“On peut dîner plus tard? Je n’aime pas manger avec les poules,” my US-born teenager sometimes says to me around 7:00pm. Can we have dinner later Mom? I’d rather not eat with the hens. If you don’t know the French saying “se coucher avec les poules,” (to go to bed with the hens; to go to bed early,) you would have no idea what he means and would just scratch your head. Speaking a language fluently is a lot more than conjugating verbs or getting the grammar right. Understanding idioms, and being able to use them like a native is a bit more challenging, but helps get the message across. I don’t often advertise on the blog. A few weeks ago, Graham Clark reached out to me and offered to send a copy of his new book, Other Cats to Whip, the Book of French Idioms. He asked me to review it, if I liked it, and if I had the time. I don’t really have the time, but the book is small and easy to read. I liked it, and I think my readers will too. Here is my review.
Don’t you just like it when people meddle, and stick their nose where it does not belong, i.e. in your life? Of all the great quotes Coco Chanel left us, the one I wish I had thought of first is:
Isn’t it just perfect? Straightforward, and to the point. It conveys just the right blend of self-confidence and disdain. I am sure Chanel used it often to silence critics, although, who, in their right mind, would have stood up to the formidable Coco?
Those among us who do not have Mademoiselle‘s sens de la répartie (quick wit,) can still get the message across using reliable and time-tested French sayings. This is when Other Cats to Whip, Zubair Arshad and Graham Clark‘s little book comes in handy. Imagine an acquaintance makes an unsolicited comment about the way you are raising your children. You would entertain some praise, but you would not be so happy if they criticized your parenting style. At that point, you could tell the acquaintance to be quiet, (“Ca suffit!”, “That’s enough,”) but that might fall a bit flat. Instead, you could use the following: “Je te demande si ta grand-mère fait du vélo?” (Do I ask if your grandma rides a bike?) Even if you have never heard this French saying before, the book’s illustration helps you memorize it (many adults learn visually.) The illustration is accompanied by the French saying, a literal translation, and its actual meaning.
On another page, the authors highlight and translate two key words in the French saying. Finally, they provide an example of a sentence (in French, translated into English) using the expression in context.
If this does not do the trick, you can use other French sayings, for example: “Occupe-toi de tes oignons,” (Look after your onions.) The illustration, literal translation and meaning:
The expression in context:
You may think this is a funny expression, but it is easy to see where it came from: Anyone who has had to either peel or cook onions (slowly) knows looking after onions requires focus, and that does not leave much time for anything else.
After delivering one of these two brilliant lines, you can relax and rejoice in the knowledge that your sparring partner has been put in his/her place, and will leave you alone. After all, “chat échaudé craint l’eau froide,” (a warmed cat fears cold water.)
You are starting to understand why I like this little book so much. It contains about 40 commonly used French sayings, and after reading it, you will be able to use them. A word of caution: Many are familiar, and a few belong to the French slang repertoire. I would urge caution when saying them. At any rate, they will likely elicit a smile from French natives who will be impressed with your command of the language.
Do you want to give the book a try? It’s easy. Graham Clark offers a 1 GBP ($1.50) discount to French Girl in Seattle readers. Use the code “Bonjour” when you order if you visit the official website here. Two versions are available. The links below have been set up for French Girl in Seattle readers, and prices already reflect the discount:
Premium Package (includes paperback and digital versions and resource guide.)
Let me know what you thought about the book if you order it, and if you have found opportunities to use the expressions! Parlons français !
Note: All photos of Other Cats to Whip used with special permission. Do not reprint, use, or Pin.
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I just ordered the premium package. Thank you for this opportunity to easily teach my students some interesting and useful French!
You’re welcome Kim. Let us know what your students thought. Bonne fin de semaine.
Thanks for the great tip Mme French Girl. And for the discount! I will have to brush up on my slang before my trip to Nice in April.
Excellent Eric. Let me know how this works out for you!
Love it, c’est parfait to have quick comebacks to rude comments!
Absolument, Chérie 🙂
Vero, I am so horrified and saddened about the attacks in Paris, it is so sickening. I hope all your friends and family in Paris are okay. My thoughts are with you.
Merci beaucoup Chérie. All my friends and relatives are ok. They were the lucky ones.
My thoughts and prayers are with you and your friends and family in France during this horrible time. Have a wonderful holiday season.
Thank you very much Kathryn. Joyeuses Fêtes à vous aussi.
Merci, Mademoiselle! All my Christmas gifts will come from France this year. My heart is there. like those of millions of Americans. Your culture inspires us, your people enchant us, your nation is our first ally and dear friend.
This book is quite clever, and these are expressions that are, indeed, commonly used. I wonder if the young people still ask “Est-ce que je te demande si ta grand-mère fait du vélo?”, or is it less utilized and more for an older generation. I have been gone for so long!
Not sure what people use or not. I am quite old myself (and I do use that expression on a regular basis.) 😉