French phrase of the day: Parcours du combattant

French phrase of the day: Parcours du combattant
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Anybody who has ever moved to France will be able to relate to this phrase.

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.

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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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