Fun En Français: My Favourite French Words & Phrases



Fun En Français: My Favourite French Words & Phrases

One of our lasting memories in those early days of finding our feet here in France, was exchanging idioms and ‘hard to say words’ at our annual Maire’s meal for the commune in our packed Salle de Fetes with our lovely neighbours. The Cognac cocktails had been flowing and my confidence to speak French was sufficiently boosted. Who knew that it rains ropes in France not cats and dogs?!!

Il pleut des cordes” is still one of my favourite phrases along with “il pleut comme une vache qui pisse” which had me hysterical with the image of hundreds of cows overhead…

Our neighbour also had me in stitches with her attempts to pronounce ‘hedgehog’ in English and similarly, my attempts at saying, ‘bouilloire’ (kettle) gave rise to equal amusement. I couldn’t even attempt ‘squirrel’ (ecureuil). Everyone around the table joined in and this was such a fun exchange – it has stayed with me ever since. Here are some of my favourite phrases in this glorious language.

Favourite naughty phrases – not for the faint-hearted!

PQ (Pronounced Peh cuu)is a little bit stronger than the English ‘bog roll.’ It stands for ‘Papier Cul’ (the l is not pronounced) and my son picked it up from school and I have only just realised it’s a bit rude and told him to mind his P’s and Q’s in English – which he thought was hysterical, being ten years old!

The ubiquitous PUTAIN! Now, I have literally heard this everywhere and had no idea it is the equivalent of probably the strongest swear word I can think of in English. I have heard it expressed to show surprise, shock, anger, mild annoyance – the list is endless. And from all walks of life in many, many situations in front of children and the elderly without the blink of an eye.

A real turning point for me, was when I discovered, after the guests had left, that my lovely newly installed oven had nasty burnt-on crud all over the bottom. My ‘go-to’ initial reaction was, PU-TAIN! This made me stop in my tracks. Swearing had ALWAYS been in my first language of English and seldom used. To react in French, well, that made me feel like I was practically a local!

My lovely neighbour introduced me to “MINCE” which is a less strong version of the above and being from the North East of England, where we love our mince pies – savoury and sweet, this tickled me somewhat. It is pronounced, “mance!”

Favourite Idioms

«Occupe-toi de tes oignons ! » Literally means look after your own onions and is used to say, “Mind your own business,” meaning it is not your concern.  I love the way there are so many food references in the French language.

Ramene pas tes fraises!” Our children brought a beautiful Charente roof tile home from school that had been decorated with this phrase and it took us ages to work out what it meant. It literally means do not bring your strawberries but actually means, we don’t want your ten-pence worth! Keep your silly comments to yourself!

Tu racontes des salades!” You are telling salades. This really means you are telling lies or talking poppycock.

C’est la fin des haricots » It’s the end of the (green) beans. It means there’s nothing left and that money is tight.

« Quand les poules auront des dents » means when hens have teeth which is the equivalent to saying when pigs might fly. Meaning never. I like this one as we keep hens here in France and it reminds me of this phrase.

Favourite Charentais words/phrases

La cagouille is a snail here in the Charente – it is not an ‘escargot’ and we have a museum dedicated to them here in Aigre, 16140 such is their importance to our region.

It’s a chocolatine not a pain au chocolat in the Charente! Often abbreviated to choco too. “Je voudrais 3 croissants et 2 chocolatines, s’il vous plait.”

On since le sol de la cuisine. » It means  to mop the floor – we do not use a ‘serpillere’ in the Charente!

Embaucher and debaucher – I literally had no idea this was Charentais – it means to start work and to finish work. EVERYONE uses these phrases around here. “On debauche a quelle heure?” means “What time do we finish work?”

La goule is le visage – the face.  « Je me lave ma goule” – I am washing my face.

Les drôles et les drolesses – is the equivalent of boys and girls.

Le tantot – normally means later but in Charente, it can mean the afternoon.

Une poche in Charente is « un sac » elsewhere in France, meaning a bag. I have used this many times not even realising it is Charentais.

French phrases and/or words I love

J’ai peigne la giraffe – Literally, I combed the giraffe. Means to do ridiculous and unwanted/unnecessary work. Presumably because it makes no sense to comb a giraffe?!!

Porc-epic is a word that makes me smile – it’s French for porcupine.

Mon oeuil!” – it’s the same as saying, “My foot!” in English.

If something is easy, we say it’s a “jeu d’un enfant” a child’s game.

Bonus tips: alternatives to ‘super’

I found myself struggling to find ways to say “that’s great or brilliant” and I have found that learning these alternatives has really helped my confidence to speak French.

impeccable – often abbreviated to “impec.”

parfait, chouette, genial, excellent or the widely accepted, “tres bien!

Whatever your level of French, these little phrases and odd words here and there can really help both with understanding, confidence and mixing with our friends and neighbours. Do give it a whirl as it is a great way to spark conversation in group situations.

Bonne Chance!

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Carol, a teacher from Hurworth in Darlington, lives in Charente in South-West France, where she runs La Grue Gites with her family.

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  • Ellen A
    2023-06-21 11:21:28
    Ellen A
    Charming, and helpful. I had not heard all of these, and they do make you smile. Would love to see more. Just one thing... this word "goule"... I'm pretty sure it does not mean what you think it means! The French term "gueule" is pronounced nearly the same, so it's just the spelling. "Gueule" means "face" but in a slightly more crude way, as in the old American term "mug" ("Ferme ta gueule" or just "Ta gueule!" for instance, means "shut up" - "shut your mouth (face, trap, mug)"). Someone with a hangover has a "gueule de bois" - quite descriptive. A "goule" on the other hand, is a ghoul! Lots of fun with puns to be had at Halloween perhaps, when you could have a sign saying "Ferme ta goule!"


  •  Sarah Bucknill
    2023-06-21 11:06:32
    Sarah Bucknill
    I absolutely love these French phrases! Thank you so much Carol. PLEASE kep them coming.


  •  Kriss Trea
    2023-06-13 08:50:25
    Kriss Trea
    Thanks so much Carol for sharing these excellent French "fraises" ! I loved them all ...! French spoken is another language to the written word ...... Please make this a regular feature if you can ... Bravo et Sacre Bleu !