13 French Expressions That’ll Make You Sound Like You’re from Provence

Every country has expressions that are confusing to foreigners. For example, if you told a French person “that’s in the ballpark,” they would wonder why you were talking about a sports stadium.

So what does it mean when a French person says “Il est fada“? Not every French person could tell you, because that expression comes from Provence, the fabled South of France. Read on to learn some unique-to-Provence phrases, plus a few widely used terms that are just oh-so Provençal.


1. Il est brave / Il est bien brave

Literal meaning: He is brave

Real meaning: He is friendly but not very bright. In most of France, if someone calls you brave it’s a compliment; it means they think you are courageous. But watch out if it happens in Provence!

2. Les yeux bordés d’anchois

Literal meaning: Eyes lined with anchovies

Real meaning: To be tired, to have red-rimmed eyes because of fatigue. “Vas te coucher que t’as les yeux bordés d’anchois!” (Go to bed, your eyes are lined with anchovies!)

3. Être Fada

Literal and real meaning: To be crazy. This can be used literally (re: insane), as in “Il est fada” (he’s crazy) or non-literally, as in “C’est un fada de foot” (he’s crazy about soccer).

4. Changer l’eau des olives

Literal meaning: To change the water in the olives

Real meaning: To faire pipi, to go to the bathroom

5. Esquichés comme des anchois

Literal meaning: Pressed like anchovies

Real meaning: Squished together in a tight space, as in “Dans le bus, nous étions esquichés comme des anchois.” (In the bus we were squished together like anchovies.)

6. Faire Pâques avant les Rameaux

Literal meaning: To celebrate Easter before Palm Sunday

Real meaning: To have a baby before getting married

7. Être couvert comme Saint-Georges

Literal meaning: To be dressed like Saint George

Real meaning: To be dressed warmly, like Saint George in his heavy armor when he killed the dragon.

8. Faire le cacou

Literal meaning: To do the cacou

Real meaning: To show off or to put on an act. Typically it’s a young man doing this.

9. Parler pointu

Literal meaning: To speak sharply / shrilly

Real meaning: To speak like someone from the north of France, especially someone with a clipped Parisian accent. By contrast, the people of the south parler plat (speak flatly).

10. Devenir chèvre

Literal meaning: To become a goat

Real meaning: To go crazy, as in “Tu me fais devenir chèvre, toi!” (You’re making me go crazy!)

11. Avoir des oursins dans la poche

Literal meaning: To have sea urchins in the pocket

Real meaning: To be stingy. When it comes time to split the bill at a bar or a restaurant, the stingy guy never seems to reach for his wallet. In Provence, they say that’s because he has sea urchins in his pocket!

12. Le temps de tuer un âne à coups de figues

Literal meaning: The time to kill a donkey by hitting it with figs

Real meaning: A very long time. If you consider how soft a fig is, and how tough a donkey is, it would take a long time indeed to kill a donkey just by throwing figs at it.

13. Tomber un oeil

Literal meaning: To drop an eyeball

Real meaning: Never, because you never drop an eyeball. “Il vient me voir chaque fois qu’il lui tombe un oeil.” (He never comes to see me.)