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French Word of the Day: Petit pain

If you're baffled as to why French people are calling you a little bread roll, read on . . .

French Word of the Day: Petit pain
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know petit pain? 

Because learning the odd regional word will go a long way towards impressing locals at the pub. 

What does it mean?

Petit pain, pronounced “puh-tee pan”, literally means “small bread” which in most of France signifies a bread roll.

However in the north east of France this word takes on a different significance altogether. 

If you go to the bakery and ask for a petit pain, you are asking for a chocolate croissant, known in the rest of France as a pain au chocolat or chocolatine –  -he lexicological battle over what to call this delicious pastry has been raging for centuries and is something we at The Local have examined in great detail in the past. 

READ MORE Is it a pain au chocolat or a chocolatine?

Petit pain has another meaning too – it is a way to describe someone who cannot hold their booze. It is the northern French equivalent of calling someone a “lightweight”. 

J’ai bu trois verres mais je suis déjà bourré parce que je suis un petit pain – I had three glasses but I’m already drunk because I’m a lightweight 

Je ne bois plus car je suis un petit pain – I am not drinking anymore because I am a lightweight 

Avez-vous des boissons non-alcoolisés? Mon copain est un petit pain – Do you have any non-alcoholic drinks? My boyfriend is a lightweight 

You are particularly likely to hear this place in urban centres of the northeast like Lille. 


A more common, nationwide way of saying that someone gets drunk quickly is: il/elle ne tient pas de l’alcool – he/she does not hold their drink well 

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For members


French Expression of the Day: Chercher midi à quatorze heures

This expression doesn't actually have much to do with lunchtime.

French Expression of the Day: Chercher midi à quatorze heures

Why do I need to know chercher midi à quatorze heures?

Because when someone makes what should take fifteen minutes into an hour-long effort, you might want an appropriate phase.

What does it mean?

Chercher midi à quatorze heures – usually pronounced share-shay-mid-ee-ah-cat-orz-ur – literally means “to look for noon at 2 pm.” When taken literally, the expression does not make much sense. However, in practice, it means “to make a simple thing overly complicated.” It is basically the French equivalent of “don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.”

The expression is quite old, but it is still in use…though it might be more common to find it spoken in the countryside rather than on Twitter.

It was first used as early as the 16th century – the version then was “to look for noon at eleven.” As time went on, it changed to reflect its current form in the 17th century. 

As noon is an important marker for the middle of the day, particularly as l’heure de déjeuner (lunch time), the expression makes fun of making something overly difficult. 

You’ll most likely hear this in the negative command form – as it is something you should probably avoid doing.

Use it like this

Pourquoi avoir pris la route la plus longue pour aller au supermarché ? Ne cherchez pas midi à quatorze heures. – Why take the longest route to get to the supermarket? Don’t overcomplicate things.

Tu n’as pas besoin d’essayer toutes les lettres de l’alphabet pour trouver le Wordle. C’est mieux de penser à des mots simples. Ne cherche pas midi à quatorze heures. – You don’t need to try every letter in the alphabet to get the Wordle. Just think of simple words. Don’t over complicate it.