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French expression of the day: On s’adapte

All foreigners that have stayed in France will have had to do this on some level or other.

French expression of the day: On s'adapte
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know on s'adapte?

It is useful when talking about both big and small changes.

What does it mean?

S'adapter is French for 'to adapt' or 'to adjust' (to a situation).

On s'adapte, which directly translates to 'we adapt' or 'we adjust', is commonly used in France. It also implies 'we'll be fine' or 'we'll manage', indicating that the someone or something making the adjustment is flexible and able to get with the times.

French online dictionary l'Internaute defines it as “changing to better correspond . . . or deal with an environment or a situation”. 

You can use it for small and big adjustments alike. It can be a startup changing its whole business model to survive an economic crisis; an animal species developing its exterior to survive global warming; or just someone having lunch one hour later than usual because they wanted to wait for a colleague – ils se sont tous adaptés, 'they all adjusted'.

Use it like this

Avec le confinement, on s'est adapté. On fait des économies où on peut, on ne dépense quasiment plus rien. – With the lockdown, we've got used to saving where we can.

Tu finis le travail à quelle heure ce soir ? Dis-moi lorsque tu penses partir et on s'adaptera pour l'apéro. – What time do you get off work tonight? Let me know when you think you will be leaving and we'll plan the aperitif accordingly.

En France les restaurants ne servent pas forcément des plats chauds à 16h30. Ca fait trois mois qu'elle est ici, il faut qu'elle s'adapte un peu aux habitudes françaises. – In France restaurants don't necessarily serve hot meals at 4.30pm. She's been here for three months now, she has to get used to French habits.


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For members


French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

This expression is more than just your last order at the boulangerie.

French Expression of the Day: Tarte à la crème

Why do I need to know tarte à la crème ?

Because if someone uses this phrase to describe you, you should probably be a bit offended.

What does it mean?

Tarte à la crème – pronounced tart ah lah krem – literally refers to a cream filled tart, or a custard tart, in English. However, this expression has more to do than just baking. It is another way of describing something that is boring, predictable or commonplace.

This expression comes straight from Moliere himself. In the 17th century, there was a popular rhyming game called “Corbillon.” The phrase “Je vous passe mon corbillon” (I pass you by corbillon) is said, and then it is followed by “Qu’y met-on?” (What does one put on it?) To keep the rhyme up, people must respond with something ending in an -ON sound.

In the play, “L’Ecole des Femmes” (The School of Wives), one character says the ideal woman would respond to the question with “tarte à la crème” which is obviously the wrong answer. The right answer would be tarte à la citron (lemon tart). Molière did this on purpose to poke fun at the fact that disgruntled fans would send poor actors cream tarts to express their frustration.

It was a way of ridiculing his critics and showing he was unimpressed by their method of showing discontentment at his plays. Over time, the phrase went on to describe things that are commonplace or boring. It is often used to describe entertainment related topics, such as books, movies, or plays.

A synonym for this phrase in French might be banal and in English you might say something is ‘vanilla’ to describe something that is fairly unexciting.

Use it like this

Le film était vraiment tarte à la crème. Je ne recommande pas d’aller le voir au cinéma, vous pouvez attendre de le voir une fois qu’il sera gratuit en ligne. – The movie was really boring. I don’t recommend going to see it at the movies, you can simply wait to see it once it is free online.

Je pense que l’album est tarte à la crème. Elle a pris tellement d’idées d’autres artistes que ce n’est vraiment pas original du tout. – I think the album is predictable. She really took plenty of ideas from other artists and it was not original at all.