Six untranslatable French words you’ll need for the summer holidays

This might be the first list of untranslatable French words that sticks to one theme – and that theme is summer holidays.

Here are six words on that theme – absolutely none of which has a single-word equivalent in English. Some even take several English words to explain.

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. This very weekend is supposed to be anarchy on the motorway. 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.

We have a whole podcast episode about flâneurs in the upcoming season two of The Earful Tower. Subscribe here!


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 three 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.

Thanks for reading. As usual – please follow us on Facebook here and subscribe to the podcast by searching for “The Earful Tower” wherever you find your podcasts. You could start here

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