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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French phrase of the day: Parcours du combattant

Anybody who has ever moved to France will be able to relate to this phrase.

French phrase of the day: Parcours du combattant
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know parcours du combatant?

Because sometimes life is more complicated than it needs to be.

What does it mean?

A parcours du combattant is an assault course, as used by the military, where you have to run along a trail and overcome various physical obstacles.

In French, the phrase, which literally means “fighter’s course”, also has a figurative meaning – you can use it to refer to any task which was complicated to complete because several obstacles stood in your way. For example, in your dealings with French bureaucracy when you begin to wonder if people are purposefully trying to make your life more difficult.

Finding an apartment in France could be described as a parcours du combattant, since they are often snapped up quickly and you have to provide a lot of paperwork.

It’s an evocative expression which will make you feel like a fierce warrior for accomplishing what should have been a relatively simple task. It’s almost surprising that the equivalent phrase is not commonly used in English – the closest equivalent is perhaps “an uphill battle”.

Use it like this

Pour venir en France ça a été un peu le parcours du combattant – Making it to France was a real struggle

C’était un parcours du combattant pour trouver un créneau – It was an uphill battle trying to find an appointment

Dans mon école, obtenir un vidéoprojecteur relève du parcours du combattant – In my school, getting a projector is a veritable obstacle course

Member comments

  1. And also, I believe, gthe origin of the word ‘parkour’. According to Wikipedia: ‘Parkour is an activity that can be practiced alone or with others, and is usually carried out in urban spaces, though it can be done anywhere’. So very much like the other favourite activity of the French: sex.

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For members

FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French Expression of the Day: Faire la java

This expression is one to use if you see someone looking a bit worse for wear.

French Expression of the Day: Faire la java

Why do I need to know faire la java?

Because you might be looking for a different way to describe the fun times you had last weekend.

What does it mean?

Faire la java usually pronounced fair lah jah-vah – translates literally as ‘to do the java,’ which refers to a popular dance from the early 1900s in France. However, these days, the phrase is a synonym for the more popular phrase ‘faire la fête’ which means to party, usually involving alcoholic beverages and minimal amounts of sleep.   

In the 1910s to 1920s, when the java dance was popular, it was typically performed at big parties. It’s unclear where the term ‘java’ came from, as it has no connection with the island of Java. The dance itself was quite scandalous at the time, and it was seen as overly sensual and risqué. Though the dance fell out of practice in the 1950s, the phrase remained in use, which is why you’ll probably still hear French people, especially those of the older generation, talking about their wild times ‘faisant la fava.’ 

If you’re curious what the dance was like, here is a clip:

Use it like this

J’étais tellement épuisée quand je me suis réveillée ce matin parce que hier soir on a fait la java. – I was so exhausted when I woke up this morning because last night we partied.

Mes voisins aiment faire la java, ce qui serait bien, mais ils font tellement de bruit les soirs de semaine. – My neighbours love to party, which would be fine, but they make so much noise on weeknights.

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