Many people in France have taken the day off today, joining the weekend and yesterday’s bank holiday in order to have an extended break of four days – a practice known as faire le pont (literally ‘to make the bridge').
The custom is very popular in France. In 2019, for example, 12 million people across the country ‘made the bridge’ between the Ascension Day holiday on Thursday, May 30 and the weekend, according to tourism advisory body Protourisme.
With an estimated population of 67.25 million that same year, that equates to almost 18% of the population.
It is also known as ‘making the bridge’ when you take a day off on Monday to join the weekend and a holiday that falls on Tuesday.
We look at the origins of this expression and three more French bridge-related phrases.
Faire le pont (literally ‘to make the bridge’):
According to RTL, the expression appeared during the Second Empire under the rule of Napoleon III, when only civil servants had the right to paid leave.
As they were not granted many such days – only 15 – they quickly took advantage of public holidays and ‘made bridges’ between them and weekends in order to prolong their time off.
The expression was featured in the dictionary Dictionnaire de la Langue Verte: Argots parisiens comparés in 1867.
Faire un pont d’or (literally ‘to make a golden bridge’):
This means to make someone a very attractive offer, often wanting or expecting something in return.
The expression is said to have been coined in the 16th century, when it meant to offer a defeated enemy a way to flee so as not to provoke them to retaliate.
Now, it is often used in the context of making a lucrative offer to someone in order to obtain their services.
Il passera de l’eau sous les ponts (literally ‘water will pass under the bridges’):
This saying is used to express that there is still plenty of time before something happens.
The passage of time has long been compared to the flow of water – unstoppable and out of our control. Water flowing under a bridge occurs continuously, suggesting that there is lots of time until an event takes place.
Couper les ponts (‘to cut the bridges’):
Similar to the English ‘to burn bridges’, this expression means to end something definitively, usually in quite a violent or shocking manner.
It was coined in the 20th century and draws upon the symbol of a bridge connecting two people, places or things.
Once the bridge is ‘cut’ and therefore unusable, the relationship between the two subjects on either side has ended for good as they can no longer reach each other or find common ground.