Why does ‘French’ immediately imply ‘intrigue’?

French cliche - French kissFor any person of any nationality, the products we use and things we talk about to us seem universal. But when you’re French, the commonplace suddenly has extra intrigue…

Outside of France, these things suddenly take on the ‘French’ label –  mostly to make them sound fancy and chic. But are they even really français? Let’s study a few examples…

1. French kiss

Probably the most common use of the adjective ‘French’, and meaning ‘kissing with the tongue’. It is simply known as a ‘kiss’ in France. The English term most likely comes from the French’s reputation for having mastered the art of love.

2. French fries 

In France they are called frites or pommes frites, and guess what – they are actually from Belgium! The fact they are labelled as français would come from the hegemony of French gastronomy over Belgium cuisine.

3. French toast

Although we also eat it in France, French toast is much less popular and is called pain perdu (literally ‘lost bread’), as it is made from stale bread.

As brunch isn’t a popular meal in France, (although this is changing) French toast was most commonly eaten during the roughest times when families had to make the best out of any food they could get.

French cliche - French toast

4. French beans

In France, they are known as haricots verts (green beans) and are only eaten well cooked.

5. French vanilla

This doesn’t refer to vanilla pods but to the français way of making ice cream using an egg-custard base.

6. French braid

In France, it is known as tresse africaine (African braid), and once again, the goal is probably to make it sound like a fancy hair-do by simply adding ‘French’ in front of it.

French cliche - French cleaner7. French cleaner

It is simply a dry cleaner. The expression comes from the dry cleaning process that was discovered by a Frenchman in the mid-19th century.

And last but not least,

8. ‘Pardon my French’

which is an expression you use when you are about to curse… Are the français known to curse a lot?

What expressions using the adjective “French” do you find amusing or odd?

Image credits:
1. Le Baiser de l’Hotel de Ville by Robert Doisneau via Flickr.
2. French toast via Wikimedia. 
3. French cleaners by Tom Hilton via Flickr.
4. French fries by Steven Depolo via Flickr

About the Contributor

Jennifer Bourne

Born and raised in France, I became a New Yorker at heart when I moved to the US. Social media and online research are my specialties. Movies and TV series are my conversation starters. While I try to make the best out of my New York life, I stay in constant research of all things French. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

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  1. Jill Craig Jul 15, 2014 at 5:03 PM - Reply

    It’s interesting how we attach `French` to words, apparently giving mundane phrases a more sophisticated appeal. I think the word `French` in many cases gives off these connotations, in a way that the word `American` or `Irish` or `Russian` do not at all.

  2. Esme Wakefield Jul 29, 2014 at 7:05 AM - Reply

    Definitely a mark of sophistication! Similar to pronouncing any French equivalent of a boring English word… <3

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