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French Word of the Day: Petit pain

If you're baffled as to why French people are calling you a little bread roll, read on . . .

French Word of the Day: Petit pain
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know petit pain? 

Because learning the odd regional word will go a long way towards impressing locals at the pub. 

What does it mean?

Petit pain, pronounced “puh-tee pan”, literally means “small bread” which in most of France signifies a bread roll.

However in the north east of France this word takes on a different significance altogether. 

If you go to the bakery and ask for a petit pain, you are asking for a chocolate croissant, known in the rest of France as a pain au chocolat or chocolatine –  -he lexicological battle over what to call this delicious pastry has been raging for centuries and is something we at The Local have examined in great detail in the past. 

READ MORE Is it a pain au chocolat or a chocolatine?

Petit pain has another meaning too – it is a way to describe someone who cannot hold their booze. It is the northern French equivalent of calling someone a “lightweight”. 

J’ai bu trois verres mais je suis déjà bourré parce que je suis un petit pain – I had three glasses but I’m already drunk because I’m a lightweight 

Je ne bois plus car je suis un petit pain – I am not drinking anymore because I am a lightweight 

Avez-vous des boissons non-alcoolisés? Mon copain est un petit pain – Do you have any non-alcoholic drinks? My boyfriend is a lightweight 

You are particularly likely to hear this place in urban centres of the northeast like Lille. 


A more common, nationwide way of saying that someone gets drunk quickly is: il/elle ne tient pas de l’alcool – he/she does not hold their drink well 

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For members


French Expression of the Day: La Première ministre

A brand new coinage in the French language that reflects the changing times.

French Expression of the Day: La Première ministre

Why do I need to know la Première ministre?

Because France has one now.

What does it mean?

La Première ministre – usually pronounced lah prem-ee-air mean-east-ruh– translates as “the prime minister,” but this spelling is different from what you might be used to seeing.

This title is feminised, indicating that the prime minister in question is a woman. Under former PMs such as Jean Castex, the masculine title Le Premier ministre was used.

Élisabeth Borne made headlines on May 16th not only because she was appointed as France’s second female prime minister, but also because she will be the first to use the feminisation of the work title: Madame la Première ministre. The female prime minister who held the position before her, Edith Cresson, used the masculine version of the title.

Feminising work titles has been controversial in France, and most titles like “le Premier ministre” have been automatically put in masculine form.

But in 2019, France’s infamous Academie Francaise, which polices the French language and typically resists any sweeping changes to it, changed their stance and said there was “no obstacle in principle” to the wholesale feminisation of job titles. 

Use it like this

Le Président Emmanuel Macron a fait une annonce importante. Élisabeth Borne est la Première ministre. – President Emmanuel Macron made an important announcement: Élisabeth Borne is the prime minister.

“Madame la Première ministre, qui avez-vous choisi pour diriger votre nouveau gouvernement ?” a demandé le journaliste. – “Madame Prime Minister, who have you chosen to lead your new government?” asked the journalist.