Life in Paris

When translation fails.

When you can finally speak another language well you start trying to push yourself and your abilities a little further. You start thinking hey, I’d really like to be fluent soon, so what can I do to make that happen?

I’ve lived in France for four years now and being in a relationship with a French guy it suddenly came to my attention that the one thing I didn’t really know or use was French expressions. As in English, expressions and idioms are used on a regular basis in French and knowing or being able to use them can really help with the integration game.

The French are extremely protective of their language, hence the Alliance française, an organisation in France which works to protect the French language from the English/American invasion. They respect enormously people who make an effort to learn their beautiful language and especially people who can speak the language well.

However, it has come to my attention that expressions are not so easy to learn. Some are identical while others are completely and utterly different. I wanted to write a blog of all the ones I have discovered by speaking to French people and to perhaps help my Anglophone friends living in Paris learn a few, very odd, French expressions.


English: Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched
French: Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué
Literally translated: Don’t sell the skin of the bear before you have killed it

English: It’s raining cats and dogs
French: Il pleut comme une vache qui pisse
It’s raining like a cow is pissing (how lovely)

English: Don’t get your knickers in a twist/make a big deal out of it
French: En faire tout un fromage
Don’t make it a big cheese! (The French love cheese)

English: The straw that broke the camel’s back
French: C’est la goutte d’eau qui fait déborder la vase
It is a drop of water that floods the vase

English: To meet someone halfway
French: Couper la poire en deux
To cut the pear in two

English: To pass out/to faint
French: Tomber dans les pommes
To fall in the apples

English: To get on someone’s nerves
French: Casser les pieds à quelqu’un
To break someones feet

English: To sulk
French: Faire la tête
Literally: do the head

English: To butt in/to stick your oar in
French: Mettre son grain de sel
Put his/her grain of salt in

English: To go off in a huff/mood
French: Prendre la mouche
Take the fly (I really don’t get this one?!)

English: To call a spade a spade
French: Appeler un chat un chat
To call a cat a cat

English: Speak broken English
French: Parler comme une vache espagnole
To speak like a Spanish cow

English: The shit is going to hit the fan
French: Ça va chier des bulles
It’s going to shit bubbles

English: Pushing up daisies
French: Manger les pissenlits par la racine
To eat dandelions by the root

English: Once in a blue moon
French: Tous les 36 du mois
Every 36th day of each month

English: To be a lucky so and so
French: Avoir le cul bordé de nouilles
To have one’s bottom full of noodles!!!

English: To have bigger fish to fry
French: Avoir d’autres chats à fouetter
To have other cats to whip

English: To have the blues/be down in the dump
French: Avoir le cafard
To have the cockroach

English: To be smiley
French: Avoir la banane
To have the banana

English: To have a frog in your throat
French: Avoir un chat dans la gorge
To have a cat in your throat

And my personal favoourite (which made me laugh out loud)

English: To be on her period
French: Avoir ses ours
To have her bears

There are many, many more but here are a few to get you started and to show you that if you are serious about becoming fluent in any language try to learn some expressions and idioms. It will open cultural doors you never even knew existed.

Happy blogging!


  • Rachel

    Great expressions, and fun blog! Just a quick note…it’s “appeler un chat un chat” not “appeler un chat un chien” — calling a cat a dog doesn’t make any sense if you’re trying to have the equivalent expression of calling a spade a spade (telling it like it is). 🙂

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