Decoding the French. “French expressions and ideosyncracies”

Madame, Monsieur …..

As part of French etiquette and as a sign of courtesy, you will be addressed with Monsieur, Madame or Mademoiselle. When someone asks for your name (votre nom s’il vous plait), you will need to give your surname. “Nom” means your surname. In formal settings you will most likely never give your first name (votre prénom). This is something you need to know as you may be used to using your first name even in formal settings in your country : doctor’s appointments, pharmacy, restaurant booking.. etc. Despite the many years in France, this is something I’m still not quite accustomed to.


The French love debating about topics such as current affairs, society, politics, etc.. Although at certain moments, for example during meals, the subject of politics is often avoided. The French also tend not to share how much they earn.

In the workplace, the French demeanor is typically neutral and serious.

The French sense of humour

It is not easy to fully understand the jokes of other cultures, and in the same way it is difficult to make laugh someone with whom you have a great cultural difference because each joke contains the ideas, the way of being and the idiosyncrasy of each country.

The French are very proud of their language, culture, and country. A large part of their humour is based on the language, making it hard to understand for non-fluent French speakers or for those who have not lived in France for many, many years. They value wit (intellectual, sarcastic, cynical) and understanding irony is key to understanding French humour which basically shouldn’t be taken literally.

The complaining (râleur) character

The Age of Enlightenment also known as the Age of reason (an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries) would have shaped the character inclined to question everything. It is important to add that a lot has been achieved in France particularly in terms of social protection and the French want to make sure they keep it.

A French paradox

French society as a whole appears somewhat pessimistic but individually the French are quite content and are happy with the quality of living they enjoy in their country

French facial expressions

The French have a wide range of facial expressions that convey the message clearly without using words. Below are some expressions you will see regularly :


image se mettre un doigt dans l'oeil

I don’t believe you…

You’re crazy…

pointe la tempe de son index
personne qui soupire

This is annoying…

No way, you’re telling tales…

personne qui se pince la joue

How to sound more French

Knowing French onomatopoeias can familiarize you with French phonetics.

Important words to express your feelings to include in your conversations ...

To indicate surprise or astonishment

Oh là là ! – Ah bon ! – Ah ça alors ! – Tiens ! – Eh bien !

To indicate exasperation

Ah là là ! – Zut ! – Mince ! – Purée ! – Punaise ! – Mercredi ! (replaces the M**de word)

Dis donc ! “I say” used to draw attention to the remark

Bah ! meaning « well » with indifference

Bravo ! often used ironically to highlight something silly

Hélas ! regret Alas in English

Bon ! okay

Ok ça marche ! All right, that works

Tout à fait : absolutely, exactly

Courage ! stay strong

Allez les Bleus 😊

French idioms vs English idioms

– Tourner autour du pot Beat around the bush
– La chance sourit aux audacieux Fortune favours the brave
Coûter la peau des fesses Costs an arm and a leg
Ne pas être dans son assiette Feeling under the weather
Mettre le doigt dessus Hitting the nail on the head
D’une pierre deux coups Killing two birds with one stone
Vendre la mêche Letting the cat out of the bag
Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué Don’t count your chickens before they hatch
Quand les poules auront des dents When pigs fly
On n’a rien sans rien No pain, no gain
Les bons comptes font les bons amis A dept paid is a friend kept
La couverture ne fait pas le livre Don’t judge a book by its cover

Popular idiomatic expressions around food. Do the quiz : Popular expressions around food

The correct answers are here below : 


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