Casse-tête: A French expression you may hear today

Holidaymakers in Europe find low stocks and high prices make hiring a rental car a 'casse-tête' this summer. What does the expression mean?

16 August 2021
Casse-tête: A French expression you may hear today

Learn French words and expressions you may hear in the news today Pic: The Connexion

Translated literally a casse-tête means a 'head breaker'.

So what does that have to do with hiring a rental car on holiday?

Italian holidaymaker Sara Matteuzzi, 33, told BFMTV that prices for rental cars in the Canary Islands this summer had tripled since 2019. When searching for a car she found larger rental agencies were charging high prices, but smaller agencies had no vehicles left. 

During the health crisis car rental agencies have made significant losses meaning they have had to sell off many vehicles. At the same time, car manufacturers have been producing less cars, making it harder for rental agencies to replenish their fleets. 

Now, there is a shortage of rental cars and high demand is driving up prices in many European countries, including France, where the average price for a weekly rental has gone up to €363 per week, compared with €277 in 2019.

Stuck between paying prices she couldn’t afford and not renting a car at all, Ms Matteuzzi was left with a conundrum – a casse-tête

In everyday French, a casse-tête is a puzzle game that can be played by one or more players.

These include mechanical puzzles such as Rubik’s cubes, number games such as sodoku and even card games such as solitaire.

While such games are played for fun and entertainment, there is also an element of logical or mathematical deduction that can be challenging for the mind too.

The French expression refers to this mental challenge. In this sense, a casse-tête is a problem that is difficult (or even impossible) to solve, or a problem that is so annoying it becomes a ‘headache’.

In Italy, Ms Matteuzzi, did ultimately find a solution for her car-rental casse-tête – she cancelled her trip and stayed at home.

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