6 of the best French ‘cow’ phrases

From surprise to complaining, language skills to the weather - there are a lot of French expressions that involve cows, here's a few of our favourites.

6 of the best French 'cow' phrases
French cows have truly enriched the language. Photo by Olivier CHASSIGNOLE / AFP

Oh la vache ! – if you’re surprised, shocked or amazed you can exclaim Oh la vache ! (Oh the cow) or simply La vache ! You could use it if someone startled you, if you’re being shown a particularly amazing video or news story or simply as an alternative to ‘Oh my God’ (and yes, French people often use this English expression).

It’s often used by parents as a family-friendly alternative to swearing, but you’ll hear it in all sorts of contexts where letting rip with a putain might be inappropriate.

READ ALSO Cows to bugs: How to ‘swear’ politely in French

C’est vache – literally meaning ‘it’s cow’ this is a slang term to mean something or someone that is tough, strict or difficult. You might use it to describe your brutal gym class instructor, a particularly horrible French exam or a tough task.

This is slangy but not offensive.

Vachement – translated as ‘cowly’ this means very or extremely and is used to add emphasis to your sentences or signal a strong agreement. 

It used to be very popular among younger people but these days it seems to have fallen out of favour. You’ll still see and hear references to it, but maybe wait and see if someone in your peer group uses it first – no-one wants to be the person using the outdated slang.

Parler français comme une vache espagnol – to speak French like a Spanish cow. Cows don’t speak any (human) language of course, so this phrase really means someone who speaks French badly – dodgy grammar, terrible accent etc.

It’s rare that anyone would say this directly to you, but it’s a good one to wheel out if you want to raise a smile and break the ice if you’re not too sure of your French verb tenses. 

Il pleut comme vache qui pisse – it’s raining like a pissing cow. This is a great and truly descriptive expression for when it’s raining really heavily. The politer option is il pleut des cordes – it’s raining rods – but if you want  a slightly ruder expression, go for the pissing cow.

Transpire comme un beouf – another weather-related one. In English we sweat ‘like a pig’ in French one sweats like a bullock – in French une vache is a cow, un taureau is a bull and a bullock (or adolescent bovine) is un bœuf.

So if you’re looking for a good description for those August days in the city when descending onto the Metro is like entering the fifth circle of Hell, this is for you. 

READ ALSO ‘Duck cold’ – 7 French animal-related weather phrases

And as we’re on the subject – French cows don’t say ‘moo’ they say ‘meuh’ – here’s the full list of French animal noises.

Do you have a favourite French phrase that involves cows? Tell us about it! Email [email protected]

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Plumbing Emergencies in France: Who to call and what to say

Plumbing ermergencies are common in France, so here's our guide to what to do, who to call and the phrases you will need if water starts gushing in unexpected areas.

Plumbing Emergencies in France: Who to call and what to say

How do I find a reliable plumber and avoid getting scammed?

First, try to stick with word-of-mouth if you can. Contact trusted individuals or resources, like your neighbours and friends, or foreigner-oriented Facebook groups for your area (ex. “American Expats in Paris”). This will help you find a more reliable plumber. If this is not an option for you, try “Pages Jaunes” (France’s ‘Yellow Pages’) to see reviews and plumbers (plomberie) in your area. 

Next, educate yourself on standard rates. If the situation is not an emergency, try to compare multiple plumbers to make sure the prices are in the correct range. 

Finally, always Google the name of the plumber you’ll be working with – this will help inform you as to whether anyone else has had a particularly positive (or negative) experience with them – and check that the company has a SIRET number.

This number should be on the work estimate (devis). You can also check them out online at If you want to be extra careful you can also ask to see their carte artisan BTP (craftsman card). 

READ MORE: What is a SIRET number and why is it crucial when hiring French tradesmen?

Who is responsible for paying for work?

If you own the property, you are typically the one who is responsible for financing the plumbing expenses.

