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Posts tagged ‘French Sayings’

No. 357: Bon voyage and all things bon(ne)



As I am in the final countdown of our extraordinary 3 years in France, some of my friends and neighbors have already begun to wish us a bon voyage. But since I am still in denial about leaving this country that now feels like my home, I’ve decided to completely ignore these well wishes for a good journey and contemplate instead all of the curious and concise sayings the French use with the word bon(ne).

Yep, one last language post with some of my favorite bon(ne) expressions. Go ahead and wish me bonne chance and please do correct me and any misinterpretations I may have made with this versatile mot.


To begin with there are all the basics: bonjour, bon après-midi, bonsoir, and bonne nuit. And then there is bonne journée and bonne soirée. At week’s end and before the hols you can always offer a jaunty, “Bon week-end!” and “Bonnes vacances”. And on Sundays all the shopkeepers are happy to wish you a “Bon dimanche!”

I like these quick greetings and send-offs because all of the “I-hope-you-have-a-good…” is tightly packaged in one robust “bon(ne).


When we (expats) sit down to eat, we say, “Bon Appétit!” (I’ll let your French friends explain if and why this is or isn’t a gauche thing to start a meal with.) I suppose it is better to say, “Bonne degustation!” (Literally, “good tasting”.) And I heard it is good to have a “bon fromage”, not a good cheese, but a cushy job. It seems like it might be fine to be une bonne fourchette (a good fork/hearty eater) as long as there is enough food.


On your birthday, we’ll all say, “Bon Anniversaire!” and on major holidays or meaningful occasions, “Bonne fête!” When the clock strikes midnight on December 31, we will chime in with Bonne Année!” and maybe even add a “bonne santé” (good health).


When the French are looking for a bargain, they’ll use, bon marché, which no longer has anything to do with the luxurious and highly priced food halls in the 6éme. They may cherche un cadeau bon marché, but they definitely won’t find one au Bon Marché.


There is a multitude of ways to wish a friend or customers an enjoyable leisure activity. At the cinema it is, “bon film”, or “bonne séance”, or even “bon ciné”. Off to Rock en Seine? Bon concert is the appropriate farewell. I’m guessing you can say, “Bonne lecture!” (good reading) to your book club, although I’ve never tried. For your hunting friends, sign off with a “Bonne chasse!” For those of you hunting for a retail deal, “Bon Shopping!” fits the bill. I have even heard, “Bons magasins!”(literally good department stores!) on the first couple of days of the massive sales. For the sporting types, “Bon match!” works before the ref blows the first whistle and after he blows the last.

I can’t decide if it is good to be told you have a bonne tête (good head on your shoulders?) or if in fact a bonne tête means you are a fool, easily duped. But it might be good to know that à bon chat bon rat is tit for tat.


When life is tough and you are facing new and difficult changes, a sincere, “Bon courage!” Is always helpful.

I suppose I will be getting a lot of those in the next few days along with wishes for a bon retour, bonne route and my favorite, bon vent, as long as those well wishers don’t mean “good riddance”…



No. 310: BBC Arts

As my time continues to tick away–only 44 days until I have to leave France–I am starting to notice a lot more little things I am going to miss about living in France.


One is the easy (and timely) access to the BBC and the complete lack of American broadcast news. How lovely is it to live somewhere where the world doesn’t revolve around the USA? Very lovely. I love being reminded every day that the whole world matters, not just “the greatest nation in the World”. On top of that bit of humility, I like the fact that international news programs focus on things other than the top stories and sensationalized local events. I love the fact that they dedicated 5-10 minutes an hour during their primetime broadcasts to telling us about the arts too. The top-5 news stations in the US would never dream of doing this crazy promotion of the ARTS, nor would the viewers ask for it.

Only 44-days left of my free and easy access to the BBC, but a continued subscription is at the top of my list, right along side my Nespresso machine.


