Skip to content

No. 139: All Things French in English

Before moving to France I took for granted all the things we call “French” in English. Since I’ve lived here, I’ve become curious to find out exactly what those things are.

I mean French bread—loosely refers to a baguette, although much larger and wider in most grocery stores in America. A French braid, I’m very familiar with, as my girls have spent hours plaiting each other’s hair. We all know what a French kiss is, and as teenagers became familiar with “Frenching”, the verb. But what exactly are French lentils or French vanilla? What does French blue mean? And why do we refer to a disgusting mayo, ketchup and sweet relish dressing as “French”, when I’ve never, ever seen it in France?

Donc, whenever I have a long bus ride, or am bored, I’ve been looking up these curious items to figure out what is what. This is what I’ve come up with so far. Some are more obvious than other. As I’m on a diet, today’s post focuses on food, of course…corrections welcome, svp.


  • French beanle haricot vert—a long thin green bean that is eaten whole.
  • French endiveas far as I can tell, is just endive. I think some of us call it chicory.
  • French fryla (pomme de terre) fritefried potato sticks, originating in Belgium, thank you very much.
  • French lentilsles lentilles du Puy—lentils from the French town of Puy. Delicate, earthy, and peppery they hold their shape well, take a little longer to cook, but are perfect for salads.french-lentils-Paris
  • French dip sandwich—beef sandwich dipped into beef juice (au jus)—has anyone ever had one of these in France?
  • French dressingla vinaigrette – I think this is what the French would call French dressing; in the UK “French dressing” is usually vinaigrette, none of that nasty tomato-relish-mayo stuff.
  • French rollun petit pain –I think this is just a generic term for a small single serving roll; also refers to an updo.
  • French roast coffee—named because of the roasting style in France; a double roasted coffee; intense and smoky.
  • French vanilla ice creammade using an egg custard base and having a caramelized and slightly floral taste; also more yellow in color than regular vanilla ice cream.


  • French silk piea pie with a chocolate mousse or pudding filling and whipped cream topping; it appears to have originated in the American south. I have never seen it in France.


  • French toastle pain perdu—literally “lost bread”; it did not originate in France and soon will be a subject of another post.


Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to open my French door to use my French press after taking out my French twist before I have a lie down in my French bed under my French roof…

…to be continued…

23 Comments Post a comment
  1. Good luck
    Any hope of applying any preconceived notions to this mad country and culture is futile, still love it though….!

    Never heard of French silk pie but then I am English with Welsh and French ancestry!
    Could eat some French vanilla ice cream RIGHT NOW and a drop of French coffee for afters GillX

    February 11, 2014
    • Good morning Gill.

      Good luck with the diet? or understanding the French and English mashups? They are both equally difficult in this “mad” country…that made me smile.

      Usually French silk pie is served in chain diners like Denny’s or IHOP. You can also buy it frozen in all major grocery stores. I loved the frozen ones as a kid, but happily my taste has evolved.

      February 11, 2014
  2. Sweetteamob #

    Can we talk about things that the French call ‘American’? I’ve seen American sauce (looks like orange mayo), American desserts (usually involving brownies), Americain cocktails (just regular sugary coctails), and there are plenty of America-themed events involving cowboys.×300.jpg

    February 11, 2014
    • What a terrific idea! Brilliant. Great minds think alike. I have start collecting pictures of things that the French call American. That American sauce nouveau looks just as yucky as “French” dressing, and of course, I’ve never seen that Stateside. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

      February 11, 2014
  3. Always funny to start looking at different use of words. There are a lot of things that are called “French” in the English language that have absolutely nothing to do with France…Nice post. (Suzanne)

    February 11, 2014
    • Thanks Suzanne. Have you ever had a French dip sandwich in France? Do the French eat them?

      February 11, 2014
      • No, I haven’t and I doubt it would exist in French…seems a bit gross. Most of the things that are qualified as “French” in the English language don’t have much to do with the French culture…just the way the English sees French I think.

        February 11, 2014
  4. I am noticing that many of your blogs are food related, is this deliberate or is your subconscious dictating the food references!?
    Is it simply because you live surrounded by tempting patisserie? I have this image of you living in an early 19th century Parisian apartment over a cake emporium

    I am not qualified to psycho-analyse you ( I have a Fine Art diploma and a Sociology ” A” level, does that count?) but I think we have food for thought here………………..hahax

    February 11, 2014
    • Well I do live in an old apartment building and there are four different boulangeries/pâtisseries within 3-5 minutes walking distance from my doorstep–so pretty close to multiple “cake emporiums”. Quite simply, I LOVE food and cooking…and living in France has only given me a greater appreciation for the art of cooking, plating and eating. I really do see food (well done) as a form of art. And I’m surrounded by windows filled with art. God save me! I suppose I post so much about food for all those reasons, and most of the time just looking at it (and photographing it) is as satisfying as eating it. At least that’s what I’m trying to convince myself of! That said I’ve got a good 7 kg to go…not easy in this food obsessed land.

