Having an opinion (un avis) about other people’s business is not so much a personality quirk as an immutable right in France, one that might as well have been included in the Déclaration des droits de l’Homme et du citoyen (Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen), decreed by the National Constituent Assembly in 1789.
However, while it is one thing to idly gossip (papoter) over the garden fence (la clôture du jardin) and exchange tittle-tattle (les potins), it is quite another to actually stick one’s nose into something (fourrer son nez dans...) that really is none of your business.
Stick your proverbial oar in where it is not welcome and someone may well advise you to ‘occupez-vous de vos oignons’ (literally, mind your onions).
The way they say it – gauge their tone (le ton) or ‘angry face’ – will let you know if they are offering some gentle advice or stronger!
Ferret around for information or a bargain
You may also be accused of being a fouine or a fouineur/fouineuse, which is best translated into English as ‘nosey parker’ (ie. c’est une vraie fouine – she’s a real busybody).
The nouns have other meanings too: a bargain-hunter at the brocante is called a fouineur/fouineuse, as is a computer hacker.
Verb-wise, you might fouiner around a drawer or a clothes rail, a library or record shop – this is best described as rummaging and obviously does not have the implication of rude behaviour.
The origin? It is named after la fouine, a stone or beech marten (Martes foina), the woodland creature.
One might draw a comparison with the English term ‘ferreting around’ – proof that the French and English-speakers think along similar lines in many aspects of language.