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8 French food idioms for when things are going wrong

In France food is not just for eating, it's also for complaining. Here are our favourite food-related expressions to use when the going gets tough 

Strawberries sliced on a pink graphic background. Ramener la fraise is a French way to say being nosy.

'Ramener sa fraise' is the French way to say someone is 'sticking their oar in'. Pic: baibaz | Shutterstock

Given the French obsession for food, food-related idioms are commonplace when expressing situations that are going badly in everyday life.

La moutarde me/lui monte au nez

Certain items are used in expressions of annoyance, such as La moutarde me/lui monte au nez. Literally, this is ‘the mustard is getting up my/his nose’ and refers to getting wound up into a state of anger.

Tourner au vinaigre

A situation can easily tourner au vinaigre (turn to vinegar, or turn sour) if it is getting worse. And to put a third vinaigrette ingredient to linguistic use, you can say mettre de l’huile sur le feu – put oil on the fire, i.e. to make a situation worse.

Avoir du pain sur la planche

Too much to do and too little time? Avoir du pain sur la planche is the phrase to use meaning ‘too much bread on the board'. 

C’est la fin des haricots

If things are really tough and you have run out of money, or food, then c’est la fin des haricots – translated as  ‘it’s the end of the beans’. Traditionally, beans were the last items to be eaten, so once gone, the cupboard was bare.

Ramener sa fraise

If someone joins in a conversation without being invited to do so – the equivalent of ‘sticking one’s oar in’ – they are said to ramener sa fraise (to ‘bring back one’s strawberry’, referring simply to their head).

Mettre son grain de sel

To stick their nose in might be another translation – you can also use mettre son grain de sel for this. (Put your grain of salt in).

Ce n’est pas de la tarte

To say something is tricky or hard going, use ce n’est pas de la tarte – ‘this is not cake’ – the inverse use of the English phrase ‘this is a piece of cake’.

Vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre

Talking of cake, if you want to accuse someone of ‘having their cake and eating it' the phrase to use is vouloir le beurre et l’argent du beurre – this means ‘to want the butter and the money from [selling] the butter’.

Read more articles on improving your French  

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