French Expressions Even The French Don’t Understand

French is not just the language of France, but of 29 countries around the world. Check out these French expressions from all over Europe, Africa and the Americas that even the French would struggle to understand.
June 13, 2016
French Expressions Even The French Don’t Understand

The idea of a “pure” language is merely an abstraction; in reality languages are messy, living, evolving organisms. Despite the best efforts of governing bodies to establish “official languages,” languages grow and change according to the needs and whims of the people speaking them every day.

Case in point: the French language is spoken all over the world, from Europe to West Africa to the Americas. French idioms, whether they are regional or national, all have the same legitimacy as what we French like to call “the language of Molière.” Why? Simply because they are used daily by millions of people. Let’s take a world tour of French idioms:

1. Avoir un gros cou

From: Belgium

Translation: To have a large neck.

Meaning: If you’re looking for a handy French expression to describe an overconfident person then you can’t go wrong with this one.

2. Donner une bonne-main

From: Switzerland

Translation: To give a good hand.

Meaning: If you’ve had a delicious meal at a restaurant and you decide to leave a good tip for your waiter, then as the Swiss-French say you’d be “giving a good hand” to that waiter.

3. Camembérer

From: Senegal

Translation: To Camembert.

Meaning: This phrase perfectly expresses those times when you take decide to take your shoes off after a few hours of sport, a night of dancing, or simply a long day at work. Let’s be honest, there’s no pretty way to say it, but at this point your feet might smell uncannily like fresh Camembert. As far as phrases go, this one is certainly ‘le mot juste’.

4. Avoir la bouche sucrée

From: Benin

Translation: To have a sweet mouth.

Meaning: To be extremely talkative and chatty.

5. Virer son pantalon

From: Réunion

Translation: To turn one’s trousers inside out.

Meaning: Used to describe someone who changes their mind about something.

6. Être comme lait et citron

From: Haiti

Translation: To be like lemon and milk.

Meaning: Milk and lemon are the polar opposites of each other, therefore this phrase perfectly encapsulates those times when you are finding it hard to get along with someone.

7. Les chiens ne font pas des chats

From: France

Translation: Dogs don’t make cats.

Meaning: This expression refers to the fact that children often end up emulating their parents (even if they spend their entire childhood trying to rebel against them). The phrase pops up in other languages too, for example in English you would say that “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.

8. (Se) tirer une bûche

From: Quebec

Translation: To pull himself a log

Meaning: This expression is used to invite someone to (casually) take a seat

GIFs by Gonçalo Nobre
Want to learn even more funny expressions?
Learn French with Babbel
Author Headshot
Marion Maurin
Marion Maurin's German roots were well hidden: her German mother moved to France at the age of 21, obtained French citizenship and brought her children up in French. At 21, Marion followed the same path, but this time going in the opposite direction from France to Germany in order to study philosophy.
Marion Maurin's German roots were well hidden: her German mother moved to France at the age of 21, obtained French citizenship and brought her children up in French. At 21, Marion followed the same path, but this time going in the opposite direction from France to Germany in order to study philosophy.

Recommended Articles

How To Say Cute, and 8 Other French Words We Love

How To Say Cute, and 8 Other French Words We Love

French has many “why don’t we have a word for that?” words and even more that are just plain beautiful. Here’s a short list of my 9 favorite French words.
Can 3 Average Guys Learn French In One Working Week?

Can 3 Average Guys Learn French In One Working Week?

Three average guys set out to learn as much French as possible in one average week. Unfortunately, an average week is a working week, which means squeezing in their studies around their nine-to-five jobs. Read on to discover how they managed.
The Places You’ll Go: French Edition!

The Places You’ll Go: French Edition!

As the first part of Babbel’s “The Places You’ll Go” series, we’re looking at our French-speaking selection, beautiful Bonifacio!