Conversations around the dinner table in French

The French love food. They also love talking about it. Conversations around the dinner table inevitably include lively discussions about the dishes served, comparisons with other meals eaten elsewhere, suggestions as to how to prepare certain dishes and even a few comments as to just what could be done to vary the taste. A guessing game as to exactly which ingredients have been included is often the highlight of this conversation. The person who successfully identifies the elusive spice or herb will earn the admiration of all the other guests.

It’s not surprising, with so much attention paid to food, that idiomatic expressions concerning food and meals abound in the French language. Every vegetable and fruit seems to evoke an idiom. If it’s the end of the beans, ‘c’est la fin des haricots’, it’s the last straw. If the carrots are cooked, ‘les carottes sont cuites’, it’s all up. If something is in the cabbages, ‘être dans les choux’ it’s a write-off.

More positively, adding butter to the spinach, ‘mettre du beurre dans les épinards’, will be something which brings extra money to help make ends meet. Someone who puts his hand in the dough, ‘mettre la main à la pâte’, will be lending a hand and looking after someone with small onions, ‘soigner quelqu’un aux petits oignons’ is to treat someone like a king.

There are some fun cultural differences to be noted too. The cherry on the cake, ‘la cerise sur le gâteau’ is, of course, the icing on the cake in English, whereas to share the cake, ‘se partager le gâteau’, is to share out the loot. However when something is easy, in both languages, it’s a piece of cake, ‘c’est du gâteau’.

How pleasant to imagine yourself falling into the apples, ‘tomber dans les pommes’ when you faint. And what could evoke more effectively someone’s increasing anger than to say that the mustard is going up his nose, ‘la moutarde lui monte au nez’! As for being obliged to roll around in flour, ‘se faire rouler dans la farine’, it almost seems worth being cheated.

If you would like to be able to add your two cents’ worth, that is add your grain of salt, ‘mettre son grain de sel’, in a conversation about French food, you can learn more in the latest Kolibri Pocket Guide, Food and French.

Pam Bourgeois



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