No. 144: Effeuiller la Marguerite-He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not



Il m’aime un peu—beaucoup—passionément—à la folie—pas du tout…

He loves me a little—very much—passionately—madly—not at all



Je crois que c’est mieux to play the game of love, effeuiller la marguerite, in France than in America.


The odds are forever in your favor. You have at least a 4 out of 5 chance of finding some degree of love when pulling petals from a daisy en France.





effeuiller la marguerite: to play “he loves me, he loves me not”; literally, “to pick the petals off the daisy”

en français: in French

je crois que c’est mieuxI believe it is better to…

No. 128: maman gâteau

maman gâteau:

femme très attentionnée, qui fait des cadeaux; a very caring/attentive woman who gives presents…

soft, indulgent mother/woman...

I’m not feeling too confident about my French today after yesterday’s post, but I came across this phrase yesterday when I was reading. Not quite sure exactly what it meant,  I went in search of a definition. The second definition: soft, indulgent mother/woman…made more sense in the context of what I was reading. If I’m on target, the phrase makes me smile, because the literal translation is “cake mom” or “mom of cake”…

Who wouldn’t want a cake mom?




maman gâteausoft, indulgent mother; but literally, cake mother

maman: mom; mother

No. 127: French Body Language

Lately I have been spending more time with a couple of French women. We try to speak French, but invariably we end up in English as they are far more fluent in my native tongue than I am in theirs. But it is still wonderful, and I feel like I am finally getting a small insiders view to what makes the French woman tick.

I have been secretly studying them, and trying to learn how to be a little more French, at least in my gestures, sounds and facial expressions. I find it very interesting because sometimes their gestures have completely different meanings from the same gesture in America, and sometimes they are gestures I’d never seen before moving to France.

Here are a few of my favorites that I am practicing en ce moment. I’m pretty sure most of these should only be used among friends.

*Ce n’est pas ma faute / Je n’en sais rien.

The French Shrug

These phrases usually accompanies the good old Gallic shrug—raised shoulders, raised eyebrows, lower lip thrust out, hands held up like you are being robbed. Meaning: It’s not my fault / I don’t know (how that happened).



C’est Nul!

thumbs downThis saying accompanies the American thumbs down gesture to indicate something is worthless, foolish or just plain bad.


Nul! This one might confuse Americans because for us it’s the A-OK gesture—as in making a circle with your index finger and thumb while your other three fingers stay up. In French body language this actually means zero, zip, nothing, and, I’m guessing, irrelevant.



J’ai du nez.*

Nose_TapThis is a saying I don’t hear very often, but I see this gesture a lot when French women are talking together. They tap their nose with their index finger and look mischievously in your eyes. This, I believe, means they are cunning and quick and have seen the truth faster than anyone else in the conversation. I adore this gesture. It always makes me smile.


Il a un verre dans le nez.

alcoholThis saying and gesture is for when someone you’re hanging out with has had a bit too much to drink. For comedic relief (or behind the drinkers back), you make a fist and hold it up in front of your nose, tilt your head and twist your hand. Try it out at your next party.



Chut! / Silence!

Silence!When you want some one to shut up or fermez-la, you can hold up your index finger in the air (not in front of your lips), and give a severe look to the people disturbing you. French teachers use this gesture frequently.

Du fric!

too expensive!If you are out shopping with your French girlfriends or even talking about shopping or buying something, you will hear this expression. It accompanies the holding out of your hand and rubbing your thumb across you fingertips. This specifies that something is too expensive for you, or you need the money to buy it.

Et enfin…



Victoire!I never actually hear women say, “Victoire!”, but I see this symbol all the time. This, of course, in America is the “peace sign” or is used to signifies the number 2, when ordering something, but in France it means victory or success in accomplishing something.

* Please see the comment section for a reader’s different interpretation of some of these gestures. I am very grateful for all your feedback and corrections. French, it isn’t easy for me!


en ce moment: at the moment

Et enfin…And finally…

fermez-la: shut it, or shut up

Victoire! Victory!