We list our favorite commonplace French slang that sound so funny when translated in English.
One of the best things about living in Belgium is learning the language in a way they never taught you in school. Think about how people that speak French would use slang; would you say, “I am going to the pub now,” to announce your imminent departure, or, “I’m just off to the pub?”
It is one thing to be capable of going about your day-to-day business, language-wise. It’s quite another once you begin to pick up the slang and shorthand. It is then that you’re able to have good gossip and actually laugh when someone tells a joke. One of my proudest moments en France to date was when I was chatting with a customer and he announced that I had learnt to speak ‘the French of the night’ – ok, it made me sound a bit like a hooker, but I’m pretty sure it was a compliment and meant that I no longer sound like an absolute tourist (all of the time). Huzzah!
Anyway, one of my favorite things about speaking native French is the sayings they come out with. The sayings, or meanings behind them, aren’t amusing in themselves. Oh no. It’s the translations into English.
French slang: fingers in the nose
‘Les doigts dans le nez’ was one of my first hilarious discoveries in French slang and remains a firm favorite. Literally translated, it means fingers in the nose. The practical translation is that something is terribly easy. The first time a colleague used this, I was virtually on the floor of the restaurant I found it so terribly amusing. If you ever see us sticking our fingers up our noses mid-service, we’re merely gesturing to each other how easily the shift is going. Unless it’s one of the boys and then they’re probably just picking their nose.
Keep the peach
During my first few shifts, I found it mildly offensive that all the customers kept wishing me ‘bon courage‘ as they left. I took this to mean that I looked like I was really struggling and would need all the courage to make it through the night. But no – this is merely what anyone who is not currently at work says to someone who is. Now bon courage itself is clearly not amusing – but it’s French slang cousin really, really is.
“Keep the peach,” a customer said to me in English one night as he took his change. “Keep the peach?” I repeated, a bemused look on my face. “Yes,” he said, “Garde la pêche – keep the peach!” After to-ing and fro-ing we established that he told me to keep my chin up/remain ‘en forme‘. Honestly, this phrase absolutely delights me and I spent the rest of the evening shouting “Keep zee peach!” at random intervals. I still mutter it to myself at times while sniggering. Because I’m odd like that. And easily amused.
I have the banana
‘J’ai la banane‘, or I have the banana, is just another way to say that you are in good form. Which I was relieved to discover after Brian shouted it at me, because the alternative translation running through my head was a little scary. So yes, apparently to have or keep some kind of fruit in France is to be in a good mood. Personally, I still opt for the peachy option rather than the French slang phrase, as bringing up the topic of bananas amongst an all-male staff never seems like a good idea.
French slang: I have a cat in my throat
‘J’ai un chat dans la gorge‘ is Frenchie speak for having a frog in one’s throat. I guess I can see why they steered away from the froggie version, but I still struggle to envisage someone managing to speak at all.
So there we have it – a wee selection of my favorite Frenchie expressions to date. Please feel free to add your own – I am always looking for new things to randomly shout at my colleagues.