Whether you speak French at home or hear it in the park and in the playground, there are certain expressions you hear French parents use all the time. Especially if they’re angry…
1. “Tu as fait une bêtise.” (“You were naughty” or “You did something naughty.”)
There’s this incredibly useful word in French – bêtise – which has no direct equivalent in English. It means ‘a small act of naughtiness’; in English we have to use an adjective to convey the type and seriousness of the act, which feels like a real gap in the English vocabulary when you’re used to the French word. And you get used to it very quickly if you’re around small children and their parents. Bêtises are certainly not allowed but they’re not regarded too seriously either. The sort of thing mischievous toddlers discovering the world do all the time.
2. “Tu n’as pas le droit” (Literally: “You don’t have the right”, but a better translation is “You’re not allowed”)
This one can sound hilariously formal when said to a three-year old, evoking as it does the vocabulary of law courts or the civil rights movement. It’s even better when used by small children, eg when Child 1 informs Child 2 that she doesn’t have the right to touch her doudou, done in the style of a Supreme Court judge.
3. “Au coin !” (“Go to the naughty step!”)
There aren’t any naughty steps in France (not surprising in Paris where most people live in flats) but there are plenty of punishment corners, ignoble places of shame and reflection.
4. “Je ne suis pas d’accord.” (Literally: “I am not in agreement” but “I don’t agree” is more accurate.)
Another one that’s funny if you translate it literally. “I am not in agreement with clause 18, section B, third paragraph in which terms clearly state that taking biscuits without prior agreement is an acceptable practice.”
5. “C’est pas toi qui commandes, c’est moi !” (Literally: “It’s not you who’s in control, it’s me!”)
I struggle to say this in English. I mean, it’s easy enough to find the words but the idea of actually saying them out loud in English seems inherently un-British that I can’t get words out and am all; “Yeah, do what you like… It’s cool!”
6. “C’est moi le chef.” (“I’m the boss.”)
7. “Regarde moi dans les yeux.” (“Look at me in the eyes.”)
Getting a small child to stare into your eyes while shouting at them seems to be a big deal in France. It’s another one that doesn’t sit well with me as I remember a teacher pulling this one on me when I was ten and thirty years later I’m still #neverforget.