French Idioms

Ne pas manger de ce pain-là

Pain au levain

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s expression is, “Ne pas manger de ce pain-là.”

Translated as, “not eating that kind of bread,” it means refusing to act in a way that goes against your values, steering clear of a situation or behavior that you think is beneath you.

Example: “Il faudrait que je fasse des ronds de jambe à la directrice pour obtenir une place pour ma fille, mais je ne mange pas de ce pain-là.” “I’d have to kowtow to the principal to get a spot for my daughter, but I don’t eat that kind of bread.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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Tourner au vinaigre

Vinegar barrels
Vinegar barrels photographed by Rebecca Bollwitt.

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s expression is, “Tourner au vinaigre.”

Literally translated as, “turning to vinegar,” it describes a situation or a conversation that’s taking a bad turn and may get ugly. It can be likened to its English cousin “going (or turning) sour.”

Example: “Il a vite changé de sujet avant que la discussion tourne au vinaigre.” “He quickly changed the subject before the discussion turned to vinegar.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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Être serrés comme des sardines

Sardines

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s expression is, “Être serrés comme des sardines.”

Literally translated as, “being packed together like sardines,” it is a colloquial expression that’s used when people are squeezed into a very small space with absolutely no room to move. For some reason, I remember liking this expression a lot as a child.

Notice that serrés is in the plural form — the singular would be serré(e) — because this expression is always used to liken a group of people to a group of sardines, and never refers to a single individual, however sardine-packed he might feel.

Example: “Ils ont laissé trop de gens monter dans le bus ; on était serrés comme des sardines.” “They let too many people on the bus; we were packed together like sardines.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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Plein comme un oeuf

Goose egg

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s expression is, “Plein comme un œuf.”

Literally translated as, “full as an egg,” it is a colloquial simile applied to a thing or a place that’s completely full; close English equivalents would be “filled to the brim” or “packed to the gills.” Note that it can’t be applied to a person*: “full” here is not to be understood as having a full stomach, because the French adjective plein is not used in that sense.

Example: “Je peux mettre mes baskets dans ta valise ? La mienne est pleine comme un œuf.” “Can I put my sneakers in your suitcase? Mine is full as an egg.”

(In writing, the proper verbal construction would be “Puis-je mettre mes baskets dans ta valise ?” In common speach, however, it is the upward intonation that indicates the interrogation, and we skip the verb inversion.)

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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Ne pas y aller avec le dos de la cuiller

Spoon

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Ne pas y aller avec le dos de la cuiller.”

Literally translated as, “not going at it with the back of the spoon,” it is a colloquial expression that means acting bluntly and deliberately, without restraint or moderation. It is often used in the context of interpersonal relationships, and especially when someone is particularly plain-spoken about an issue (equivalent then to “not mincing one’s words”).

Note: the French word for spoon can be spelled cuiller or cuillère; both spellings are correct. One should probably choose a spelling and stick to it for the sake of consistency, and when I stop to think about it I prefer the former, but I seem to go back and forth between the two in my writing.

Example: “Tu as lu sa critique du dernier film des frères Coen ? Il n’y va pas avec le dos de la cuiller !” “Did you read his review of the latest Coen brothers movie? He doesn’t go at it with the back of the spoon!”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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