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French language notes - July 2018

Get the shades on for these sunshine phrases

With summer’s arrival in France comes the inevitable, obligatory conversational topic switch to just how hot it is (depending upon where you reside, of course).

One thing we would hope that everyone can avoid this year is a canicule (heat wave) which can become very serious in France, with implications far beyond hosepipe (tuyau or tuyau d’arrosage) bans.

But instead of a simple ‘il fait chaud’ (it’s hot) or ‘on crève de chaud’ (the heat is killing us) you can describe blazing sunshine or a sweltering sun as ‘un soleil de plomb’ – literally meaning ‘a lead sun’. While in English we might use ‘leaden skies’ to described the sky’s colour, in France the ‘lead’ refers here to the density of the heat. (Similarly, the French might describe someone who is always sedentary as having a ‘cul de plomb’ or ‘lead backside’.)

A couplet that tallies with the English one ‘Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight; Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning”, is “Ciel rouge le soir laisse bon espoir; Ciel rouge le matin, pluie en chemin. This is translated as ‘Red sky at night offers hope; red sky in the morning means rain on the way”.

One old farmer’s saying to perhaps avoid, given that it seems to have dubious meteorological evidence to support it, is: “Le soleil du matin ne dure pas tout le jour” – “The morning sun doesn’t last all day long”.

Next month, you could find a suitable occasion to roll out a favourite French idiom when describing the joys of a sun-kissed August: “Chaleur d’août, c’est du bien partout” – “In the August heat, everything is fine”.

However, should the summer not turn out to be quite as sun-kissed as you had hoped, you can always complain of un été pourri (a rotten summer).

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