Do you have the French fry?

Watching French television the other night, a woman wore a t-shirt that said:

40 balais, la frite

This directly translates to “forty brooms, the chip”. Any idea what that means? It sounds as though it’s related to a long session of sweeping a single thin slice of fried potato.

It means something entirely different.

In French “balais” officially means “broom”, but it can also be used as a slang word for “years” for reasons that I’m sure I’ll never discover. Meanwhile, “la frite” can be used like some other food substances to convey feelings. For example, “J’ai la pêche” means “I have the peach” or, as we’d say it in English, “I’m peachy”, which actually means “I have lots of energy” when the French use it. Other food substitutions include “J’ai la banane” (“I have the banana” or “I’m smiling”) and “J’ai la patate” (“I have the potato” or “I’m happy”). Okay, the banana makes sense, but a potato? Really? Anyway, it’s also possible to say “J’ai la frite” to say “I’m happy”.

So, if you put it all together, “40 balais, la frite” actually means “Forty years old and happy”.

And the French wonder why it takes us foreigners so long to learn the language…



I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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11 comments on “Do you have the French fry?
  1. Ron Rundle says:

    And why it takes the French (or anyone else) to learn english!
    How about “That’s/I’m grouse!” A small game bird?
    “Mint!” (West Australian) I’m Green? Tangy, herby?
    “How’s it going?” (What?) “I’m getting there.” (Where? What will happen when you get there?)
    There are many more, of course, but we all have our wierd language foibles.

  2. Michelle says:

    Ahh, I didn’t know that one!
    What gets me is that my French family and friends will use phrases like these and expect me to understand them?! They make no logical sense, so why would I understand?!
    Good post!

  3. Steph says:

    Hadn’t come across that either. I love learning new expressions – makes me feel much Frencher than I really am!

  4. Brilliant! ps I’ll have to use it as it is ME! Thanks, Jacqui

  5. Thanks for the French lesson! I love being able to use a little bit of French lingo now and again. I’m lucky enough to work in an office with French people who teach me so slang or l’argot as they call it. As for your fun expressions the only one I would use would be the one. “J’ai la banane”. Some how directly translated doesn’t sound kosher, if you know what I mean!

  6. In my last comment I meant the only one I WOULDN’T use. Sheesh! What’s on my mind??

  7. Wendy says:

    Ron, you’re totally right! Working in London years ago, I confused all the Brits with “How’s it going?”!
    Michelle, Steph and Jacqui, glad to have helped! I’d still love to know how a broom gets in there.
    Ashley, heheh, yes I know what you mean (and what’s on your mind!) 🙂

  8. Lawson says:

    Actually, “J’ai la patate” (“I have the potato” or “I’m happy”) usually means that you are full of energy as well(similar to “j’ai la pêche” but I have no idea where it come from).
    For the “balais” expression it is a widely known but I also have no idea where it come from.
    For the “la frite” expression no idea also, but it is a lot less used, however the verb “friter” is more used and means to kick someone, synonim to “taper”.

  9. Wendy says:

    Thanks Lawson – I didn’t realise you could frite someone. Now there’s a funny image…!

  10. Tonton says:

    Lawson is right about “avoir la patate”.

    “Se fritter” means “se battre” (to have a fight), and

    “Fritter”, I think I remember, meant a special kind of blow to the thigh, used by schoolboys in the 80s. It’s done by whipping the opponent’s thigh with your fingers. It’s quite tricky to do, but it hurts. One among hundreds of stupid boys’ games.

  11. Frédéric says:

    Slang expressions are fun, and usually make no sense. You’ll find a logical explanation in some of them, not all.
    There’s also ‘ J’ai la bougeotte’ which basically means ” I move a lot” among many others!

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About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced technical writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Drop by, my other site.

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