Knotted stomachs to flipping out: 10 French phrases to use when you’re stressed

As France heads back from its holidays there are plenty of things to feel stressed out about - if it's all getting a bit much, here's how to express that in French.

Knotted stomachs to flipping out: 10 French phrases to use when you're stressed
A man dives from a cliff at the "Calanque du Mauvais Pas"in Marseille. Photo: CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP.

J’ai la boule au ventre – This literally means “I have a ball in my stomach“, and it refers to a feeling of such stress that your stomach is in knots. It’s all about the anticipation, when there’s something you’re dreading. It’s the perfect phrase to describe that Sunday night feeling when you know something particularly unpleasant awaits you on Monday. Can’t you just feel that weight in your gut?

J’ai l’estomac noué – Now this one is literally “I have a knotted stomach”. Just like in English, it implies that you’re very scared or anxious about an upcoming event. To the point where it’s giving you stomach cramps.

J’ai la trouille – This one’s not quite as easy to picture, but it’s no less foreboding. It means you’re petrified. If you’re completely terrified, you can dial it up a notch by adding the word “blue” so it becomes j’ai une trouille bleue. You can then add de on the end, followed by whatever it is that puts you in that state. Like other words featuring the sound ouille, trouille can be incredibly difficult for English speakers to pronounce, but this video should help.

J’ai le tracLe trac is similar to la trouille, but it’s more specific in that it’s used for a fear of performing or appearing in front of a crowd. It’s like “stage fright”, and can be used for any kind of performance, including a big presentation at work, or an oral exam at school.

J’appréhende – Literally “to apprehend”, the French use this phrase to refer to something they’re worried about. The same is possible in English, although it’s more common to say “I am apprehensive”. In French, you can stick whatever it is that’s worrying you on the end without any connecting words. You might say for instance J’appréhende la rentrée (I’m worried about going back to school/work).

Ca m’angoisse – The noun angoisse could be placed anywhere on the sliding scale of fear from “anxiety’ to “anguish”. Just like the English word anxiety, angoisse can be used in a medical context for someone who has an anxiety disorder, or more casually for something that you’re stressed out about.

Angoisse can also be turned into a verb, making it much more snappy. It can be something you do to yourself – Je m’angoisse means “I’m stressing out”. Or it can be a result of external factors – Ca m’angoisse de retourner au bureau (I’m anxious about returning to the office). If it gets really bad, you might faire une crise d’angoisse (have an anxiety attack).

Je stresse – French is not known for being more succinct than English, but when it comes to fear maybe it’s true, because this is another example of being able to use one word instead of several. The verb stresser means “to be stressed” or “to get worried”. If you want to emphasise the cause of your woes, you can say la rentrée me stresse (the return to work/school is stressing me out).

Ca me fait flipper – Flipper means “to flip” or “to freak out”, so this expression means “it freaks me out”. If you’re not worried about how you might come across, there’s also the very informal “Je flippe ma race”, meaning “I’m totally freaking out”.

C’est la cataLa cata is short for la catastrophe – you can guess the English translation – so this phrase is an informal way of saying “It’s a disaster”. You’d only use it in spoken conversation or when messaging friends. People in France often say this when they’re being a bit melodramatic.

Je vais faire une crise de nerfsCrise de nerfs means ‘crisis of nerves’ or a nervous breakdown, and je vais faire une crise de nerfs is the French equivalent of saying “I’m going to have a nervous breakdown”. You can also say Je suis au bord de la crise de nerfs (I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown). It can be used to refer to a genuine breakdown, although as with la cata, it doesn’t have to refer to a full-blown crisis – it’s also an exaggerated way of expressing your annoyance at lots of little things which keep adding up.

These phrases are intended for use on the everyday stresses and strains of life. If you are feeling acute anxiety or stress, read our guide to accessing mental health services in France.

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Plumbing Emergencies in France: Who to call and what to say

Plumbing ermergencies are common in France, so here's our guide to what to do, who to call and the phrases you will need if water starts gushing in unexpected areas.

Plumbing Emergencies in France: Who to call and what to say

How do I find a reliable plumber and avoid getting scammed?

First, try to stick with word-of-mouth if you can. Contact trusted individuals or resources, like your neighbours and friends, or foreigner-oriented Facebook groups for your area (ex. “American Expats in Paris”). This will help you find a more reliable plumber. If this is not an option for you, try “Pages Jaunes” (France’s ‘Yellow Pages’) to see reviews and plumbers (plomberie) in your area. 

Next, educate yourself on standard rates. If the situation is not an emergency, try to compare multiple plumbers to make sure the prices are in the correct range. 

