Six untranslatable French words you’ll need for summer in France

Summer has hit France (and hit France hard!)

And with that in mind, here are six French words about summer that have no single-word equivalent in English. Some even take several English words to explain.

On to the untranslatable words!

1. Juilletistes 

In case you didn’t know, the whole of France is divided into two camps. Those who go on summer holiday in July – and those who wait (more on them in a second). So, a juilletiste is “Someone who chooses July for their summer holiday”. Or, a “Julyer”.


2. Aoûtiens

You guessed it – these are people who prefer to holiday in August (Août is French for August). The great thing about these past two words is that they are actually very regularly used in France. Newspapers write about the Juilletistes and the Aoûtiens and how they sometimes meet and the chaos it brings (more on this in a second).

If you want to read a whole lot more about juilletistes and aoûtiens, check out this story from the Oui in France blog.


3. Chassé-croisé

Ok, so what happens when the two tribes of French people – the Julyers and the Augusters – cross paths on the way to and from their holidays? Well, there’s madness. And nowhere is this more apparent than on the roads. Anyway, the translation given by the Collins Dictionary is “the heavy flow of holiday traffic in both directions” but it sort of means criss cross (and is also the name for a dance step).

So, as the Lawless French website points out, the French could say “Le chassé-croisé des juillettistes et des aoûtiens” without batting an eyelid. In English: “When the road is blocked up by the returning holidaymakers from July and the August holidayers who are heading off.”


4. Flâneur

Ah, a favourite French word for many – flâneur – meaning a person who likes to wander around aimlessly. Anyone in Paris this summer can expect to see more than a few flâneurs walking along the gardens and riverbanks.

This word ranked among the best 24 in the French language in the Earful’s most popular episode ever. Listen below.


5. Dépaysement 

The Oxford Dictionary says that dépaysement is “that feeling of disorientation that specifically arises when you are not in your home country”. But you can also get it in your own country, say, out in the Alps or somewhere in Provence.

It’s kind of like culture shock, but a more positive version. And the only thing the French love more than enjoying this feeling is talking about enjoying the feeling.  Oh la la la la, quel dépaysement! (Oh my goodness, what a lovely change of scene). 

Note: You can add as many la’s to an oh la la as you want. See point ten on this list.


6. Rentrée

And lastly, keeping with the summer holiday theme, this word means “the return from summer holidays” or “the start of the school year”. One word. Bang! Untranslatable. If we had to make one, it could possible be “Return” with a capital R. As in: “We have only two weeks until the Return”. Either way, the French use this word without a capital and they all know what it means – the end, which is where we’ve come in this list.

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Meanwhile, do you sometimes feel scared or vulnerable when speaking French? Join the club. That was the topic of the podcast below with Camille from French Today.

Did you like this list? I wrote about ten other untranslatable words here.

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4 thoughts on “Six untranslatable French words you’ll need for summer in France

  1. en aout – when I was a girl it meant the August exodus from city heat to airy country sites – the idiom was from Paris but is used all over the world for that dynamic, not just the French version.

    I am excited about Notre Dame de Paris – they say they will remain true to the art but update the technology. so good.

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