Home Education Language Learning The humour of French slang
Last update on March 11, 2019

We list our favourite commonplace French phrases that sound so funny when translated in English.

One of the best things about living in France is learning the language in a way they never taught you in school, i.e. the way people actually speak. Think about it 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 is quite another once you begin to pick up the slang and shorthand, for it is then that you are able to have a good old gossip and actually laugh when someone tells a joke and we’re talking genuine mirth here, not the awkward, 10-seconds-behind-everyone-else-who-actually-got-the-punchline kind of laughter. 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 favourite things about learning to speak 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.

Fingers in the nose

‘Les doigts dans le nez’ was one of my first hilarious discoveries and remains a firm favourite. Literally translated, it means fingers in the nose. The practical translation is that something is terribly easy, a piece of piss, could be done with one hand tied behind your back, etc. The first time a colleague came out with this I was virtually on the floor of the restaurant I found it so terribly amusing (best waitress ever) and if you ever see us sticking our fingers up our noses mid-service (except obviously we don’t do that because it would be really unhygienic and probably get us closed down), we are 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 reeeeally struggling and would need all the courage I could muster to make it through the night, but no this is merely what anyone who is not currently at work/on their way to work says to someone who is (smug gits). Now bon courage itself is clearly not amusing but it’s slangy 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 a little to-ing and fro-ing we established that he was telling me to keep my chin up/remain ‘en forme‘ (as it sounds, in good form). Honestly, this phrase absolutely delights me and I spent the rest of the evening shouting “Keep zee peach!” at random intervals. I can still be heard muttering it to myself at times and 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 jolly good mood. Personally, I still opt for the peachy option as bringing up the topic of bananas amongst an all-male staff (myself excluded, thank you very much) never seems like a good idea.

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, let alone croakily, with an entire feline down there.

learning to speak native French
Well it’s never going to be a good thing, is it?

So there we have it a wee selection of my favourite Frenchie expressions to date. Please feel free to add your own I am always looking for new things to randomly shout at my colleagues.