Couper la poire en deux


Two weeks ago, I had dinner at a French restaurant called La Table d’Eugène, on the other side of the Montmartre hill from me. As my friends and I were handed the menus, we all stopped to comment on their fetching design: on the front and back were dozens of French idiomatic expressions, all relating to food, each of them printed in a different, retro font.

Once we’d ordered our food and asked to keep one copy of the menu, I, as the only native French speaker in our party, went over each of the locutions, trying to shed light on their meaning. It was so much fun — you’ve perhaps noticed how dearly I love words, etymology, and linguistics — that I thought I would start a series on C&Z.

The French language, like all Latin languages, is particularly rife with culinary-inspired idioms, and I will offer one every week or so.

The opening, seasonal expression is, “Couper la poire en deux.”

It means, literally, “cutting the pear in two,” or reaching a compromise: if two people want the same pear, halving it is the most equitable way to settle the dispute.

For example: “Nos deux familles voulaient nous avoir à Noël, donc on a coupé la poire en deux : on va chez ses parents le 24, et chez les miens le 25.” (“Both our families wanted us to come over for Christmas, so we cut the pear in two: we’ll spend Christmas Eve at his parents’, and Christmas Day at mine.”)

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

  • Lisa

    This will be a great addition to the blog – I love idiomatic expressions also!

  • Oh I love the French language! Too bad I don’t actually speak it. :) I just found your site and am enjoying it! Looking forward to more…

  • Emily

    This is a fabulous idea!! I’ve spoken French for many years, and the idiomatic expressions are what I get wrong every time. So far I can correctly use about two (both of which are Swiss and thus make no sense to anyone else). ;o) Teach away!

  • I love this – food and idiomatic expressions are both so expressive of culture.

  • Jillian

    Ah! c’est exactement ce que je veux apprendre pendant mon sejour ici en France. merci!!

  • Ooh! Like you, I am a verbophile (if that is even a word!) I love language and among languages I adore French. Idiomatic language is even more fun – direct from the people… de la bouche du cheval as we say in Britain!! ;)

  • I speak French pretty well, but I didn’t know that idiom. It’s lovely!

  • I’d love to hear more of these, too! Book-learned French only goes so far.

  • Ruth

    What a wonderful idea! I spent about six months in France back in college to get a better understanding of the language and culture, but there were always a few idioms (often food-related!) that puzzled me! I look forward to increasing my undertanding of the French language and culture on Chocolate & Zucchini!

  • yourpapounet

    Not to be confused with “couper les cheveux en quatre” (literally : to cut the hairs in four…) which simply means “splitting hairs”. It just so happens that in French, we keep an exact count of the result…

  • Maya

    Here are a few in Spanish that my family uses:

    “para el hambre no hay mal pan”
    Which means “for hunger there is no bad bread.” or beggars can’t be choosers.

    “No hay miel sin hiel.”
    Which means “there is no honey without bitterness” or take the good with the bad.

    “Por el árbol se conoce el fruto.”
    Which means “by the tree you know the fruit” or you can tell a lot about someone from where they are from and/or their family.

    By the way I saw you on Bizarre Foods that other night. What a nice surprise! :)

  • Dawn in CA

    Love it! I’m a word geek, and proud to be! Looking forward to more of these posts. :)

  • M Jose

    In Spanish there’s a similar expression, “partir peras” (or cutting pears) with a very different meaning. Partir peras is to stop being friendly with someone.

    I also like “esto es pan comido” (this is like eaten bread)that we use when we want to say that a task is very easy.

  • TARA

    Love this post! Keep the language lessons coming…

  • So many express themselves in such limited ways ( I’m guilty!),it is really a shame. Language, whether it is French, English or Swahili is a beautiful gift that we should celebrate. Lovely post Clotilde.

  • My favorite french saying:
    “Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.” A French friend used this to encourage me in my study of the language when I was getting discouraged.

  • david

    Ooh. I love this stuff. In an attempt to keep my once semi-passable French from disappearing I listen to these daily podcast lessons. They’re surprisingly good. ( – if you want to check them out).

