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French expression of the day: C’est la Bérézina

French expression of the day: C'est la Bérézina
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
If something is like the "Bérézina" in France, it really isn't good news.

Why do I need to know c’est la Bérézina?

Because it’s packed with French history and using it will make you sound like a language-boss.

What does it mean?

C’est la Bérézina directly translates as “it’s the Bérézina”, which doesn’t make any sense unless you know what a Bérézina is.

Though it sounds like some kind of cake, Bérézina is actually a Russian river.

Back in 1812, then-French Emperor Napoleon was adamant to take Russia and directed his men towards Moscow. But he had horribly miscalculated his plan and the French army was blocked by the marshy Bérézina river, unable to crush.

It was exactly what the Russians wanted and they defeated Napoleon’s army in what is known as the Battle of Bérézina. Napoleon and his men had to retreat back to France under icy Russian winter conditions, with temperatures plunging down to -30C.

The whole thing was a tragic mess that saw tens of thousands die and traumatised the French collective memory. So much so that Bérézina remains a symbol of crushing defeat today.

Online dictionary l’Internaute defines Bérézina as “total and catastrophic failure”.

C’est la Bérézina therefore means “it’s a disaster” or “it’s a catastrophe”. 

Critics of the government have called its recent handling of the health crisis: C’est la Bérézina sanitaire means “it’s a health disaster”.

Use it like this

C’est la Bérézina sanitaire dans les hôpitaux en ce moment. Avec tous les patients Covid-19, il ne reste quasiment plus de places pour des nouveaux malades. – It’s a health disaster in the hospitals at the moment. With all the Covid patients, there nearly isn’t any room left for new sick people.

L’élection présidentielle en 2017, c’était la Bérézina totale pour la gauche. On verra en 2020 s’ils ont appris leurs leçons. – The 2017 presidential elections were a total failure for the left. We will see in 2020 if they have learned their lessons.
 
Si on n’en fait rien, ça sera la Bérézina d’ici un an lorsque les entreprises font faillit et que tout le monde est au chômage – If we do nothing, we’re headed for a catastrophe in a year when companies go bankrupt and there will everyone is unemployed.
Synonyms
 
Echec – failure
 
Catastrophe – disaster
 
Désastre – disaster 
 

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