Some French words for the road

When driving in France, keep an eye open for donkeys, hens and policemen lying across the road. If this conjures up enchanting images of ‘la France profonde’, think again. Nowadays even in big cities, you can find all of the above. They have one thing in common. They make you slow down. Drive too fast over a sleeping gendarme, ‘un gendarme couché’, or a donkey’s back, ‘un dos-d’âne’, and you will nearly take off, while if you catch a wheel in a pothole, ‘un nid de poules’, it won’t do much for your car’s suspension either.

Of course there is a more prosaic way to refer to speed bumps in French. ‘Un ralentisseur’, from the verb ‘ralentir’ to slow down, does just what its name suggests. That is not the case for those speed bumps that extend for several metres, bringing you down with a jerk just when the car seems to have found a stable position once more. Increasingly prevalent in towns, particularly near schools, they are unimaginatively called ‘les plateaux surélevés’; a name obviously conjured up by a civil servant on a bad day. As yet, no informal expression has emerged, although the term does rather evoke waiters in Parisian brasseries wending their way between tables with their trays or ‘plateaux’, in the air. Maybe the civil servant wasn’t having such a bad day after all, just a long lunch.

The French use another type of ‘ralentisseur’ to alert you if you’re running off the road or arriving at a tollgate. Disappointingly, rumble strips are simply called ‘les ralentisseurs sonores’. Expressions involving braying donkeys or snoring policemen would have been far more fun.

But back to hens. ‘Une trémie’ is a feeding box for poultry, but also a ramp leading to an underground road tunnel and by extension the tunnel itself. So don’t panic if your French friend, says, ‘Prenez la trémie’. He’s not asking you to fit a somewhat bulky item into your car boot, but suggesting a good way to avoid city centre traffic.

Of course another way to do this is to take ‘le périphérique’, clearly a ring road. However, to show you’re in the know, refer to it as ‘le périf’, particularly if it’s the Parisian one. Less important cities simple have ‘une rocade’, a bypass.

If you find that all the ploys meant to slow you down, wake you up or allow you to avoid traffic are getting too much for you, then you can always revert to being a simple pedestrian. Cross a busy road as a simple ‘piéton’ and you can often take advantage of a central traffic island. Reassuringly this is called ‘un refuge’. Now there’s a good choice of word.

If you would like to receive this blog regularly, please sign up on our website

If you have friends you think may be interested, please pass this blog on.

Thank you!

Pam Bourgeois



Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Feel free to send us an email if you any question regarding our products and we will get back to you, asap.


©2019 Kolibri Languages - Tous droits réservés / General conditions of use

Log in with your credentials


Forgot your details?

Create Account