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FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French phrase of the Day: C’est pas Versailles ici

If you were in the French palace of Versailles you would probably know it - look out for lots of gold, antique furniture and mirrors - so why might a French person be informing you that your current location is not Versailles?

French phrase of the Day: C'est pas Versailles ici
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know C’est pas Versailles ici?

Because it’s a classic grumpy-dad phrase, but it’s likely to become more topical this winter.

What does it mean?

The literal translation of C’est pas Versailles ici – usually pronounced say pah vair-sigh ee-see – is pretty self-evident – it’s not Versailles here. But it’s really a way of telling you to turn the lights off/ stop wasting electricity more generally.

Most countries have their own version of this, especially within families when kids insist on leaving the lights blazing away in every room, even those they’re not in, the bill-payer will shout something like ‘turn the bloody lights off, do you think I’m made of money’.

But sometimes a location is added too, in the UK the classic phrase is ‘it’s like Blackpool illuminations in here’ – referring to the famous light show in the northern seaside town.

But in French the phrase is ‘it’s not Versailles here’ – referring to the famously beautiful royal palace of Versailles on the outskirts of Paris.

It’s so well known that Total Energie even used it in an advertising campaign.

As home of famously extravagant French queen Marie-Antoinette, Versailles became a byword for luxury and high-spending. These days the Palace is mostly a tourist attraction, but it’s still used by the French government to host certain important state events and international summits and retains its image as a place of luxury and high-spending (and with 775 rooms we imagine their electricity bill is pretty high).

As energy prices rise and the French government urges everyone to make daily gestures to limit their energy-consumption, the phrase is likely to become common in the months to come.

Use it like this

As the video above shows, the phrase is usually used on its own, often accompanied with the flick of a light switch, but you could also say

Eteins les lumières, c’est pas Versailles ici – turn the lights off, this isn’t Versailles 

Le porte-parole du gouvernement a demandé à chacun de faire des gestes quotidiens pour économiser l’énergie. Il avait l’air d’un père grincheux qui dit ‘c’est pas Versailles ici’ – The French government spokesman asked everyone to make daily gestures to save electricity. He sounded like a grumpy dad telling you to turn the lights off

Alternatives

The correct written form of the phrase would be Ce n’est pas Versailles ici, but as often in spoken French the ‘ne’ gets dropped and it becomes c’est pas Versailles. You will sometimes also hear On n’est pas à Versailles – we’re not at Versailles.

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For members

FRENCH WORD OF THE DAY

French phrase of the Day: Trier sur le volet

This expression goes right back to the Middle Ages and has nothing to do with shutters.

French phrase of the Day: Trier sur le volet

Why do I need to know trier sur le volet ?

Because if someone says they chose you for the job and adds this expression, you should be flattered.

What does it mean?

Trier sur le volet pronounced tree-ay sir luh voe-lay – literally translates to “to sort on the shutter” but its real meaning is closest to the English expression “to separate the wheat from the chaff” or even “to find the diamond in the rough.” It is simply to be specifically picked or chosen, and it carries a positive connotation.

Based on the idea of filtering through several options and choosing the best, this expression has a very logical origin story.

These days volets almost always refers to shutters, but this phrase goes back to the Middle Ages when the “volet” was the word for a cloth that was used to sort seeds. Gradually over time, this cloth was transformed into a wooden plate that was used to sort peas and beans. 

The expression went on to refer to more than just seeds, but at the time it was used frequently to stress the importance of actually selecting the good seeds.

So trier sur le volet means selecting the best.

Nowadays, you might hear this expression being used by a French employer talking about the different candidates she is choosing from, or maybe you’ll hear it as someone discusses their real estate options.

Use it like this

Les joueurs de l’équipe de France de handball ont été triés sur le volet – The players for France’s handball team were carefully selected for the job. 

J’ai finalement trié sur le volet. Amy sera la parfaite stagiaire d’été. – I’ve finally separated the wheat from the chaff. Amy will be a great summer intern.

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