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From ‘natel’ to ‘ça joue’: The Swiss French words which help you sound like a local

From “schmolitz” to “panosse”, some words and phrases common in the French-speaking part of Switzerland are different from their equivalents used in France. Here is the vernacular you should master if you live in Suisse Romandie.

From 'natel' to 'ça joue': The Swiss French words which help you sound like a local
No, the chalet is not crazy. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Each of Switzerland’s main languages – German, French and Italian – are shared with a larger and more influential neighbour. 

These three languages – when added to the unique Romansh language – makes for a diverse linguistic spectrum. 

It might come as a relief to foreigners living in one of the French-speaking cantons that differences between the Swiss version of the language and the one spoken in France is much smaller than the difference between standard German and Schwyzerdütch.

Except for some specific words and expressions, people in France understand their counterparts in Romandie much easier than is the case between Germans and Swiss-Germans.

READ MORE: ‘Just so fun to say’: Are these the best Swiss-German words to learn?

The Local recently asked its readers what are the most important Swiss-French words to know.

Which parts of Switzerland speak French?

Geneva, Vaud, Jura and Neuchâtel speak only French, while Valais and Fribourg speak predominantly French but also German. 

Bern, the seat of the de facto capital, is also bilingual, but with more German than French speakers. 

From the answers we received, several respondents mentioned the numbers. 

As anyone who has tried to learn French will tell you, the numbering system is particularly difficult – especially when you get in the double figures. 

The Swiss French numbering system is different to that of original French, with Swiss French using the words septante (seventy), huitante (eighty) and nonante (ninety). 

The Romands decided to simplify these words from their original French versions: soixante-dix, quatre-vingt, and quatre-vingt-dix, which literally translate to ‘sixty-ten’, ‘four twenties’ and ‘four twenties-ten’. 

However, regional differences are also at play here: Geneva uses the French version of these numbers, possibly because of its close proximity to France.

Some readers also mentioned the expression “ça joue”. Literally translated it means “it plays”, but in the Suisse Romande it means “yes, it’s alright”.

Other words and expressions mentioned in the reader survey were: “carnotzet” (a small bar), “bonap” (Bon appétit – enjoy your meal), “si jamais”, (if ever), vélo (bicycle), “ouais” (slangy oui – yes), and “tout de bon” (all the best).

READ MORE: Have your say: What are the most important Swiss French words to know?

Suisse-Romande versus France

Aside from the numbers mentioned above, some words and phrases used in this part of Switzerland are uniquely “Romand” and if you use them in France, chances are you will be met with a quizzical look.

Natel: Mobile phone (“téléphone mobile”)

French-speaking Switzerland: Seven life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Panosse: A wet broom (“serpillière in France)

Y a pas le feu au lac: Literally, this means “there’s no fire in the lake”. But what it actually means “there is no rush, no urgency.

Faire schmolitz : Wine drinking ritual in which two people decide to befriend each other by passing from the formal “vous” form to the more casual “tu”.

Schmoltz! Photo by Monstera from Pexel

Etre déçu en bien: Be pleasantly surprised (être agréablement surpris in France)

Ça va, le chalet?: Are you crazy ? (ça va pas la tête ?)

Tchô bonne: Have a good day /evening (bonne journée /soirée)

Lolette: a pacifier for babies (tétine in France)

Quart d’heure vaudois: This means a slight delay, not only in Vaud but in other Romand cantons as well (être en retard” in France). Please note that a similar expression doesn’t exist in the German-speaking cantons, and for a good reason: Swiss-Germans are rarely late.

‘The pleasure of punctuality’: Why are the Swiss so obsessed with being on time?

Tenir les pouces: Just like in Anglo countries, crossing fingers brings good luck in Suisse Romande. But in France, you’d have to “croiser les doigts”.

Tenir les pouces: universal sign of good luck. Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Lost in translation?

If you are not totally familiar with the intricacies of the French language, keep in mind that these expressions have a different meaning in French than in English. Or, they may not mean what you think they might:

Préservatifs: No, these are not artificial food additives (“conservateurs”), but condoms. The latter is commonly found in food, the former usually isn’t.

Hors-ligne: This is often seen on buses in the Suisse Romandie. This doesn’t mean the bus is transporting horses; it does mean it is not in service.

Voilà, there you have it: some typical expressions you are bound to hear in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

Tchô bonne! 

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‘Put a drop of detergent in the water’: How to deal with mosquitoes in France?

With local authorities in France struggling to deal with mosquitoes and people telling us they have stayed out of their garden all summer to avoid them, one reader suggests detergent is the answer. Share your own tips below.

'Put a drop of detergent in the water': How to deal with mosquitoes in France?

There is an easy way to reduce mosquito numbers if they are breeding where you live in France.

Regarding reducing the numbers of mosquitoes (all types) and you have an area of water in the garden including puddles and partly-filled containers, the most simple way to kill the larvae (which breathe oxygen from the air) is to put a single drop of detergent (such as washing- up liquid) on the surface of the water.

The larvae are small ‘wrigglers’ which live in water and travel about by their wriggling action.

The detergent reduces the surface tension of the water sufficiently so that the larvae are unable to  stay in contact the water-air boundary, and simply drown.

A larger area of water would need a few drops more – but not if there are fish in the water – obviously!

Geoff Todd, La Sarthe

Photo: Cynthea Frongillo

Thermacell mosquito repellants work really well.  

Each of the small propane fuelled capsules will clear about a 15ft diameter area and should be put in place about 15 minutes before going outside.  

We have two on our patio, and can sit out all evening without any problem.  They are quiet and unobtrusive, so one has to make an effort to turn them off and bring them in for the night.

Cynthia Frongillo, Dordogne

Other readers have suggested that DEET (diethyltoluamide) has proved the only real repellent that works. Some have simply suggested staying out of the garden all together when the mosquitoes are out or simply making sure you live in a windy part of the country – obviously easier said than done.

Whilst reader jokingly (we think?) suggested garlic and wine was the best way to repel mosquitoes other readers have suggested certain plants such as mint and lemongrass.

READ ALSO: Five plants in France that (allegedly) repel mosquitoes

You’ll certainly be aware of citronella scent from various mosquito-repelling products including oils and candles, but you can also grow it in the your garden.

It grows quite big so might not be suitable for small gardens or window boxes.

And mint is common herb that many people might already have in their gardens, but mosquitoes apparently hate the lovely, fresh scent of it.

Local authorities in certain parts of the country have been forced to take action. France’s capital Paris even began its first large-scale mosquito control campaign for the Asian tiger mosquito after a man fell ill with dengue fever.

Do you have any unusual but effective tips for dealing with mosquitoes in France? Please share them with our readers in the comments section below or email us at [email protected] and we’ll add them in.

READ ALSO: Mosquito-borne diseases spreading in France