Bonne journée vs belle journée: The latest language battle flaring in France

France has a history of fierce linguistic debates and this time it's a newcomer version of 'have a nice day' that is spurring anger. So when to say belle journée any when bonne journée?

Bonne journée vs belle journée: The latest language battle flaring in France
What is the best way to tell someone to have a nice day in French? Photo: AFP

Literally translated as “good day”, bonne journée is similar to the English “have a nice day”, and has long been an important part of French everyday-etiquette.

People wish each other bonne journée after paying in the shop, before signing off an email or hanging up a phone call. It's an automatic language tic equal to merci (thank you).

It's one of many bon phrases that form the basis of good manners in French, from wishing colleagues bonne après-midi or bon weekend to the more specific bon voyage, bon match or bonne dégustation when someone is about to travel, go to a match or eat.

So widespread is this habit that we even heard a few people wishing each other bon confinement during lockdown, albeit with a bit of irony.

READ ALSO Bon bon – why everything is good when you are speaking French

But in recent years, bonne journée has been challenged by a new arrival, belle journée, which literally translates as “beautiful day”.
Belle journée, which might be the French equivalent to “have a lovely day”, quickly gained popularity and today there are plenty of people who will tell you that it's an integrated alternative to bonne journée.
But as more people began replacing bonne journée with belle journée, a counter-movement grew, made up by indignant bonne journée-purists, who demanded that the trend stop, immediately.
Why is 'belle journée' making people so angry?
Just like the sacred bonjour, bonne journée is a way of showing  the other person, stranger or friend, that you care about their day. You want it to be good, so the opposite to bad. It's simple: c'est sympa. It's nice (of you).
Generally, the belle journée-haters are of the opinion that the term is silly, because wishing someone a “beautiful day” is meaningless.
“Is it about putting flowers in your hair, kissing passers-by in the street, being moved by a strand of grass growing on the pavement?” asked an article in Marianne, a French left-wing magazine, which qualified belle journée as “parfaitement gnangnan” (perfectly namby-pamby).
Another common criticism is that belle journée is pure aesthetic fluff – and so are those using it.
“I feel like I've been teleported to the country of Care Bears,” said Linda Guigère, a journalist at French TV5 Monde, during a sketch dedicated to ridiculing belle journée – as well as belle année (instead of bonne année or Happy New Year).
The right wing newspaper Le Figaro dryly noted that belle journée, “like any fashionable term, expresses a degree of snobbishness.”
This is a common accusation: belle journée is for snobs, for the Parisian elite who drink caffe lattes and type away on their sleek MacBooks. 
Some go further and claim belle journée is just another symptom of the disease that is the Americanisation of French society.
It is what happens when “when financial capitalism insidiously forces us to express ourselves in Anglo-American, in the language of Wall Street, in Globish,” wrote a retired professor in an article titled “Belle journée !” published by the website Mediapart.
Who says 'belle journée'?
But in spite of this spluttering rage, there are still plenty of people in France who say it, or use it in emails.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that there are more belle journée-ers in cities than in rural areas.
It also seems like it's the email sign-off that is the most controversial of all, the argument being that asking someone to do “this and that”, before signing belle journée, makes it clear that the person doesn't want you to have a beautiful day at all (note a not-so-passive aggressive LinkedIn article titled “Don't tell me 'belle journée' ever again”).
So why do people say 'belle journée'?
Belle journée is replacing bonne journée largely because the latter is so common that it feels more like a “see you” or “bye” than a “have a nice day”.
“The intention to wish people a good day through bonne journée is disappearing,” a lexicographer told Canal+ in a humouristic sketch dedicated to explain the phenomenon belle journée.
Belle journée makes the other feel like our words were carefully chosen just for them,” she said.
(The video below is the Canal+-sketch investigating the concept of belle journée. It's quite funny and we recommend it for those with the time for a giggle.)
And if you are a fan of heated debates over language, check out the pain au chocolat v choclatine row that has been simmering in France for some years.

Member comments

  1. “No thanks I’ve made other plans” still works but I agree it is a really distressing trend… Maybe Trump is to blame?

  2. Bonne means good. So “bonne journée” means correctly “have a good day”, which in english is the appropriate expression.

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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.


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


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 


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 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.