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If you are having a staycation this year, it might be a good idea to see how good your French lingo is. Sometimes people try their hardest to speak French, but clearly are just translating from their own language. Maybe this excerpt from Know-it-all passport® 11th edition, pages 461-463, will help you fit in! Part two is published at this link.

Some French words change meaning with or without accents. In February 2016, the French Language Academy declared they were to simplify the French written language. However, it will be hard to implement!

stain = tache
task = tâche

young = jeune
fast from eating = jeûne

of the / Some = des
as of = dès

wall = mur
ripe = mûr

on = sur
sure / confident = sûr

or = ou
where = 

the = la
here = 

Masculine vs Feminine

Be careful if you accidently add the wrong gender to some words! You will change their meaning!

Money terms


Being Broke
Je n’ai pas un rond.
I have no coins left.

Je n’ai plus de sous.
I have no money left.

Je suis fauché.
I am broke.

Ca coûte un bras.
It costs an arm

Coûter la peau des fesses.
To cost the skin of your bottom.

Coûter les yeux de la tête.
To cost the eyes of your head.

Coûter un rein.
To cost a kidney.

Ça coûte un saladier.*
To cost a large bowl.
* This is particularly used in Geneva/Vaud.

C’est cher.
It’s expensive.

C’est très cher.
It’s very expensive.

Ce n’est pas bon marché.
It’s not cheap.

Inches vs Centimeters
“Give him an inch and he will take a yard.”
Donne-lui le doigt et il te prendra le bras.

However, in French, the word ‘inch’ is translated to pouce. This is also the word for thumb.

“She will not budge an inch no matter what anyone says.”
Elle ne bougera pas d’un pouce, peu importe ce qu’on en dise.

“I’m inching my way through the work” would not translate as: Je centimetre mon chemin dans le travail (which does not even exist in French)! Use one of these two instead:
— J’avance petit à petit dans le travail
— J’avance à petits pas.

Confusing Mealtimes
Breakfast > Petit déjeuner
Lunch > Déjeuner / Diner
Dinner > Souper / Diner

If someone asks you for a meal in Geneva, they might say “viens prendre le souper chez moi.” This can be confusing if this same person asks you “viens prendre le dîner chez moi”, as this might be lunch or dinner. It is best to ask for the time they are expecting you before you accept!

Local custom tips: In Switzerland, you are expected to bring wine, flowers, or chocolates as traditional gifts when you are invited to dinner. Never arrive empty-handed. If the invitation is for 20h, then arrive between 20h-20h15. If you are later than 15 minutes you should call to warn them. Never arrive early.

False Friends
You should be very careful not to fall into these traps. The meaning is quite different!
Blessed > Blessé (to be hurt)
Button > Bouton - visage (pimple)
Coin > Coin (corner)
Envy > Envie (desire)
Jolly > Jolie (pretty)
Journey > Journée (day)
Library > Librairie (bookshop)
Location > Location (to rent)
Money > Monnaie (coins - money)
Pass an exam > Passer un examen (to take an exam)
Preservative > Préservatif (condom)
Prune > Prune (plum)
Raisin > Raisin (grape)
Sales > Soldes
Sold > Vendu

Have you ever wondered why all the shops are labeled soldes during the months of January and July? Don’t worry, they aren’t all going out of business! It all stems from the Romans... they paid workers with salt, a precious commodity, on a monthly basis. The word “salary” comes from the Latin word for salt, which was quite literally worth its weight in gold. They say the soldiers who did their job well were “worth their weight in salt.”

In French, la solde, is the amount of extra, the difference between expenses and what is leftover. This has evolved to: amount in surplus. This term “sale” in English has the same roots.

If la facture est trop salée pour moi, it simply means “Those prices are too steep for me” meaning too salty!


You can also use a standard greeting of Salut! for people you know well. It works for hello and good-bye.

During the day use the standard Bonjour (good day), but as from 18h you must say Bonsoir (good evening). The older generation usually tag on Madame and Monsieur (for example: Bonjour Madame) when greeting people but nowadays it is not as common. 

Not everyone greets strangers when they enter the elevator (lift) but it is best to be prepared with your Bonjour and Merci just in case!

Formal greeting
— Bonjour
— Bonsoir
Informal greeting
— Salut
— Coucou!
— Quoi de neuf?
— Ça roule?
Formal parting
— Au revoir
— Bonne journée
— Bonne nuit
— Bonne soirée
— À bientôt 
— À demain
— À tout à l’heure
Informal parting
— À toute
— À plus tard
— À plus (sometimes written A+)
— Adieu
— Salut
Answering the phone

— Allo?

mapIf you haven't already read part 2, then click here.



KIAP11 5booksin3DMake sure to buy your copy of Know-it-all passport to get lots more local tips, info, and recommendations. The 11th edition is sold at the following locations, click here.