Eight French job titles that confuse English-speakers

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 3 Mar, 2023 Updated Fri 3 Mar 2023 16:20 CEST
Eight French job titles that confuse English-speakers
Pupils take part in an after school activity led by an 'animateur' in 2013 in Nantes, western France. (Photo by FRANK PERRY / AFP)

These French professions might look a bit confusing to English-speaking eyes, and their true definitions might be entirely different from what you would expect.



This profession might look like it should describe someone drawing images for cartoons, but in French the term animateur has little to do with artwork. In French, you would instead say dessinateur or perhaps dessinateur humoristique to describe a cartoonist, which in itself might be a bit confusing as English-speakers might think dessinateur ought to mean fashion designer. 

An animateur is broadly someone who coordinates activities - you might call this person an activity or entertainment leader in English. Animateur covers a broad range, whether that be a summer camp counsellor, or even a simple volunteer at a school event hosting the Bingo game. In most cases, it has to do with some sort of entertainment being offered, which is typically intended for children, though some animateur run programmes and activities for adults too.


A common time you will see animateur in a job title is for the role animateur périscolaire. This might sound like "near-school animator" when translated directly into English, but it actually describes the job of an after-school caregiver. This person plays an important role in French schools, as they coordinate and supervise non-scholastic activities, whether that be during lunch or after school.


In English, when someone has the job of "artisan", typically one imagines a person who works with handmade crafts - for instance, a pottery or jewellery maker.

However, in French, the term artisan is a title given to any tradespeople who have received a certain level of accreditation or certification in their field.


As such, you could buy your pastries from an artisan boulanger, which simply describes a baker who has proved a certain relevant education and qualification level and has registered with their trade organisation or guild.

READ MORE: Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

It can also be used as an umbrella term for workmen or tradespeople such as electricians and builders.  


The direct translation of this French job title is "Geometry Expert" which seems like it could either be talking about a secondary school math instructor, or just a maths aficionado. 

The real translation in English is "surveyor" - the person you would call to to draw up plans and topographic documents that delineate the boundaries of your French property. 


In France, being a directeur does not mean you are the person in charge of running a film - that person, if a man, is called a réalistateur - a woman director would be a réalisatrice.

A directeur (or directrice for a woman) on the other hand is a manager or leader of a business or company, or the head of a certain department of the company. 

You might also see someone called the directeur/directrice d'école, and this would be the headteacher (or principal). 


This French job title is very easy to mix up with its English 'false friend' - comedian, but in reality, a comédien does not necessarily need to be funny. Comédien (or comédienne) is the French term for actor or actress. Similarly, don't go to Comédie-Française expecting a laugh, this is simply the national theatre company. 


If you were looking for some French comedy, and could not understand why no comedians were coming up with your search results, you might want to try the term humoriste (the real definition for comedian in French).


If you were to tell a French friend that you know a great chef you might get a bit of a dazed expression in return. Perhaps they will say chef de quoi?

The reason for their confusion would be the fact that chef in French simply means boss - so you can be a chef of just about anything. You might be a chef de cabinet (private secretary) or a chef de train (railway guard or conductor). 

If you want to talk about a professional cook in French, then you should specify by saying chef de cuisine

For some reason this term in its original sense has been preserved in English in the sporting world, where the head of a country's Olympic team is referred to as the Chef d'equipe. They have nothing to do with the catering, they are 'team boss'.

READ MORE: 12 French phrases that English really should have too


In English, we use the French job title maître almost correctly (the pronunciation is a bit off) when referencing a maître d' - the head waiter or server in a high end restaurant. 

But maître in French can still be a bit perplexing to English-speakers, seeing as it technically translates to 'Master'. It is the honorific used for lawyers and notaires in France, who are referred to as Maître Dupont (or whatever their surname is).

The feminine version (maîtresse) is not used in a professional context, the reason being that maîtresse also means 'mistress' dating from those bygone days (yeah right) when men were judged on their professional capabilities and women on their sexual ones. So the aforementioned Maître Dupont could be either a male or female lawyer.

Maîtresse in a professional sense is sometimes used for a female teacher, but it's quite old-fashioned and these days people mostly refer to l'enseignante or la professeur.

Femme de chambre/femme de ménage

Speaking of feminine job titles, femme de chambre (directly translated as woman of the bedroom) or femme de ménage (woman of the household) is the official job title for a cleaner or maid in French.

They both mean the same thing and are used interchangeably, although femme de ménage may be a little more common these days.

The terms evidently have some patriarchal messaging built into it, but it begs the question: what do you do when the person doing the cleaning is a man? Some recommend trying the term homme de ménage - a cleaning man.


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