      February 11, 2014
  5. Nearer 9-10kg here! We love cooking and eating too and French food is so beautiful apart from things like trotters and gizzards!..

    I am not a heifer, but was naturally slim to skinny my whole adult life until about ten years ago when I started being poorly and although I have been healthy since 08 I think my metabolism is compromised. That’s my excuse anyway- I need a fix of French hard labour at the village house where we eat lots but sweat it all off doing DIY!

    Anyway, “onward and upward” as my mum used to say- I aim to be slim and chic by April

    February 11, 2014
    • Good on you. It’s a challenge en France…but with your DYI (never ending) physical labor, I’m sure you’ll hit the mark. Bon courage!

      February 11, 2014
  6. And you

    Bless you, stay sane!

    February 11, 2014
  7. I laughed at the use of “Donc” in the piece. I’m sure you did it purposely, but I’m teaching myself French and sometimes I end up accidentally translating sentences in a Frenglish mix.

    February 12, 2014
    • Yes. I do find myself thinking and writing in Franglais a lot of the time…sometimes with a little German thrown in for good measure–my first foreign language.

      Thanks for stopping by and reading my post. Just read a few posts from your blog. Especially loved the carrot, egg and coffee bean story. Brilliant.

      February 12, 2014
      • That’s a wonderful compliment coming from you! Thanks!

        February 13, 2014
  8. trevorf1 #

    Generally people used to use words like “French” to express something strange or distrusted or vaguely disreputable. But of course, French people did exactly the same, so to take French leave is “filer à l’anglaise” (see my recent post), while the “capote anglaise” is another French thing altogether… But for some things it’s just that they existed first in that country. Or as I recently asked my Canadian son-in-law:” What do they call an American-style fridge in America?”. Answer (of course): a fridge!

    March 2, 2014
  9. and the French toast!? first time I saw it on an american brunch menu, I wondered what it could be so ordered it. My girlfriend laughed out loud when seeing my face when I go the dish: “oh but it’s just some “pain perdu”!?

    August 4, 2014
    • Ha! That’s a great story. So I’m guessing you never order pain perdu for dessert in France? It’s interesting to see it popping up on trendy French restos menu such as Phillipe Excoffier’s.

      August 5, 2014
      • Indeed, I don’t think it’s something that would sell well in France, would it? When I was little, it’s something my mom would do for “le goûter” (5pm tea) when she had dried bread left…mmm so good

        August 5, 2014
      • Sounds like the perfect goùter, maybe with a little salted butter or confiture de fraises?

        August 5, 2014
  10. C.C. #

    I realize I’m beyond late in noticing this post, but I can fill you in on the French dip…

    Los Angeles had a sizable, thriving French colony up until the 1930s, and two local restaurants – Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet and Phillipe’s – both claim to have invented the sandwich. (Depending on which version of the story you believe, the sandwich was either invented when a chef accidentally dropped it into a pan of beef drippings and the customer happily ate it anyway, or as a request from a customer, or in response to a customer complaining about stale bread.)

    In either case, restaurant owner Phillipe Mathieu was nicknamed “Frenchy” by his customers, and the sandwich was such a huge hit that before long, Angelenos were asking other restauranteurs to “dip my sandwich like Frenchy does.” Thus, the sandwich was dubbed the “French dip” after its likely creator. Phillipe’s, founded in 1908, is still in business, making it LA’s oldest restaurant.

    Incidentally, if you ever mention the place to an Angeleno, it’s pronounced “fuh-LEE-pay’s”. Way back in the day, many French Angelenos opted to use the Spanish versions of their first names (including one of LA’s three French mayors) and when the Mathieu family first arrived in LA, Spanish was still the city’s most commonly spoken language (English ranked third, after French).

    January 7, 2015
    • HI there,
      Thanks for the interesting story and explanation of the mysterious French Dip. It was my childhood favorite, although now, it’s always a disappointment. I’ll have to go to LA.

      Thank you for stopping by!
      Best, Nancy

      January 13, 2015
      • C.C. #

        If you do, Phillipe’s always beats Cole’s in taste tests. Just FYI 🙂

        January 14, 2015

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: