Why Is The French Language So Full Of Idioms About Food?

<a href="https://pixabay.com/en/strawberry-red-macro-629180/ "> Strawberries | © szjeno09190/Pixabay</a>
<a href="https://pixabay.com/en/strawberry-red-macro-629180/ "> Strawberries | © szjeno09190/Pixabay</a>
Photo of Jade Cuttle
14 September 2017

French chefs are masters at making delicious mouth-watering cuisine, and this passion is reflected by French speakers thanks to the phrases and expressions they like to use. Here are some of the quirky idioms and sayings that burst with references to food and what they mean once translated.

C’est la fin des haricots

This phrase is translated literally as ‘it’s the end of beans’, and means that there’s nothing left. The story of Jack and the Beanstalk is ingrained in English culture—where beans means money—and similar ideas have carried across the channel to France. Since, historically, ‘beans’ were the last food remaining when everything else was gone, to say that it is the ‘end of beans’ means that all resources have been bled dry.

Dried beans | © dominik18s/Flickr

Avoir du pain sur la planche

The expression ‘avoir du pain sur la planche’ translates literally as ‘to have bread on the board’, and it is less easy to decipher the meaning compared to the bean-riddled one. It signifies the idea of having a lot to do. For example, those stuck reading a book with 300 pages would use this expression while imagining themselves as a baker—one of the most important people driving French cuisine—if they were only on the first few pages. There’s no time for dawdling when there is bread to be made—or books to be read.

Baking bread | © Pixabay/Pexels

Ramener sa fraise

When someone ‘bring your strawberry’, it means they pop themselves into a conversation without being invited to do so, somewhat unwelcome and rudely. However, it can also be used to ask someone to come.

Strawberries | © szjeno09190/Pixabay

Ce n’est pas de la tarte

The French idiom ‘ce n’est pas de la tarte’ is the inversion of the English phrase ‘it’s a piece of cake’. While people use the image of cake—or pie—to say that something is easy, the French use cake to say something is difficult. Literally, the phrase means that ‘it’s not tart’ and is used to say that it’s not going to be easy.

Strawberry tarts | © Ruth Hartnup/Flickr | © Ruth Hartnup / Flickr

En faire tout un fromage

Cheese is a primary staple to the French nation, so saying ‘En faire tout un fromage’ or ‘make a cheese about something’ symbolises the idea is that people take a small problem and blow it out of proportion—they make a whole cheese about it. The equivalent is less food-focused: more like making a mountain out of a molehill.

Cheese and wine in Paris │ | © Joe deSousa/Flickr

Etre dans les choux

This cute idiom ‘être dans les choux’ is a little more enigmatic for people who don’t speak much French. The literal translation is ‘to be in the cabbages’, meaning to be in a bad situation or to fail. Behind this expression is the clever word-play between ‘Les choux’ and ‘échouer’ (cabbage and the verb to fail).

Cabbage | © J E Theriot/Flickr

La moutarde lui monte au nez

In many ways, the phrase ‘la moutarde lui monte au nez’ is an ingenious image. Literally, it means mustard is going up to someone’s nose, and it is used to communicate the idea of feeling angry.

Homemade mustard | © Jessie Splengler/Flickr

Changer de crémerie

Though the literal translation of ‘Changer de crémerie’ is to change to another dairy shop, the phrase describes the decision to abandon one often-frequented shop in order to go to another instead. It proves how central dairy products like cheese are in French culture.

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