Does speaking French ever get you into a pickle?

(“Get into a pickle” = get into a little trouble…)

Picking up a language’s idioms is a fantastic way to deepen not only your language skills, but also to deepen your connection with that language’s culture.

Food is not simply the fuel that sustains our bodies, it nourishes our minds too, and it also serves as a means though which we communicate our sense of who we are, where we came from, who raised us and how. Language, thought and culture are so entwined that it’s no surprise to find that food is so deeply embedded into everyday language in France, especially in the form of its idioms.

With all that in mind, here’s our quick guide to some of France’s favourite foodie sayings.

© Marco Mornati

Avoir de la Bouteille (having some bottle) — used to describe someone who is wise through experience and age, like a fine wine! (Funnily enough, the English equivalent almost means the opposite. Someone’s who’s “got some bottle” is usually someone who is showing a little more courage or confidence than perhaps their position or capacities merit. On the other hand, if you did do something that took some bottle, then it’s probable you’ve shown more than common courage. And if you’ve “bottled it”, it means you’ve lost your bottle and been a coward, not doing what you could or should have done. English bottles are confusing.

Mettre de l’Eau Dans Son Vin (putting water in his wine) — something a wise person would do at judicious moments, which is to compromise or take a more moderate stance on something (i.e. dilute one’s wine or position). While this sounds like a heresy today, pouring a little water into your wine used to be an accepted practice when wines tended to be coarser and harder to swallow. Thus, if you cut your views with a little water, they become easier for the other person to take in.

Retourner Quelqu’un Comme une Crêpe (flipping someone like a crêpe) — on the other hand, you wouldn’t want to add too much water to your wine and become too compromising in case someone too easily changes your mind, or flips you like a crêpe!

philippe-murray-pietsch-bR5TqIONw68-unsplash
© Philippe Murray-Pietsch

Se Faire Rouler Dans la Farine (to be rolled in flour) — of course, if the other person is smarter or less naive than you, it might be that you’ll end up being taken advantage of (rolled in flour) anyway.

Raconter des Salades (talking salads) — and if someone’s trying to take advantage of you, it’s very likely that they’ll also be telling you lies. This idiom has a parallel in English with the phrase “word salad”, meaning someone who is using too many words in order to create confusion, or sometimes to hide their own ignorance and pretend they’re smarter or more knowledgeable than they actually are.

Tourner au Vinagire (turn to vinegar) — at this point, the situation might start to turn a bit sour, into vinegar, i.e. something that started out good has become bad or unpleasant.

La Moutarde lui Monte au Nez (the mustard is rising to his nose) — so now you’re probably getting more and more impatient and angry, and the sharp smell of mustard is tingling your nostrils.

Ménager le Chèvre et le Chou (sparing the goat and the cabbage) — at this point in this terrible situation, someone else may intervene and try to calm things down. But they need to be careful how they do it. If they try to please both sides (sparing both the goat and the cabbage who clearly have opposing opinions on whether or not the goat should eat the cabbage), then it’s possible that no one will be happy in the end.

Unfortunately, sometimes the only way out of this situation is to keep one of Cambodia’s many foodie idioms in mind, and Tuk Moat Si Moansave your mouth for eating chicken.

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