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How do the French talk about 'French' kisses, doors and manicures?

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How do the French talk about 'French' kisses, doors and manicures?
What is the French for a passionate kiss in a cafe over a coffee in Paris? (Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)

From doors to sex aids, coffee styles to fried potatoes - when speaking English many things are described as 'French' - but what do the French themselves call French kissing, French doors, French toast and French letters (to name but a few)?


French kiss - the one that got us thinking. Until fairly recently, the French language didn't have a specific verb for the act of passionate kissing with tongues and most people happily used 'le French kiss' (which is an Americanism, probably dating from the 1920s). Recently, the French galocher (verb) or une galoche (noun) has started to take over, although it's mostly heard among young people. 

READ ALSO French word of the Day: Galocher

French press - one for Americans where the manual coffee-making device is known as a French press. Asking for une presse française, however, will get you nothing but baffled looks.


The French call their manual coffee-making device a cafetière à piston; the British call it a cafetière - both names come from the brand La Cafetière. In both cases these refer to the device that makes the coffee, not the style of coffee. If you want a coffee that is longer than an espresso, ask for un café allongé.

French roast - speaking of coffee, the French have a roast all their own for their beans. French roast coffee beans tends to be darker than many modern roasts, and its not as fashionable these days in many parts of the world, but it’s probably what you’ll get in a cafe in France if you ask for un café.

READ ALSO How to drink your coffee in the French style

French fries - famously, Americans and multinational fast food franchises refer to thin deep-fried potato slices as French fries, no doubt, to the vague frustration of the Belgians, who are actually more famous for them and, it has to be said, routinely better at them. (If you're ever in Bruges head along to the Musée de la frite and learn all about how Belgians really invented the chip/fry, before scoffing a portion of them).

The French themselves make no such claim and deep-fried potatoes are simply known as frites

French polish - a wood finishing technique that results in a very high gloss surface, with a deep colour. French polishing consists of applying many thin coats of dissolved shellac in alcohol using a rubbing pad lubricated with oil.

It was originally known in France as poli à la cire (wax polish)

French doors - the double exterior doors made of glass in a frame may be known as French doors or alternatively patio doors or balcony doors.

The doors themselves date back to the Renaissance and the name 'French doors' is popular with US estate agents, because it makes them sound posh.

The French call them the distinctly no-nonsense portes-fenêtres, which simply means door-windows.

French letter - an old-fashioned English euphemism for a condom is the 'French letter'. They are known as preservatifs in France, opening up many humorous food-based misunderstandings (in French a preservative is un conservateur).

The more casual term for a condom in France is une capote, which literally means 'little hat'. 


French stick - the staple of French daily life, the baguette, is known off these French shores as French bread, or a French stick.

In France, once your baguette is sliced in half and filled with additional delicious foodstuffs, it turns English, becoming "un sandwich”.

READ ALSO 320 eaten every second: 6 key facts about the French baguette

French toast - if you dip a slice of bread in beaten egg and fry it then you have either - depending on whether you are in the UK or the US - eggy bread or French toast. In France this is known as 'pain perdu' (literally 'lost bread', because it's a good way to revive slightly stale bread that might otherwise be thrown away.

The baguette doesn't really lend itself to this dish, so in France pain perdu is usually made with brioche, and is therefore sweet. It's generally served as a dessert, rather than for breakfast as in the US. (From the croissant to the pain au chocolat, the French have sweet breakfast items covered). 

French dressing - the delicious, tart sauce you pour over your salad to give it a bit of pep. It’s called vinaigrette in French and traditionally consists of just two ingredients; oil and wine vinegar, plus some seasoning.

American-style dressings such as ranch dressing or caesar dressing or even 'French dressing' are not as common in France, and are generally referred to simply as 'sauce' - there is no separate word for salad-dressing. 


French maid - Mind out of the gutter. This is a highly stylised form of servants’ dress that evolved from the typical housemaid’s black and white afternoon uniform of 19th century France - known as la soubrette.

It was only later that it became synonymous with something else altogether. If you want a sexy Halloween costume in France, soubrette remains your go-to internet search term. 

If you want to refer to the actual French person who cleans your house or hotel room, that's usually une femme de chambre or femme de ménage. The use of 'femme' (woman) indicates how highly gendered this form of employment is, the term homme de ménage does exist, but is rarely used. Male cleaners are referred to either simply as femme de ménage or sometimes agents de nettoyage

French braid/ French plait - is a type of braided hairstyle and one of the very few 'French' terms that translates exactly, known as une tresse française. That's despite the fact that is almost certainly isn't French, being observed on artwork going right back to Ancient Greece and Rome.

French manicure - while we're on the subject of beauty the manicure style of pink nails with a white tip is not French but American, invented by a make-up artist named Jeff Pink.

It became popular when he began to show off his invention in Paris, hence the name. If you're getting your nails done in a French onglerie (nail salon) and want this style, ask for ongles naturel (natural-style nails).


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Jordan Phillips 2023/05/24 20:17
Informative and entertaining!
Dave Dufour 2023/05/23 23:21
While vinaigrette in the USA is oil and vinegar as you say, French dressing in USA is actually a red tomato-ish dressing that is thicker. Russian dressing is a similar variant. If I order French dressing in a restaurant in USA that's what I get.

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