Why that it’s summertime, of course!
Time for holidays, barbecues, and naturally, new vocabulary!
As any French learner knows, each season brings with it a whole new set of words and expressions essential for getting by in daily life.
This handy guide will provide you with all you need know about 16 essential summer expressions used in France.
16 Essential French Summer Vocabulary Words and Expressions
1. Passer à l’heure d’été
One of the most palpable signs of the coming of summer is the arrival of long summer days. Instead of changing to daylight-saving time, the French – in typical fashion – have a much more poetic saying for putting the clocks forward: “passer à l’heure d’été” (passing to summer time). Likewise, in the fall, the country passes back to winter time (passer à l’heure d’hiver).
2. Faire le pont
Spring and summer in France are chock-full of national holidays. When the planets align just right, these holidays will fall on Thursdays or Tuesdays, meaning that just one holiday will get you a four-day weekend, quelle bonne affaire (what a deal)! When this happens, the French will say that they’re “making the bridge” (faire le pont) between the holiday and the weekend by taking the extra day off.
3. Les grandes vacances
Summer vacation (les grandes vacances) has been a cornerstone of French society since it was first established for school children back in 1882. Traditionally in August, many people will take up to three weeks of their mandatory five paid vacation weeks per year, meaning the rest of life in the country slows to a crawl.
4. La fermeture annuelle
If you find yourself in Paris in August, chances are you won’t be asking for directions to the Louvre, but rather the nearest bakery or supermarket that’s open! As people leave the city for their annual summer vacation, shops too close their doors for the month. Don’t be surprised to see storefronts shuttered with signs reading, “Fermeture annuelle: réouverture en septembre” (Annual closing: reopening in September).
5. Se mettre au vert
There’s nothing like summer to awaken that desire to flee the banalities of city life for the tranquility and natural beauty of the countryside. This expression, which literally means “to put oneself in the green” (se mettre au vert), will surely come in handy over the summer months as you plot your escape. However, you might want to be mindful of the context in which you use it. The expression can also mean that you are escaping to the countryside to lay low because the police are after you!
6. Faire la grève
Summer is not just the time for vacationing, but also going on strike (faire la grève). As soon as the days begin to get longer and the temperatures warmer, the number of strikes in the country always seems to spike. But who can blame them? Picketing in the sun beats being cooped up in an office any day…vive la grève! (long live the strike!).
7. Êtes-vous juilletiste ou aoûtien?
Whether you chose to go off on holidays in July or August may say more about you than you think, at least to the French. August is when most French will typically take their vacation. July vacation goers (juilletistes) are thus often seen as somewhat rebellious, while the latter see their aoûtien compatriots as suckers that go on vacation at the same time as everyone else when prices are the highest. Juilletistes tend to be younger and more active, favoring adventurous vacations over the beach, while aoûtiens include many older holiday goers and blue collar workers.
8. Transpirer comme un bœuf /une vache
Unfounded stereotypes about the French and perspiration run rampant. The truth is that sweating is a universal affliction! This is why every language, with the exception perhaps of the Inuits up north, has developed many colorful expressions to describe this unavoidable part of summer. The most common expression in French is “to sweat like a steer” (transpirer comme un bœuf) or, for the ladies, “to sweat like a cow” (une vache).
9. Attraper un coup de soleil
Spend a little too much time sunbathing? If you didn’t take the necessary precautions, chances are you’ll “catch” a nasty sunburn as the French say (attraper un coup de soleil). If you do plan on spending a lot of time in the sun, be sure and plan accordingly and pack your crème solaire (sunscreen).
10. Se faire bouffer par les moustiques
As you may know all too well, when talking about mosquito bites (une piqûre de moustique), it’s usually many rather than only a few. This is no doubt the origin of this expression, which literally means “to get eaten up by mosquitoes” (se faire bouffer par les moustiques).
11. Il fait une chaleur à crever!
Sometimes the classic il fait chaud (it’s hot) that you learned in middle school French class just isn’t enough to describe the blistering heat. If you find yourself facing sweltering temperatures (une chaleur caniculaire), you can impress your French friends by exclaiming il fait une chaleur à crever, which translates roughly as, “it’s so hot I might die!”
12. Bison futé voit orange/rouge/noir
Because so many French people take their vacation at approximately the same time, the massive exodus from major cities (known as le grand départ) can put major strains on the country’s highway system. To improve public communication efforts back in 1975, the National Center for Roadway Information unveiled bison futé, a cartoon character that gives traffic reports and looks oddly like a Native American. The idea stuck and the beloved bearer of bad news is still around today. So when bison futé sees orange, you should plan ahead; red, better plan for several extra hours; and black, best to find another mode of transportation!
13. Un amour d’été
Something about summer just lends itself to fleeting romances, whether it be the change of scenery or the promise of no long-term commitment. If your vacation plans in France could include a summer romance (un amour d’été), you might want to brush up on your romantic vocabulary with this post on French expressions for Valentine’s Day.
14. La fête nationale
If you show up in Paris on July 14 and wish someone a “happy Bastille day,” you’ll most likely be met with a confused look. Although France’s national holiday is celebrated on the day of the storming of the Bastille prison during the tumultuous French revolution, it is known in France rather unoriginally as “the national holiday” (la fête nationale).
15. Oui, je voudrais des glaçons et ne vous retenez pas!
You may already be aware of the difficult relationship that French people have with ice cubes and air conditioning. Rather than considering them as an absolute necessity as they are in the United States, they’re more seen as necessary evils to be used in extreme moderation. So, unless you want a lukewarm soda on a hot summer day, you’ll want to specify that “Yes, I would like ice and don’t hold back!” (Oui, je voudrais des glaçons et ne vous retenez pas!).
16. Bonne rentrée
All good things must eventually come to an end, including summer vacation. Like the versatile French greeting bonjour, bonne rentrée can mean many things depending on your interlocutor. For children or teachers it translates generally as “welcome back to class,” while for those returning to jobs it means “wishing you a successful return to work.”
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