Reader question: Why do the French call the Russian leader Poutine?

If you read French media you may have noticed that the the Russian premier's name is spelled Poutine, rather than the more usual western rendering of Putin, and his name is also pronounced differently.

Reader question: Why do the French call the Russian leader Poutine?
Don't call Vladimir Putin a cheesy chips street snack. Photo by Sergei Savostyanov / SPUTNIK / AFP

Question: All French media seem to refer to the Russian leader as Poutine, rather than Putin – I always thought a poutine was a kind of snack?

In the west, you might be more used to seeing the Russian leader’s name spelled as Vladimir Putin, but in France it is different, and for a rather amusing reason.

Because of the standard French pronunciation that does not sound out the final letter of a word, Putin in France would be pronounced puh-ta.

And that’s essentially the same pronunciation as one of France’s favourite words – putain.

Putain literally translates as whore, but it’s used by the French in a way more similar to the English word fuck, although it’s often used in milder contexts too – the tone of your voice is crucial.

Putain is absolutely France’s go-to swearword, you’ll hear it everywhere from softly muttered by the person who has dropped their glasses to screamed in rage during street brawls.

Putain: An ode to France’s greatest swearword

But although it’s popular it’s not exactly polite, and would be unsuitable for the diplomatic world even if the Russian leader wasn’t the sort of chap who you would think twice about calling a whore (at least to his face).

His name is therefore rendered in French as Poutine and pronounced Puh-teen.

For Canadians, however, his French rendering has an extra layer of meaning, as a poutine is an extremely popular snack consisting of French fries, cheese curds and gravy.

Canadians enjoy a tasty poutine. Photo by Andrej Ivanov / AFP

Still, probably best to be thought of as a tempting junk food than a gros mot.

Member comments

  1. Well yes, it’s all to do with the differences in pronunciation in our respective languages when transcribing from Cyrillic script. One thinks of Poutine’s predecessors Eltsine and Khroutchtchev, not to mention Raspoutine the mad monk. And “Stalin” is quite a common name here and made me laugh at first, until I realised that the supreme leader is actually called “Staline” in French.

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Six French films with English subtitles in Paris in November

Paris-based cinema club Lost in Frenchlation has six screenings of French films with English subtitles in November, from a tense police drama to a family comedy.

Six French films with English subtitles in Paris in November

Thomas Hood’s poem has November as the month with no sun, no moon, no morn, no noon… He unaccountably failed to mention the fact there will be six English-subtitled French films for Paris-based cinephiles to enjoy, courtesy of those remarkable people at Lost in Frenchlation.

Here’s what is scheduled for this month.

Le Sixième Enfant

The month kicks off with Léopold Legrand’s drama about a struggling couple with five children and a sixth on the way, and the difficult arrangement they reach with a pair of childless but well-off lawyers.

On Friday, November 4th, doors at L’Entrepôt Cinema, 7 Rue Francis de Pressensé, Paris 14, open at 7pm for pre-screening drinks. The film starts at 8pm, and will be followed by a Q&A session with the director. Tickets cost €8.50 (€7 concessions)

Riposte Féministe

Cannes-listed documentary, directed by Marie Perennès and Simon Depardon, following several women as they fight back – literally and metaphorically – against misogyny in France. 

Tickets for the screening on Sunday, November 13th, at L’Entrepôt, 7 Rue Francis de Pressensé, Paris 14, cost €10 (€8 concessions).

An optional walking tour, following in the footsteps of Paris’s most famous female writers is offered, from 5pm, for €15.


An out-of-competition film at Cannes earlier this year, Novembre tells the story of the aftermath of the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris as police – under huge pressure – tracked down suspects across Europe before they could strike again. Jean Dujardin stars.

Drinks at 7pm at the Luminor Hotel de Ville, 20 Rue du Temple, Paris 4, precede the screening at 8pm on Thursday, November 17th. Tickets are €10 (€8 concessions)

L’Origine du Mal

Director Sébastien Marnier will be at the screening of his movie L’Origine du Mal, and will take part in a Q&A afterwards. The film, riddled with sly humour, tells the story of a woman on the verge of financial collapse, who attempts to reconnect with her wealthy, estranged father and his new family.

Tickets for the show, on Thursday, November 24th at L’Arlequin, 76 Rue de Rennes, Paris 6, cost €10 (€8 concessions).


The final film of the month, screened on Sunday, November 27th, is L’Innocent, which follows a man’s efforts to prove the jailbird who has just married his prison drama teacher mum is still a no-good criminal.

Tickets for the show on November 27th at Luminor Hotel de Ville, 20 Rue du Temple, Paris 4, cost €10 (€8 concessions). Screening starts at 8pm, with pre-show drinks on offer from 7pm.