The French boast one of the most refined and delicious cuisines in the world and amazing, subtle idioms alike. A significant number of them are inspired by gastronomic references.
Idiomatic expressions exist in all languages but they do not always use the same images for comparison of one object or phenomenon with another. The food-centred expressions are based on the names of fruits, vegetables, desserts, the most common and popular dishes.
Everybody seems to be familiar with la crème de la crème, the expression indicating something superlative and the very best. One of its meanings, the highest social set, has another edible idiomatic synonym, tout le gratin, meaning the upper crust, everybody who’s anybody, while le gratin itself is a baked dish with crusty top, common every day dish enjoyed by all the French.
Être tout sucre tout miel, literally to be all sugar and honey, refers to acting in a polite and considerate way, sometimes hiding negative feelings. Ménager la chèvre et le chou, to tend both goats and cabbages, stands for having a foot in both camps, in English. Tomber dans les pommes, to fall in the apples, is nothing else but a more elegant way of saying to faint, to be unconscious, to knock out even if there is no obvious link between apples and passing out. Making things up, telling tales becomes raconter des salades in French, which evokes the green lettuce, a typical French starter or a side dish.
La lune de miel, another honey-based metaphor, seems to be a literal translation of honeymoon with exactly the same meaning of the happy holiday taken by the newlyweds, which is in French a calque from English. Etymologically, the sweetest first month of a relationship was linked to a phase of moon, which has produced the same image in a variety of languages.
A similar image is used to say ‘it’s a piece of cake’ (c’est du gâteau), both referring to something easy and enjoyable. When a French speaker feels like drawing a line between their own private space (or a garden ?) and that of the curious neighbour they usually say occupe-toi de tes oignons (Take care of your own onions) sounding as rude as ‘that’s none of your business’. It is not all sugar and honey, you see!
It would be wrong not to mention cheese-related idioms in the context of food-centred expressions since France is proud of its various sorts of cheese, and one of the most common is the idiom, en faisant tout un fromage (making a whole cheese out of it), which translates as to ‘make a big deal’ out of something.
Such idioms often sound funny and it takes not only an excellent command of the language itself, but also a good sense of humour, to appreciate them fully. For example, comme un cheveu dans la soupe means literally like a hair in soup, while its figurative meaning is to appear unexpectedly, as a surprise, to be inappropriate.
The French delicious idioms se vendent comme des petits pains chauds, they ‘go like hotcakes’ being des cerises sur le gâteau, cherries or icing on the cake in terms of language learning – they make everybody’s speech spicier and savvier. In the classroom, they introduce a relaxed atmosphere, getting students more motivated to learn long lists of vocabulary and to work on sophisticated recipes language-wise. Making up dialogues as pair work on delicious idioms, flashcard activities or even writing a one page long short story using a sequence of as many food and cuisine-related expressions as possible that makes sense is an extra challenge for French learners.
For more sweet and salty idioms and food visit https://www.chocolateandzucchini.com.