Eight funny things I didn’t know about the French language before I moved to France

They never thought to teach this stuff in French class…

1. You can say “Re-hello”

Well, rebonjour to be exact. That’s when you see someone for the second time in the same day. You can even say rebonsoir if the same thing happens in the evening.

2. All the guys are “dudes”

Every French guy under 40 refers to every other French guy under 40 as “mec” (pronounced meck). It could be translated as “dude” but is not as slangy. If you want to fit in in France, start your conversations with guys with a “salut mec” and voila, you fit in.

3. The more la’s that you add to oh la la, the stronger your reaction

While no one ever says Sacre Bleu, people often do say Oh la la, meaning “Oh my god”. The more la’s you add, the more you’re reacting. Eg: If you see a man fall off a bridge, you might say “Oh la la la la”. If he miraculously landed in a passing boat you might even take it a step further and add an extra la or two. I once heard seven la’s from a lady who was watching a burning car outside the Louvre on a hot day.

Here is a pic of the car. Unfortunately I got no audio of the Oh la la la la la la la.

4. Baguette doesn’t always mean bread 

I was once ordering sushi to take away and the mec at the desk asked me if I wanted some baguettes with it. I was gobsmacked. No, I said, I don’t want baguettes with my sushi. I also wondered where the baguettes were in the tiny sushi shop.

It took a while for me to understand that he meant chopsticks. I then thought he was just using baguettes as slang for chopsticks, as they’re both kind of long and pointy, but no, chopsticks are actually called baguettes. Baguette just means stick. In fact, Harry Potter’s magic wand is a Baguette magique in France.

While we’re on the topic, there are actually at least ten things that the French call “baguette”.


5. They actually use a backwards language

It’s called Verlan, and we talked about it in the show before. But it’s essentially switching syllables in words around. Eg: Merci is Cimer. While this might sound like some kind of kids’ language, French people actually use it, provided they are under the age of 40. You may have used it without even knowing – the singer Stromae is Verlan for Maestro, the word Meuf comes from Femme (woman or girlfriend)… and the word Verlan itself… yep, it comes from L’envers (reverse).

6. If someone asks “how are you”, you don’t really have to answer how you are

In French class, you learn: Ca va? Très bien, et vous? (How are you? Very well, and you?) But, you can answer in many ways that don’t even really tell how you are. Eg: If someone says Ca va?, you can answer oui (yes) or simply et toi? (And you?). It might sound rude (hey, it might even be rude), but people do it.

7. You need to stock up on your bons

Everyone knows the French say bonjour (and even rebonjour, apparently). They also say things like bonsoir, bon appetit, and bonne journee. But I had no idea they say so many other bons, which you should really know. Every day of the week can have a bon (bon dimanche = Have a good Sunday). You can say bonne degustation, bonne continuation, bonnes vacances, and bonne chance, of course. The list goes on and on forever. It remains unknown at this point if, when buying candy, the seller says bon bonbon, but they probably do.


8. If you talk like a monk you sound more French 

To fill pauses in conversation, French people make a sound like a monk singing. It sounds like the word fur without the letter F. Eughhhh. If you’re ever stuck for a word, throw this noise in and you will sound more French than you’d ever believe. Tip: Don’t say it too often, you will be mocked. To hear this sound in action, listen to this episode with Lindsey Tramuta (or just click play below). Full disclosure: I’ve never heard a real monk.

EDIT: Read the follow-up to this list, with eight more weird things about French here.

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For language-based episodes, head over to our language section. Why not start with the 24 best words in the French language.

17 thoughts on “Eight funny things I didn’t know about the French language before I moved to France

  1. Nice article. You need the adjective to agree with the boundaries. So it should be bonne degustation, bonne continuation, bonnes vacances.

  2. All of this is so true and can totally relate. The rebonjour is especially handy but someone told me it’s kind of lame to say, not sure if that’s true. All the “bons” are great. Everyone is constantly wishing everyone else a good meal, a good tasting, a good Sunday or weekend. 😉

  3. This is amazing! I’m French and it’s really funny to have a foreigner’s point of view on our language! It’s true that we say oh la la and heu a lot 😂 Baguette actually describes a stick shape in general so i think that’s how the kind of bread got this name and not reverse! And about the “bon”, you should go to Benin because they do it even more there! They will say for example “bonne assise” if you’re sitting down!

    1. Thanks for your comment Juliette! Hang around for more language stories in the future. And as luck would have it, we have an upcoming guest from Benin, so I will be sure to bring this up with him!

  4. Good, fun, article. We live in the south of France and our friends and neighbours use rebonjour and rebonsoir all the time. A baguette also describes a conductor’s baton. 🙂

  5. The number of La’s after the ‘Oh’ has to be an even number. The La’s are said in pairs – never in odd numbers. (Great article though!)

  6. I heard ohlala ohlala said super quickly when we almost saw a car crash one time. Another thing is hearing ‘hop’ (said like ‘up’) for just about everything, open a door – hop, fill a glass – hop, pass something – hop, everything! I said I’d never use it but after nearly two years here it feels weird to do things quietly now.

  7. Bonjour et merci pour cet article !
    Une petite remarque : a magic wand is une baguette magique (not ‘de magique’)

  8. On #6 you can have a whole dialogue of “ça va”
    Person #1 Ça va ?
    Person #2 Ça va
    Ça va ? (Or “et toi ça va ?”)
    Person #1 Ça va
    It’s pretty usual

  9. That urrrrrgh sound is similar to what I’ve heard in Japanese. I suppose the Australian version would be to say “um”

    Speaking of which, sounds like mec would be similar to the use of “mate” in Australia when talking to someone directly, or “fella” when referring to someone as the subject.

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