Finally, always Google the name of the plumber you’ll be working with – this will help inform you as to whether anyone else has had a particularly positive (or negative) experience with them – and check that the company has a SIRET number.

This number should be on the work estimate (devis). You can also check them out online at If you want to be extra careful you can also ask to see their carte artisan BTP (craftsman card). 

READ MORE: What is a SIRET number and why is it crucial when hiring French tradesmen?

Who is responsible for paying for work?

If you own the property, you are typically the one who is responsible for financing the plumbing expenses.

However if you’re in a shared building, you must determine the cause and location of the leak. If you cannot find the origin of the leak, you may need a plumber to come and locate it and provide you with an estimate. You can use this estimate when communicating with insurance, should the necessity arise. 

If you are a renter, the situation is a bit more complicated. Most of the time, water damage should be the landlord’s responsibility, but there are exceptions.

The landlord is obliged to carry out major repairs (ex. Natural disaster, serious plumbing issues) that are necessary for the maintenance and normal upkeep of the rented premises (as per, Article 6C of the law of July 6, 1989). The tenant, however, is expected to carry out routine maintenance, and minor repairs are also to be paid by the tenant. If the problem is the result of the tenant failing to maintain the property, then it will be the tenant’s responsibility to cover the cost of the repair.

Legally speaking, it is also the tenant’s responsibility to get the boiler serviced once a year, as well as to maintain the faucets and joints, and to avoid clogging the pipes.

READ MORE: Assurance habitation: How to get home insurance in France

If you end up in dispute with your landlord over costs, you can always reach out to ADIL, the national Housing Association which offers free legal advice for housing issues in France. 

What happens if the leak is coming from my neighbour’s property?

Both you and your neighbour should contact your respective housing insurance companies and file the ‘sinistre’ (damage) with them.

If you both agree on the facts you can file an amiable (in a friendly fashion), then matters are much more simple and you will not have to go through the back-and-forth of determining fault.

If having a friendly process is not possible, be sure to get an expert to assert where the leak is coming from and file this with your insurance company.

As always, keep evidence (lists and photographs) of the damage. Keep in mind that many insurance providers have a limited number of days after the start of the damage that you can file. Better to do it sooner than later, partially because, as with most administrative processes in France, it might take a bit of time.


Plumbing has its own technical vocabulary so here are some words and phrases that you’re likely to need;

Hello, I have a leak in my home. I would like to request that a plumber come to give me an estimate of the damage and cost for repairs – Bonjour, j’ai une fuite chez moi. Je voudrais demander qu’un plombier vienne me donner une estimation des dégâts et du coût de la réparation. 

It is an emergency: C’est une urgence

I have no hot water: Je n’ai pas d’eau chaude

The boiler has stopped working: La chaudière ne fonctionne plus.

I cannot turn my tap off: Je ne peux pas arrêter le robinet.

The toilet is leaking: Mes toilettes fuient.

The toilet won’t flush/ is clogged: Mes toilettes sont bouchées

There is a bad smell coming from my septic tank: Il y a un mauvaise odeur provenant de ma fosse septique

I would like to get my electricity / boiler safety checked: Je souhaiterais une vérification de la sécurité de mon installation électrique / de ma chaudière

I can smell gas: Ca sent le gaz

My washing machine has broken: Ma machine a laver est cassée

Can you come immediately? Est-ce que vous pouvez venir tout de suite?

When can you come? Quand est-ce que vous pouvez venir?

How long will it take? Combien de temps cela prendra-t-il ?

How much do you charge? Quels sont vos prix? / Comment cela va-t-il coûter?

How can I pay you? Comment je peux vous payer ? 

Here are the key French vocabulary words for all things plumbing-related:

Dishwasher – Lave vaisselle

Bath – Baignoire

Shower – Douche

Kitchen Sink – Évier

Cupboard – Placard

Water meter – Compteur d’eau

The Septic Tank – La fosse septique

A leak – Une fuite

Bathroom sink – Le lavabo

The toilet – La toilette

Clogged – Bouché

To overflow – Déborder

A bad smell – Une mauvaise odeur

The flexible rotating tool used to unclog a pipe (and also the word for ferret in French) – Furet 

Water damage – Dégât des eaux

The damage – Le sinistre

And finally, do you know the French phrase Sourire du plombier? No, it’s not a cheerful plumber, it’s the phrase used in French for when a man bends down and his trouser waistband falls down, revealing either his underwear or the top of his buttocks. In English it’s builder’s bum, in French ‘plumber’s smile’.