French Expressions - The Strangest expressions you'll encounter

Chatting with French people, you might suddenly find an expression rather weird, especially when translating word for word. Mistake!

Idiomatic expressions are expressions of a given language that is peculiar to itself and cannot be understood when translated literally.

Getting lost in “Frenchlation” can often result in hilarious consequences for both the English and French speaker. Preventing you possibly looking as confused as this guy, here is a list of our most "bizarre" French expressions.

1. J’ai  la gueule de bois

Literal translation: “j’ai  la gueule de bois.”  ”I have a wooden face”, indicates that you have a serious hangover. Featured by Anvari on their own hilarious list, we think it is actually strangely appropriate!

To sound a Parisian

“Quand je bois trop de champagne, j’ai la gueule de bois le lendemain.”

“When I drink too much champagne, I have a hangover the day after.”

2.  C’est très chouette !

The literal translation of  “c’est très chouette!” in French means “it’s very owl” in English. Truly bizarre isn’t it ? “Chouette”, means super or great.

To sound like a Parisian

“Le bar de l’hotel au dernier étage de la terrasse est vraiment chouette.”

“The bar of the hotel on the roof top is really great.”

3. Ca fait un tabac

Word by word  “Ca fait un tabac” means “It makes a tobacco”. Another strange idiomatic expression that means to be a hit, or very successful, used  for an event, a movie, a novel…

To sound like a Parisian

“L’exposition de Irvinn Penn au Grand Palais fait un tabac.” “Irvin Penn’s exhibition at Le Grand Palais is a hit.”

4. J’en ai ras le bol

The meaning of the expression ”j’en ai ras le bol” means “I am fed up, I am sick of it, I have had enough”, but the literal translation means “I have a bowl full of it.” This is a quite familiar expression. You might have already heard Parisians  complaining about the weather, pollution, crowd saying  “J’en ai ras le bol.” To sound like a Parisian

“J’en ai ras le bol des grèves de métro.”

“I am fed up with the train strikes.”

5. J’ai le coup de foudre

“Un coup de foudre” is literally a common term used for a thunderstorm: a bolt or flash of lightning, or a thunderbolt. The figurative meaning in French refers to "love at first sight," which also provides a sort of shock.  You can have “un coup de foudre” for someone but also for a place.

To sound like a Parisian »

“Le premier jour, j’ai eu tout de suite un coup de foudre pour Léa.”

“The first day when I met Léa, it was straight away love at the first sight.”

6. On est serré comme des sardines

If you hear the word “sardine”, you might think that the French person that you speak with is referring to the fish. No, not quite! “Etre serré(e) comme des sardines” literally means “to be tight as sardines.”. It is often used to describe the crowd in the public transportation.

To sound like a Parisian

“Ce matin dans le métro, on était serré(e)s comme des sardines.”

“This morning in the metro, we were as tight as sardines.”

7. La crème de la crème !

The literal meaning of “la crème de la crème” means “the cream of the cream”, which means “best of the best.”. In English, we often say: “the cream of the crop”. The cream was an ingredient that only the richest people could offer in old England. Now in France, it is a reference commonly used in a design and referring to the most influential people in their industry.

To sound like a Parisian

“Il n’y a que la crème de la crème d’invitée au vernissage de ce soir.”

“Only VIP will be invited to the opening tonight.”

8 : Tu me tiens au courant ?

The literal translation of “tenez-moi au courant” is  “hold / keep me at the current “.   It is a very common expression meaning to “keep me posted about a situation (such as news or events)…In this literal case, it means “you keep me posted ?”.  This expression probably comes from the fact that to communicate by telephone or by telegraph at the beginning of last century, electricity was necessary, and information was not instantaneous.

To sound like a Parisian

“Tu me tiens au courant pour la soirée de Paolo ?”

“You keep me posted for Paulo’s party ?”

9 : Oh, la vache !

If you learned French or if you speak it, you certainly know that “une vache” means “a cow”. The very familiar expression “oh la vache !” literally means “whoa the cow !”  Very similar when we say in English “holy cow!”   “Wow! Damn!” It is a mild oath, used to express any moderate-to-medium reaction such as surprise, indignation, or admiration.

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