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French word of the day: Bled

This is one of many French words with Arabic origins.

French word of the day: Bled
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know bled?

It’s useful when describing a particular type of place, but be careful because it can have negative connotations.

What does it mean?

The word bled comes from Arabic, and is used in North Africa to mean “town” or “country”.

Since arriving in the French language, it has developed two different meanings.

First of all, it’s often used to refer to a person’s village or country of origin. You’ll mostly hear this from first or second generation immigrants in France, when they are talking about the area they or their family came from.

Just as many Americans will be used to hearing stories about the “old country”, the word bled conveys a sense of dual belonging.

Many French people of North African descent return to the bled to visit family during the summer. Of course, this has became more difficult during the pandemic because of travel restrictions, hence the recent headline from Le Parisien: “les Algériens de France ne passeront pas l’été au ‘bled’” (France’s Algerians won’t spend the summer in their country of origin).

The second meaning is more pejorative, and refers to a village or small town which is isolated and deemed to be of little interest. (For a certain type of person, this could be any place that isn’t Paris.)

To really add emphasis to how small and out-of-the-way the town or village is, you can add paumé (lost) to bled

Use it like this

Cet été je vais retourner au bled pour voir mes grands-parents – This summer I’m going to the old country to see my grandparents.

Il n’y a même pas de restaurant dans ce bled – There’s not even a restaurant in this backwater.

Il vient d’un petit bled paumé dans l’ouest de la France – He comes from a one-horse town in the west of France.

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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.