5 French food expressions to whet your appetite

If there’s anything the French have mastered, it’s the art of cuisine. When combined with the language of Molière and Mbappé, some savory food expressions can’t be far behind.

Here are a handful of French food expressions that will surely spice up your conversations. 

En faire (tout) un fromage

The French expression en faire (tout) un fromage (literally “to make a whole cheese of something”) literally refers to the laborious and complex process of turning milk into cheese – a complex process that transforms staples milk and cheese into something much more sophisticated.

In English, we would use the expression “to make a meal out of something” or simply “to make a big deal out of it”. In any case, if a French person uses this idiom on your behalf, they may be suggesting that you are in fact the drama.

Example: Martin a juste cassé un verre, arrête d’en faire tout un fromage !

Translation: Martin just broke a glass, stop making a big deal out of it!

Être haut comme trois pommes

The French idiom être haut comme trois pommes (literally “to be as high as three apples”) was first used in French literature in the mid-20th century and is used to describe someone very short, possibly the size of the three said apples. 

One could use this expression when talking about a child that is much shorter than others so if you hear someone use your name and apples in the same sentence, it’s probably an insult. In English, we might use the expression “to be knee-high to a grasshopper”.

Example: La dernière fois que j’ai vu ta fille, elle était haute comme trois pommes !

Translation: The last time I saw your daughter, she was knee-high to a grasshopper!

Raconter des salades

This next idiom has nothing to do with dieting or being healthy despite its green leafy nature. Raconter des salades (literally “to tell salads”) is a French metaphor and the equivalent of “spinning yarns” in English.

Why salad though? Perhaps it’s because, despite its appealing exterior, it’s actually just a big bowl of nothing?

Example: Ils disent tous que Mélanie a rompu avec Pierre, mais ils ne racontent que des salades, ce n’est pas vrai !

Translation: They all say Mélanie broke up with Pierre, but they’re spinning yarns, it’s not true!

Faire chou blanc

The French idiom faire chou blanc comes from a popular bowling game in the 16th century. When a player failed to knock down all of the pins, he was said to faire coup blanc (literally “to do a white hit”). The Berrichon dialect transformed coup into chou (“cabbage”), and the expression has remained.

French speakers will use this expression to refer to someone failing miserably at something or “hitting a brick wall”. 

Example: Les enquêteurs ont interrogé tout le voisinage pour trouver le coupable, mais ils ont fait chou blanc.

Translation: Investigators questioned the entire neighborhood to find the culprit, but they hit a brick wall.

Avoir la pêche 

The first French expression on our list avoir la pêche (literally “to have the peach”) is assumed to date from the 1960s. One explanation suggests that it refers to the energy behind a powerful punch – or as the French say coup de poing – which is also referred to as une pêche

The idiom may also be related to avoir la patate (literally “to have the potato”) which means “to feel great”.  

Example: Sarah a dormi treize heures d’affilée ; elle a tellement la pêche qu’elle pourrait courir un marathon !

Translation: “Sarah slept for thirteen hours straight; she’s so energized she could run a marathon!”

Bonus: Pleurer comme une madeleine

This last expression has nothing to do with the French buttery pastry. It refers to a passage in the Bible in which Mary Magdalene is said to have wept so much at Jesus’ feet she cleaned them. In the 19th century, French writer Honoré de Balzac popularized the expression “crying like a madeleine” in his book La Comédie Humaine. The idiom helps describe someone who cries a lot, so much that it could be considered exaggerated (similar to the English equivalent “to cry your eyes out” or “to cry like a baby”.

Our advice: don’t cry like a madeleine, eat it.

Example: “Justine a encore échoué à son examen, je l’ai entendue pleurer comme une madeleine tout l’après-midi.”

Translation: “Justine failed her exam again, I heard her crying her eyes out all afternoon. 

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