Did you know that around two million people in Switzerland are French speakers? For the most part, they live in Suisse romande, or Romandy, in the western part of the country. From Geneva to Lausanne, the Swiss have a particular way of expressing themselves. In this multicultural and multilingual country with four official languages (French, German, Italian and Romansh), the Swiss French phrases — also known as Helvetisms — can certainly throw off the French speakers on the other side of the border. Discover our twenty favorite Helvetisms, because learning these Swiss French phrases will let you melt (like gruyère) into the landscape of Switzerland!
Our 20 Favorite Swiss French Phrases
Ça joue ?
If a Swiss person asks you this, they’re probably pretty cheerful. But don’t expect to be invited to play cards. This common, catch-all expression is used in the sense of ça va or ça marche, both as a question and a statement.
Example: Tiens, Henri ! Ça faisait longtemps ! Ça joue ou bien ? (“Hey, Henri! It’s been a while! How’s it going?”)
Cheni like chenille (“caterpillar”)? Nope! Le cheni in Switzerland is a mess or disorder. It’s a Swiss French expression that’s also used in the Franche-Comté region of France.
Example: Tu as encore mis le cheni dans ta chambre ! (“You made a mess in your room again!”)
No, this isn’t a culinary specialty. This typical Swiss word just means “mop.”
Example: C’est le cheni, ici ! Tu vas me faire le plaisir de donner un coup de panosse ! (“It’s a mess here! You’ll do me a favor and mop the floor!”)
What happens to people who spend all day cleaning the house from top to bottom with a panosse? They se réduisent earlier than everyone else, meaning they’ve gotten tired and will go to bed soon.
Example: Quelle journée, je n’en peux plus ! Je vais me réduire, à demain ! (“What a day, I can’t do any more! I’m going to bed, see you tomorrow!”)
avoir une gonfle au pied
You might be able to easily guess the meaning of this typically Swiss expression. After a long walk around Lake Geneva, it’s not uncommon to get home with a gonfle au pied (“swelling on the foot,” or a blister). Or even more than one. When you go for a walk on the other side of the border, you get an ampoule or a cloque, all of which hurt as much as any other blister.
Example: J’ai trop marché, j’ai une gonfle au pied maintenant ! (“I walked too much. Now I have a blister on my foot!”)
avoir la gratte
This Swiss French phrase is one you have to know. Avoir la gratte is a typically Swiss expression that has a special meaning for hikers in wool sweaters on those winter evenings. Watch out for the itchiness!
Example: Pourquoi tu frétilles comme ça ? T’as la gratte ou bien ? (“Why are you wriggling like that? Are you itchy or what?”)
avoir son fond
Sorry, it doesn’t have anything to do with fondue! In Switzerland they say someone a son fond (“has their bottom”) when they reach the bottom of a pool or lake with their feet. Just a note: having a gonfle au pied won’t keep you from having pied fond.
Example: Je ne vais pas plus loin, après je n’ai plus fond ! (“I’m not going any farther, after that I can’t reach the bottom!”)
faire la pièce droite
This Swiss French phrase will make your head spin. Literally! Faire la pièce droite (lit. “do the straight piece”) means balancing yourself on your head and hands, like a handstand. Let’s just say it doesn’t make any more sense than the standard French expression faire le poirier (lit. “do the pear tree”).
Example: Je ne sais pas faire la pièce droite, je tombe toujours. (“I don’t know how to do a handstand, I always fall down.”)
faire la pote
Faire la pote in Switzerland means to be in a bad mood and let everyone know by staying quiet. In fact, when you look at it, pote looks quite a bit like “pout.”
Example: Je lui ai gentiment demandé de ranger son cheni, et maintenant il fait la pote ! (“I kindly asked him to clean up his mess, and now he’s pouting!”)
faire un clopet
If it’s two in the afternoon, you’ve probably already had dîner. Well, at least if you’re in Switzerland, northern France, Belgium or Québec, where you dîner in the afternoon and souper in the evening. You’ve eaten well, and now you’re ready to have a little nap. Or as they say in Switzerland, faire un clopet.
Example: Je vais faire un petit clopet, ne me dérange pas ! (“I’m going to take a quick nap, don’t disturb me!”)
This Swiss French phrase is a synonym of coller (“to stick”), and it looks like péguer, which is the phrase often used in southern France.
Example: Qu’est-ce que tu as renversé par terre ? Ça pèdze ! (“What did you spill on the ground? It’s sticky!”)
Cuissettes cover cuisses (“thighs”), which makes sense. If you put on your cuissettes in Switzerland, you’re putting on your athletic shorts.
Example: Mets tes cuissettes, vite ! Tu vas encore être en retard à l’entraînement ! (“Put on your shorts, quickly! You’ll be late for practice again!”)
gagner une channe
Also related to sports, gagner une channe means to win a trophy.
Example: Je suis fier de toi, mon fils, tu as encore gagné une channe ! (“I’m proud of you, son, you’ve won another trophy!”)
An abbreviated way to say accroché (“hooked” or “caught”), especially when you’re talking about clothes that get caught on something.
Example: Qu’est-ce que t’as fait à ta jaquette ? Tu es resté croché ? (“What did you do to your jacket? Did you get caught on something?”)
être sur Soleure
Soleure (or Solothurn in German) is a charming little village in German-speaking Switzerland. So what is it’s name doing among the French speakers? For that, we have to go back in time to when you could transport wine on the Aar, the river that goes through Soleure. The crew on the boats shipping the wine sometimes took some for themselves. And when they got off the boat in Soleure, they weren’t quite the same! Today être sur Soleure means to be drunk. You also might hear a slightly altered version: être chargé pour Soleure.
Example: Encore un qui a forcé sur l’abricotine* ! Le voilà chargé pour Soleure ! (“Someone else had too much abricotine! Now he’s drunk!”)
*apricot brandy from the canton of Valais
Someone who’s not too bright, a little dumb. You can also say bobet.
Example: Il est un peu tablard lui, non ? Oui, un vrai bobet ! (“He’s a little dumb, right? Yes, a real dummy!”)
A typically Swiss word that’s used to mean skewed or sideways.
Example: Regarde-le, celui-là ! Il marche tout de bizingue ! Même pas vingt heures et il est déjà sur Soleure ! (Look at him! He’s walking all sideways! Not even eight o’clock and he’s already drunk!)
While santé sounds like “cheers” in standard French, this is not exactly something you wish to an abricotine drinker before taking a sip. Unless they sneeze right in front of you, that is. It’s the equivalent of à tes/vos souhaits (“bless you”) and shows the influence of the German Gesundheit (“health”).
You can use this Swiss French phrase as a polite way to say you’re welcome.
Example: Merci pour la qualité de votre accueil, nous reviendrons ! Service ! (“Thank you for such a nice welcome, we’ll be back! You’re welcome!”)
In France, “adieu” sounds like a tragic, final farewell, but not in Switzerland! It’s just a friendly way to say goodbye.
This article was originally published on the French edition of Babbel Magazine.