For members


French Expression of the Day: Avoir des oursins dans les poches

This painful-sounding expression is both comic, poetic and useful. Stick it in your phrasebook!

French Expression of the Day: Avoir des oursins dans les poches
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know avoir un oursin dans sa poche?

Because we all know someone with short arms and deep pockets.

What does it mean?

Literally, avoir un oursin dans sa poche (pronounced “av-wah un or-san don sah posh”), means “to have a sea urchin in your pocket”. 

It is used to describe someone who is unwilling to spend money – particularly on others. The idea is that if you had a spiky sea urchin in your pocket, you would be unlikely to reach inside to take out your wallet. 

It is unclear exactly where the expression comes from. 

Sea urchins are also known by two other charming names in French: hérisson de mer (sea hedgehog)  and châtaigne de mer (sea chestnut) 

Use it like this 

Michel ne m’a pas acheté un cadeaux de noël. Il a des oursins dans les poches – Michel did not buy me a Christmas present. He is stingy. 

Tu n’as jamais payer ton tour au bar. T’as des oursins dans les poches – You never paid your round at the bar. You are tight with money. 


Être avare

Être une pince 

Être pingre

Member comments

  1. Oh please Check the grammar mistakes

    1- Michel ne m’a pas acheté un cadeaux mon dieu! Un cadeau. No X. Plural des cadeaux de noël.

2- Non non ! Tu n’as jamais payer not l’infinitif !
    Tu as payé. Passé composé. Exemples: ‘Tu as terminé’ l’article dans The Local?

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
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.