10 essential French keywords for the summer

This summer’s heatwave goes on and on with the highest recorded temperatures for several years in many French regions. Here are 10 keywords to help keep you cool if you are travelling in France this summer.

1. La canicule This is what all the fuss is about.

At times, the majority of France’s departments have been on special alert because of ‘la canicule’. The French also talk about ‘la chaleur caniculaire’, but whether it’s an adjective or a noun it still means it’s very hot!

2. La climatisation

Make sure your hotel room has air-conditioning. ‘La chambre est climatisée ?’ The French often talk about ‘la clim’ so be prepared to recognise the abbreviation. ‘Oui, il y a la clim dans les chambres.’

3. Un brumatiseur

Carry one of these in your bag to give yourself a refreshing fine spray of water. Just what’s needed to cool you down and essential if you are travelling with a baby or young children.

4. Les boissons fraîches

You can stick to your favourite soda or try one of France’s many mineral waters. Order ‘de l’eau plate’ if you prefer still water, or ‘de l’eau pétillante’ if you like it sparkling. You can choose between ‘une petite bouteille’ or ‘une grande bouteille’ to accompany your meal in a restaurant, but in a café you may only be able to order the smaller size.

5. Les glaçons

Don’t mistake the word for an ice-cube, ‘un glaçon’, with the word for ice-cream, ‘une glace’. However, if you order a bottle of white or rosé wine it will be served in ‘un seau à glace’, an ice bucket, to keep it cool.

6. La glace

‘Combien de boules ?’ you will be asked when you order an ice-cream. The price will vary depending on the number of scoops. You will need to choose the flavour, ‘le parfum’, you want from the long list the ice-cream seller will reel off, usually very quickly. In France, if you order an ice-cream in a café, you will usually be served a glass of cold water with it.

7. Une terrasse ombragée

If you prefer to eat outside at a restaurant, make sure that the patio area is ‘ombragé’. There’s nothing worse than eating outside in full sunshine and even in the evening ‘une terrasse ombragée’ will be pleasant if it’s still very warm.

8. La sieste

When the temperatures are high, live like the French. Get up early and take advantage of the cooler morning air then, after lunch, make time to ‘faire une sieste’. In the early afternoon in the south of France, shops are closed, the streets are deserted, the shutters are drawn as anybody who can has a little nap, ‘un petit somme’. You will enjoy the long summer evenings far more afterwards.

9. Se baigner

Cool down with a swim in the pool or at the beach. Make sure you don’t swim where there is a ‘Baignade interdite’ warning sign. Prefer beaches with ‘plage surveillée’ signs for maximum security when you go for a dip, ‘faire trempette’.

10. Se rafraîchir

Go for it! Anything that promises to cool you down is good news, so look out for signs containing the words ‘rafraîchissez-vous’ or for anything described as ‘rafraîchissant’.

Bonne canicule !

Everybody, including the French, make small talk about the weather. Find out what to say in ‘Meeting the French’, a Kolibri Languages Practical Guide.

Pam Bourgeois



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