'I couldn't give a flying fuck'.

This one is to be saved for the times when you really don't care. In fact, you care so little that it's a little infuriating that someone would even THINK you care. 

READ ALSO Are these the most annoying words in the whole French language?

 

Member comments

  1. Hello, I don’t know who wrote this but re. 5 above, “I don’t give a toss” is pretty crude in English. Male only, let’s say.
    Also I’m puzzled for the second time (first time was an article a while ago but I don’t remember the title, but there were several examples with word order the same as this I’m querying now). The word order with the negative in 8 & 9 above: 8. J’en n’ai rien à foutre, 9. J’en n’ai rien à cirer .
    I asked a French speaker & tried also to ask some native speakers. Where does this word order come from? Surely it should be ” 8. Je n’en ai rien à foutre & 9. Je n’en ai rien à cirer ” ?

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Le Havre rules: How to talk about French towns beginning with Le, La or Les

If you're into car racing, French politics or visits to seaside resorts you are likely at some point to need to talk about French towns with a 'Le' in the title. But how you talk about these places involves a slightly unexpected French grammar rule. Here's how it works.

An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre.
An old WW2 photo taken in the French port town of Le Havre. It can be difficult to know what prepositions to use for places like this - so we have explained it for you. (Photo by AFP)

If you’re listening to French chat about any of those topics, at some point you’re likely to hear the names of Mans, Havre and Touquet bandied about.

And this is because French towns that have a ‘Le’ ‘La’ or ‘Les’ in the title lose them when you begin constructing sentences. 

As a general rule, French town, commune and city names do not carry a gender. 

So if you wanted to describe Paris as beautiful, you could write: Paris est belle or Paris est beau. It doesn’t matter what adjectival agreement you use. 

For most towns and cities, you would use à to evoke movement to the place or explain that you are already there, and de to explain that you come from/are coming from that location:

Je vais à Marseille – I am going to Marseille

Je suis à Marseille – I am in Marseille 

Je viens de Marseille – I come from Marseille 

But a select few settlements in France do carry a ‘Le’, a ‘La’ or a ‘Les’ as part of their name. 

In this case the preposition disappears when you begin formulating most sentences, and you structure the sentence as you would any other phrase with a ‘le’, ‘la’ or ‘les’ in it.

Masculine

Le is the most common preposition for two names (probably something to do with the patriarchy) with Le Havre, La Mans, Le Touquet and the town of Le Tampon on the French overseas territory of La Réunion (more on that later)

A good example of this is Le Havre, a city in northern France where former Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, who is tipped to one day run for the French presidency, serves as mayor. 

Edouard Philippe’s twitter profile describes him as the ‘Maire du Havre’, using a masculine preposition

Here we can see that his location is Le Havre, and his Twitter handle is Philippe_LH (for Le Havre) but when he comes to describe his job the Le disappears.

Because Le Havre is masculine, he describes himself as the Maire du Havre rather than the Maire de Havre (Anne Hidalgo, for example would describe herself as the Maire de Paris). 

For place names with ‘Le’ in front of them, you should use prepositions like this:

Ja vais au Touquet – I am going to Le Touquet

Je suis au Touquet – I am in Le Touquet 

Je viens du Touquet – I am from Le Touquet 

Je parle du Touquet – I am talking about Le Touquet

Le Traité du Touquet – the Le Touquet Treaty

Feminine

Some towns carry ‘La’ as part of their name. La Rochelle, the scenic town on the west coast of France known for its great seafood and rugby team, is one such example.

In French ‘à la‘ or ‘de la‘ is allowed, while ‘à le‘ becomes au and ‘de le’ becomes du. So for ‘feminine’ towns such as this, you should use the following prepositions:

Je vais à La Rochelle – I am going to La Rochelle

Je viens de La Rochelle – I am coming from La Rochelle 

Plural

And some places have ‘Les’ in front of their name, like Les Lilas, a commune in the suburbs of Paris. The name of this commune literally translates as ‘The Lilacs’ and was made famous by Serge Gainsbourg’s song Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, about a ticket puncher at the Metro station there. 

When talking about a place with ‘Les’ as part of the name, you must use a plural preposition like so:

Je suis le poinçonneur des Lilas – I am the ticket puncher of Lilas 

Je vais aux Lilas – I am going to Les Lilas

Il est né aux Lilas – He was born in Les Lilas  

Islands 

Islands follow more complicated rules. 

If you are talking about going to one island in particular, you would use à or en. This has nothing to do with gender and is entirely randomised. For example:

Je vais à La Réunion – I am going to La Réunion 

Je vais en Corse – I am going to Corsica 

Generally speaking, when talking about one of the en islands, you would use the following structure to suggest movement from the place: 

Je viens de Corse – I am coming from Corsica 

For the à Islands, you would say:

Je viens de La Réunion – I am coming from La Réunion 

When talking about territories composed of multiple islands, you should use aux.

Je vais aux Maldives – I am going to the Maldives. 

No preposition needed 

There are some phrases in French which don’t require any a preposition at all. This doesn’t change when dealing with ‘Le’ places, such as Le Mans – which is famous for its car-racing track and Motorcycle Grand Prix. Phrases that don’t need a preposition include: 

Je visite Le Mans – I am visiting Le Mans

J’aime Le Mans – I like Le Mans

But for a preposition phrase, the town becomes simply Mans, as in Je vais au Mans.

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