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From ‘natel’ to ‘ça joue’: The Swiss French words which help you sound like a local

From “schmolitz” to “panosse”, some words and phrases common in the French-speaking part of Switzerland are different from their equivalents used in France. Here is the vernacular you should master if you live in Suisse Romandie.

From 'natel' to 'ça joue': The Swiss French words which help you sound like a local
No, the chalet is not crazy. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Each of Switzerland’s main languages – German, French and Italian – are shared with a larger and more influential neighbour. 

These three languages – when added to the unique Romansh language – makes for a diverse linguistic spectrum. 

It might come as a relief to foreigners living in one of the French-speaking cantons that differences between the Swiss version of the language and the one spoken in France is much smaller than the difference between standard German and Schwyzerdütch.

Except for some specific words and expressions, people in France understand their counterparts in Romandie much easier than is the case between Germans and Swiss-Germans.

READ MORE: ‘Just so fun to say’: Are these the best Swiss-German words to learn?

The Local recently asked its readers what are the most important Swiss-French words to know.

Which parts of Switzerland speak French?

Geneva, Vaud, Jura and Neuchâtel speak only French, while Valais and Fribourg speak predominantly French but also German. 

Bern, the seat of the de facto capital, is also bilingual, but with more German than French speakers. 

From the answers we received, several respondents mentioned the numbers. 

As anyone who has tried to learn French will tell you, the numbering system is particularly difficult – especially when you get in the double figures. 

The Swiss French numbering system is different to that of original French, with Swiss French using the words septante (seventy), huitante (eighty) and nonante (ninety). 

The Romands decided to simplify these words from their original French versions: soixante-dix, quatre-vingt, and quatre-vingt-dix, which literally translate to ‘sixty-ten’, ‘four twenties’ and ‘four twenties-ten’. 

However, regional differences are also at play here: Geneva uses the French version of these numbers, possibly because of its close proximity to France.

Some readers also mentioned the expression “ça joue”. Literally translated it means “it plays”, but in the Suisse Romande it means “yes, it’s alright”.

Other words and expressions mentioned in the reader survey were: “carnotzet” (a small bar), “bonap” (Bon appétit – enjoy your meal), “si jamais”, (if ever), vélo (bicycle), “ouais” (slangy oui – yes), and “tout de bon” (all the best).

READ MORE: Have your say: What are the most important Swiss French words to know?

Suisse-Romande versus France

Aside from the numbers mentioned above, some words and phrases used in this part of Switzerland are uniquely “Romand” and if you use them in France, chances are you will be met with a quizzical look.

Natel: Mobile phone (“téléphone mobile”)

French-speaking Switzerland: Seven life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Panosse: A wet broom (“serpillière in France)

Y a pas le feu au lac: Literally, this means “there’s no fire in the lake”. But what it actually means “there is no rush, no urgency.

Faire schmolitz : Wine drinking ritual in which two people decide to befriend each other by passing from the formal “vous” form to the more casual “tu”.

Schmoltz! Photo by Monstera from Pexel

Etre déçu en bien: Be pleasantly surprised (être agréablement surpris in France)

Ça va, le chalet?: Are you crazy ? (ça va pas la tête ?)

Tchô bonne: Have a good day /evening (bonne journée /soirée)

Lolette: a pacifier for babies (tétine in France)

Quart d’heure vaudois: This means a slight delay, not only in Vaud but in other Romand cantons as well (être en retard” in France). Please note that a similar expression doesn’t exist in the German-speaking cantons, and for a good reason: Swiss-Germans are rarely late.

‘The pleasure of punctuality’: Why are the Swiss so obsessed with being on time?

Tenir les pouces: Just like in Anglo countries, crossing fingers brings good luck in Suisse Romande. But in France, you’d have to “croiser les doigts”.

Tenir les pouces: universal sign of good luck. Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Lost in translation?

If you are not totally familiar with the intricacies of the French language, keep in mind that these expressions have a different meaning in French than in English. Or, they may not mean what you think they might:

Préservatifs: No, these are not artificial food additives (“conservateurs”), but condoms. The latter is commonly found in food, the former usually isn’t.

Hors-ligne: This is often seen on buses in the Suisse Romandie. This doesn’t mean the bus is transporting horses; it does mean it is not in service.

Voilà, there you have it: some typical expressions you are bound to hear in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

Tchô bonne! 

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‘We tip less in France than in the US’ – readers reveal who they tip, and how much

To tip or not to tip, who and how much - we asked readers of The Local about how they handle tipping in France, and whether their behaviour has changed during their time here.

