French Word of the Day: Occidentaux

This has an ancient word root but an all-too-modern application.

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

Why do I need to know Occidentaux?

Because it features regularly in newspapers and news programmes at the moment.

What does it mean?

Occidentaux – pronounced ock-si-dont-oh –  is the masculine plural form of the adjective occidental, meaning western.

It’s used in a lot of contexts to mean the western part of something, but it also has a political context.

So in discussions about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, you might hear phrases such as pays occidentaux, meaning western countries; gouvernements occidentaux – western governments; or états occidentaux – western states. 

It’s frequently used on its own too, especially in headlines such as ‘Le Président Zelensky accuse les Occidentaux . . .’ – President Zelensky accuses the west.

It is sometimes used to describe those nations that are signatories to the North Atlantic Treaty – particularly at the moment – in fact, that’s the Larousse Dictionary definition of the word.

It derives from the Latin occidens, (sunset, West), in contrast to the Orient (oriens, rise, East). While ‘the orient’ exists in English it’s pretty archaic, whereas in France Moyen orient means the Middle East.

Use it like this

Pays occidentaux  – western countries

La partie occidentale du pays est couverte de forêts – The western part of the country is covered by forests.


L’ouest – the west

L’est – the east

These are the more straightforward phrases for east and west but they tend to be used for either compass points or specific regional descriptions eg la sud-ouest de la france

They’re not used for wider or geopolitical descriptions, so you won’t hear politicians talking about La réponse de Moucou aux ouest – Moscow’s response to the west.

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French Expression of the Day: Système D

It might sound like a military operation, but you will probably have to use 'system D' at least once during your time in France.

French Expression of the Day: Système D

Why do I need to know Système D?

Because if your train was cancelled during a strike, or your childcare arrangements suddenly fall through, then you might need a ‘system D’.

What does it mean?

Système D roughly pronounced sis-tehm day – may sound like the name of a rock band or a computer programming device, but it has little to do with music or coding.

In reality, Système D is a French expression reserved for situations where one must be resourceful and inventive – it is defined as ‘the art of getting by’ or ‘making do’ or perhaps ‘cobbling it together’ and it has been used for several decades in France.

You might use this expression if you find yourself having to make do in a complicated scenario. For example, the French press said parents were forced to adapt after a recent strike closed schools for the day. One French article quoted a parent who said “On fait ce qu’on peut, c’est le système D” (We do what we can, it is a make-do situation).

The “D” part of Système D actually comes from the French word “débrouille (or se débrouiller)” which means “to get by” or to work to put things in order.

Use it like this

Ne vous inquiétez pas, Michel s’adaptera à n’importe quelle situation dans laquelle vous le mettez. C’est un expert du système D. – Don’t worry, Michel will adapt to any situation you put him in. He is very resourceful.

Se rendre au travail était le système D la semaine dernière, alors que toutes les options de transport étaient fermées en raison de la grève. Il fallait être très créatif. – Getting to work was a make-do situation last week, when all public transportation was closed due to the strike. You had to be really creative.