French Language notes - April 2019
Get what you give with some kindly phrases
In poetic terms, the French equivalent of ‘the milk of human kindness’ is
‘Le lait de la bonté humaine’. But in more everyday speak, there are plenty of phrases referring to the art of giving or being kind.
Should you ever hear someone tell you “je vous renverrai l’ascenseur”, they are not referring literally to the notion of sending
a lift (as in elevator) back for you – as the chances are that you are nowhere near a lift.
This is, of course, merely a figurative expression that is used when a person has benefited from the services of another and the first person wants to thank him or her by doing him or her a service in return. It is always used in a positive context.
Equally figurative is “Enlever une épine du pied à quelqu’un”, which translates as ‘to remove a thorn from someone’s foot’. It refers to the act of getting someone out of a fix.
Looking for a simple favour? Just ask: “Peux-tu me rendre un service?” (Pouvez-vous to someone less familiar) or perhaps the slightly more innuendo-laden (to the Anglophone ear) “Voudriez-vous me faire un plaisir?” which simply means ‘can you do me a favour’. Conversely if you want to give someone a helping hand, you would offer to “donner un coup de main”.
If you are working alongside someone in a spirit of teamwork and cooperation, you would be said to “agir de concert avec quelqu’un”. Meanwhile to offer your arm to support someone unsteady, perhaps to cross the road, is “donner son bras” (the left arm please, gentlemen, as the right is supposed to remain free for saluting!)
Finally, a word for lasting friendships: “C’est dans le besoin que l’on reconnaît ses vrais amis” – this is the French version of “A friend in need is a friend indeed”.