‘We tip less in France than in the US’ - readers reveal who they tip, and how much

France has less of a tipping culture than other countries, but the concept of un pourboire (a tip – literally ‘for a drink’) does exist, although whether to tip is more of a personal choice.

This is what readers of The Local told us about their tipping behaviour. 

Do you tip?

In France, service is included as part of the bill, so – strictly speaking – it is not necessary to add a bit extra. Even so,  93.5 percent of those who responded to our online questionnaire said that they tip at least some of the time.

But although almost every tips at least some of time, only a third (34.8 percent) said that they tipped every time they have drinks or go out.

More than a quarter (28.3 percent) said they tip sometimes (if they fell like it or had spare change), while almost half (43.5 percent) said they would reserve tipping for those times the service had been particularly good. 

“At a café if I pay in cash or have a few extra coins I will leave the spare change … [but] I often pay with a card and do not tip. However, if we have a really nice experience with great service we will tip nicely to show our gratitude, usually around 10 percent of the bill,” wrote Strasbourg-based Lauren Lever.

Who else?

As well as tipping servers at a café or restaurant, hairdressers and taxi drivers were regularly mentioned in reader responses – as were cleaners, guardiennes, nail technicians, and concierges. One reader also mentioned staff who service his bicycle.

“I asked my hairdresser about this. She said it was the thought that counts, and that a few cents meant as much as a higher tip,” wrote Kate Mears, from Bergerac.

But, she added: “She may have been being polite, as who doesn’t like a large tip, but I think she was stressing that there’s no pressure at all to tip, not to tip, or how much.”

How much?

That is very much a matter of personal choice. Most respondents said that they would round-up a bill to include a tip, while others said that they would give some spare change. Most agreed that they added between 5 percent and 10 percent to a bill at a time.

Usually at least enough to bring the total service amount up to 20 percent. I worked in food service once upon a time. Interestingly, some of my French friends tip generously, others not at all,” wrote Rebecca Brite, who lives in Paris.

Taxi drivers, meanwhile, could expect an additional euro or two, especially if they managed to avoid the worst of the city traffic. Hairdressers, too, may see their bill rounded up a couple of euros for a cut well done.

Christmas gifts

Christmas is a time for giving – and, in France, traditionally a time for les étrennes – the seasonal tip given to certain groups who help you out throughout the year.

You may also get a visit from your La Poste delivery person, or the local firefighters, selling a calendar. Your local refuse collection staff may also still call, though these practices are on the decline. There is no set price for these seasonal calendars, you give whatever you want and it’s seen as a fundraising exercise and way to say ‘thank you’.

Kate Mears wrote that she and her family were relatively new to France and still getting to grips with tipping conventions here, but added: “I give between €5 and €20 to the Christmas calendar people such as the pompiers who call at the door – three different ones last year.”

It seems, also, that Covid-19 has led to some generous tipping. Thomas wrote that the concierge in his building received a “very generous tip”.

She does a lot of extra things for me, including shopping if I have to quarantine! She is a real gem!” he explained.

Nicholas Bouler, who divides his time between Birmingham, Alabama, and Orléans wrote: “Our apartment has a guardien,” who received a Christmas tip because “he was especially helpful when we were moving in. “

Tipping behaviours

Readers, especially those from the US, said that they had noticed a change in their attitudes towards tipping since coming to France. 

Lauren Lever said: “In the States we always tip 20 percent of the bill because the servers depend on that money to earn their living. In France I have definitely lost that habit and do not feel bad if I don’t leave a tip, or leave a small tip, in most circumstances.”

Stephanie, from Poissy, agreed: “I’m from the US, where you always tip everyone. Since I know it’s not the culture in France, I’ve stopped tipping. 

“It’s easier this way and I am saving some money. I think it’s great that they pay servers a higher wage here, that way the customers aren’t covering it all by their tips alone. Plus it’s less expensive for us to eat out because we just pay for the food and that’s all. It feels like a win-win for both customers and servers.”

One, Rebecca Brite, told us that the difference in attitudes towards tipping had, ironically, prompted her to tip more at US restaurants.

Another respondent said that Covid-19 had made them more likely to tip “ because people missed out for so long and to encourage a solution to staff shortages”.

But others said they were more likely to tip less in France, or even not at all, because service is routinely included in the bill. 

“I used to tip 10 percent but locals said there’s “Service a compris” … so there is no need” a reader from St Tropez who preferred to remain anonymous told us.

Kate Mears added: “I tip less often as I’d heard it was unFrench to tip and now I live here I’m trying to act like a local and not a tourist!”

And Fiona Rennison, from Lot-et-Garonne explained: “We tipped more in the UK. Here we tip less because it’s not expected and we know people are paid a decent living wage – but we happily pay more for better quality food.”