Fort comme un Turc and more French phrases inspired by other cultures

With the French more keen than before to finally take the trips they planned before the Covid-19 pandemic, we look at three expressions related to foreign people and places.

27 October 2021

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

More than half of French travellers said in a recent poll that they plan to catch up on the holidays they missed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The top three most sought-after destinations for all travellers surveyed were Atlanta (US), Taichung (Taiwan) and Gramado (Brazil), it was revealed in the poll of people in 31 countries (including 1001 in France) by travel agency Booking.com. French city Montpellier came in at number seven.

We look at three French expressions inspired by foreign cultures.

Être fort comme un Turc (‘to be strong like a turk’):

This expression originates in the 15th century when the Turks had a reputation for being strong, almost unbeatable warriors due to their numerous victories. At the time, the Ottoman Empire ruled large parts of south-east Europe, north Africa and western Asia.

It is said that François I, King of France, was gifted Turkish armour by Suleiman the Magnificent (the tenth and most famous sultan of the Ottoman Empire) during their alliance. When he wore it, he is said to have exclaimed: “Here I am now, strong as a Turk!”.

Saoul comme un Polonais (‘to be drunk like a Pole’):

This expression is said to have been coined in 1808, when Napoleon marched on Madrid accompanied by Polish cavalry.

During the Battle of Somosierra, the French won largely due to the Polish troops, who were instructed to charge at the Spaniards.

When, after the battle, the Polish soldiers were being introduced to the emperor, the French generals tried to undermine their achievements by attributing their courage to alcohol.

The Emperor responded, “Donc, messieurs, sachez être saouls comme des Polonais” (‘So, gentlemen, know how to be drunk like Poles’). 

Today the expression usually just refers to someone having drunk too much.

Ce n’est pas le Pérou (literally ‘it’s not Peru’):

When the French say that something n’est pas le Pérou, they mean to say that it has little worth or importance. Equally, the expression can be translated as, ‘it’s not a big deal’.

Around the 16th century, Peru was an important source of wealth due to its reserves of gold, silver and precious stones. In Europe, it was considered an ‘El Dorado’ – a place of great riches and opportunity.

The Spanish conquerors quickly depleted the country’s natural resources but Peru remained a place of wealth and greatness in the collective imagination for a long time after this.

Initially, the term c’est le Pérou (‘it’s Peru’) would be used to describe something important or valuable but over time, the expression has been inverted and the French now say ‘ce n’est pas le Pérou’ to describe something of little importance. 

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