However if you’re in a shared building, you must determine the cause and location of the leak. If you cannot find the origin of the leak, you may need a plumber to come and locate it and provide you with an estimate. You can use this estimate when communicating with insurance, should the necessity arise. 

If you are a renter, the situation is a bit more complicated. Most of the time, water damage should be the landlord’s responsibility, but there are exceptions.

The landlord is obliged to carry out major repairs (ex. Natural disaster, serious plumbing issues) that are necessary for the maintenance and normal upkeep of the rented premises (as per, Article 6C of the law of July 6, 1989). The tenant, however, is expected to carry out routine maintenance, and minor repairs are also to be paid by the tenant. If the problem is the result of the tenant failing to maintain the property, then it will be the tenant’s responsibility to cover the cost of the repair.

Legally speaking, it is also the tenant’s responsibility to get the boiler serviced once a year, as well as to maintain the faucets and joints, and to avoid clogging the pipes.

READ MORE: Assurance habitation: How to get home insurance in France

If you end up in dispute with your landlord over costs, you can always reach out to ADIL, the national Housing Association which offers free legal advice for housing issues in France. 

What happens if the leak is coming from my neighbour’s property?

Both you and your neighbour should contact your respective housing insurance companies and file the ‘sinistre’ (damage) with them.

If you both agree on the facts you can file an amiable (in a friendly fashion), then matters are much more simple and you will not have to go through the back-and-forth of determining fault.

If having a friendly process is not possible, be sure to get an expert to assert where the leak is coming from and file this with your insurance company.

As always, keep evidence (lists and photographs) of the damage. Keep in mind that many insurance providers have a limited number of days after the start of the damage that you can file. Better to do it sooner than later, partially because, as with most administrative processes in France, it might take a bit of time.


Plumbing has its own technical vocabulary so here are some words and phrases that you’re likely to need;

Hello, I have a leak in my home. I would like to request that a plumber come to give me an estimate of the damage and cost for repairs – Bonjour, j’ai une fuite chez moi. Je voudrais demander qu’un plombier vienne me donner une estimation des dégâts et du coût de la réparation. 

It is an emergency: C’est une urgence

I have no hot water: Je n’ai pas d’eau chaude

The boiler has stopped working: La chaudière ne fonctionne plus.

I cannot turn my tap off: Je ne peux pas arrêter le robinet.

The toilet is leaking: Mes toilettes fuient.

The toilet won’t flush/ is clogged: Mes toilettes sont bouchées

There is a bad smell coming from my septic tank: Il y a un mauvaise odeur provenant de ma fosse septique

I would like to get my electricity / boiler safety checked: Je souhaiterais une vérification de la sécurité de mon installation électrique / de ma chaudière

I can smell gas: Ca sent le gaz

My washing machine has broken: Ma machine a laver est cassée

Can you come immediately? Est-ce que vous pouvez venir tout de suite?

When can you come? Quand est-ce que vous pouvez venir?

How long will it take? Combien de temps cela prendra-t-il ?

How much do you charge? Quels sont vos prix? / Comment cela va-t-il coûter?

How can I pay you? Comment je peux vous payer ? 

Here are the key French vocabulary words for all things plumbing-related:

Dishwasher – Lave vaisselle

Bath – Baignoire

Shower – Douche

Kitchen Sink – Évier

Cupboard – Placard

Water meter – Compteur d’eau

The Septic Tank – La fosse septique

A leak – Une fuite

Bathroom sink – Le lavabo

The toilet – La toilette

Clogged – Bouché

To overflow – Déborder

A bad smell – Une mauvaise odeur

The flexible rotating tool used to unclog a pipe (and also the word for ferret in French) – Furet 

Water damage – Dégât des eaux

The damage – Le sinistre

And finally, do you know the French phrase Sourire du plombier? No, it’s not a cheerful plumber, it’s the phrase used in French for when a man bends down and his trouser waistband falls down, revealing either his underwear or the top of his buttocks. In Ebglish it’s builder’s bum, in French ‘plumber’s smile’.