    Earlier this summer I learned the expression “Mettre du beurre sur les epinards.” Literally, to put some butter in the spinach. As I understood it, it means to bring in an extra bit of money, or to have a little money left over at the end of the month.

    It struck me as a very French expression, what with butter & spinach. And a nice way to talk about money without having to talk about money.

  • Kim

    Here’s another pear idiom from Mexico:

    “Peras caigan” – Literally – Pears, fall down!

    It’s what you say to someone who won’t get off their lazy butt to get something, and are hoping you will bring it to them. At least, that’s how my husband says it to me. Thanks for the idioms.

  • What a great idea, and what a fun way to learn more about French culture! I look forward to your posts.

  • What a great idea! I look forward to learning more edible french :)
    Bon weekend-

  • Andrew

    I echo the remarks of my learned colleagues here… More idiom please. I am slowly losing my (mostly Quebec) French so all help gratefully recieved.

  • swan

    Surely you mean you love ‘eatymology’…:-))

  • R.J.

    Would love to see a picture of the menu, sound really interesting…

  • y

    As a want-to-be French major I’m glad to see that you are thinking of offering french idioms. Merci!

  • I am looking forward to these weekly posts. My 15 year-old daughter has been in a French Immersion school since age 5 and I’m going to pass these along to her (and her French teacher!).

  • I really like this feature. My friend is studying abroad in the Normandy region. I will be able to quiz her, and see how French she has become!

  • Liz from NC

    Fabulous edition! I’m looking forward to picking up some great French expressions while enjoying your lovely blog.

  • Carol

    Ooo great idea, love learning these idioms.

    My current favourite (just learnt this week) is “la moutarde me monté au nez” to express extreme irritation with something – just like when the mustard gets up your nose!

  • gabi

    I’m so glad that you enjoyed your Croatian holiday! We also have some nice idioms: when one has everything one needs, but craves fore more, when one is ungrateful we say: “Htjeti kruha preko pogače (pogache)” – To want bred over pie. Greetings from Zagreb!

  • I love this! French idioms are so much fun…please continue to post!

  • How fun! As a wordsmith (and word monger) myself, I will very much look forward to the new addition each week. What a lovely diversion!

  • C’est meilleur qu’on dit “couper la poire en deux” que “couper le fromage en deux,” n’est-ce pas?

  • yourpapounet

    Well, here’s at least one cheesy expression : “On ne va pas en faire un fromage”, which means : “Let’s not make a big deal out of this”.

  • Dawni M

    Hi, just wanted to say..I was sitting here working on the comp with the tv on in the back ground…heard your name and there you were…on Bizarre Foods, at the cheese shop….nice segment!!

  • What a wonderful idea to add a section on these food-related idiomatic expressions! Hope to learn many more!

  • dory

    I love the thread on idioms. I used to speak French often in daily life, and now have nobody to converse with. It takes me hours to get back into French. Even a few crumbs are better than nothing, plus I love new idioms.


  • Frances

    I’d love to see a picture of the front of the menu if you coudl scan it? I’m always after new idioms and proverbs to liven up my translations…!

  • Alisa

    Bonjour a tous! I am struck by how many who post say that they have no one with whom to converse in French as they learn the language or try to hold onto past skills.
    Here are two excellent sources of French conversations: meetup and the Alliance Francaise. To find a meetup group (they are international) go to here. If there is not already a group near you, why not start a new one? I did that and we have a thriving group now. The Alliance Francaise is another great way to meet French speakers and to participate in Francophone-themed events. There are over 1300 chapters in the world, 140 in the US. To find a chapter, go here. Both organizations are very welcoming to French speakers of all abilities. Many AF chapters also have schools for instruction or structured conversation.
    Bonnes recherches!

  • pm

    Beautiful! what a great expression, and a great idea for this blog!

  • Clotilde,
    thank you for these language lessons, I will be linking to them from my blog, fully credited, of course ;)

  • Judi

    Do you have any favorite sources for French idiomatic expressions that you could share? I am often searching for one to use and have had difficulty locating references.

Get the newsletter

Receive FREE email updates with all the latest recipes, plus exclusive inspiration and Paris tips. You can also choose to be notified when a new post is published.

View the latest edition of the newsletter.