Photo: Elena Helade/Shutterstock

8 French Idioms Every Traveler Should Know

France Languages
by Morgane Croissant Oct 1, 2014
1. Saoul comme un Polonais | To be very drunk

Nobody likes to stereotype, but let’s face it, the Eastern Europeans can drink. A lot. Hence, “to be as drunk as a Pole.”


    • A: Why is Johnny dancing half naked, with a banana skirt around his waist, on the hostel’s front desk?


    • B: He just had a glass of white wine, he is “

saoul comme un Polonais

2. Pour une bouchée de pain | For cheap

Talk about being obsessed with bread! Back when a “tartine” was not a bloody luxury (One euro for a baguette?! I still remember when it only cost 0.80 Francs, and I’m only 28) you could compare anything cheap with “a mouthful” of the stuff.


    • A: How much did that plane ticket to Paris cost you?


    • B:“

Une bouchée de pain

    !” Seattle to Paris in a cramped coach seat: $1,700! What a deal!
3. Comme une lettre à la poste — Easy peasy

We are very fond of our postal services in France. It works well, it’s relatively cheap, and La Poste even doubles as a bank! You buy a stamp and make a deposit on your savings account: one stone, two birds.


    • A: I was scared that the French border agents were going to pull me aside and interview me for hours about my four-week stay in France.


    • B: The US Immigration Services have deeply traumatized you, haven’t they? Don’t worry, Charles de Gaulle is a joke of an airport, so everything will go just as smoothly as “

Une lettre à la poste

4. Jeter l’argent par les fenêtres — To spend money irresponsibly

All that drinking has made a big dent into your travel budget, so if you don’t want to spend the night on the streets with your backpack as your pillow/mattress, stop “throwing your money out the window.”

5. Être sur la paille — To be broke

In the olden days when there was no money for a hostel bed and no backpack to lay on, one would “sleep in a bed of straw.” That’s a sure way to say to the world that you’re penniless.


    • A: We should take the train from Paris to London. It’s less than a three-hour ride!


    • B: I can’t, “

J’suis sur la paille

    .” I guess I’ll go visit the beautiful Parisian suburbs while you have fun in Jolly Old England.
6. Travailler au noir — To work under the table

You need to replenish that very thin wallet of yours? Working “in the dark” is not a euphemism for prostitution, but it’s the best way to make money without a work visa and not being caught…


    • A: How did you make all that money?


    • B: “

J’ai travaillé au noir

    • ” cleaning the hostel’s bathrooms for one week.


    A: Yuck, I think I’d rather have opted for the whoring gig.
7. En voiture Simone — Let’s go!

Who cares who Simone is? She’s “getting in the car” and so are you! It’s time to hit the road and have some fun around the million roundabouts France is plagued with.

8. Mettre les voiles — Leaving in a hurry

Your adventure in France was a blast, but if you don’t want to be accused to overstay and be nabbed for working as an illegal maid, you’d better “sail away”.


    • A: Is that a cop car outside the hostel?


    • B: Enough of France, I think it’s time to “

mettre les voiles

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