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Ça n’a pas pris une ride: How to talk about ageing in French

Actress Kristin Scott-Thomas thinks that there is ‘less ageism’ in France compared to countries like the UK and the US. We look at some useful expressions to discuss the topic

The French have fewer specific phrases relating to what we might deem ‘getting on a bit’ Pic: goodluz / Shutterstock

When promoting her film Partir (Leaving) in 2010, in which she plays a wealthy woman who runs off with the (younger) hired help, the actress Kristin Scott-Thomas revealed her thoughts on French attitudes to ageing. 

She told The Guardian “It’s just a fact. French culture takes ageing very seriously. There’s much less ageism than in Anglo-Saxon countries.”

Whether you agree with her or not based on your own experience of living in France, one thing seems true: that the French have fewer specific phrases relating to what we might deem ‘getting on a bit’. 

Or at least they are less creative: where we might say “He’s no spring chicken”, the French would simply employ “il n’est plus tout jeune” (he is not young anymore) or the slightly more floral “pas de toute première jeunesse” – “not in the first flush of youth”. “Je vieillis!” is the most obviously self-deprecating take: “I’m getting old!”

Like taxes and the washing up, the onset of wrinkles (rides) is inevitable even for the most fastidious French skincare devotee. And the word ride is employed in a nice phrase relating to ideas or concepts that have stood the test of time: “Ça n’a pas pris une ride” can refer to something that has ‘not taken a wrinkle’ - ie. it has aged well. 

Les rides du sourire are laughter lines, while for crow’s feet, the French reference a goose’s feet instead: les pattes d’oie.

Let us leave it to the Quebecois writer Laurent Dubé, with his impeccable take on wrinkle avoidance: “On meurt jeune quand on se fait trop de soucis; l’inquiétude est la mère de toutes les rides.” “We die young when we worry too much; worry is the mother of all wrinkles.”

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