Tomber comme un cheveu sur la soupe


This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Read the introductory Edible Idiom post, and browse the list of French idioms featured so far.

This week’s expression is, “Tomber comme un cheveu sur la soupe.”

The literal translation is, “falling like a hair* on soup,” and it means that something or someone appears at an inappropriate or incongruous moment, and is thus completely out of place. (The idiom can also be formed with the verbs arriver, to arrive, or venir, to come, instead of tomber, to fall.)

Interestingly enough, in the context of this expression, the hair found in a bowl of soup causes no disgust. It is merely seen as an anomaly, a thing of no value or consequence that diverts one’s attention from what’s really important: the soup.

Example: “Je n’ai vraiment pas aimé la fin : la scène avec les extraterrestres tombe comme un cheveu sur la soupe.” “I really didn’t like the ending: the scene with the aliens falls like a hair on soup.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

Comme un cheveu sur la soupe is also the title of a 1957 movie with Louis de Funès (but no aliens).

* In French, there are two words for hair, depending on where it grows: un cheveu is the hair that grows on the head, whereas un poil is the hair that grows on the body. In both cases, the terms refer to an individual hair; if you were to compliment someone on his hair, you would use the plural, les cheveux.

  • I say “tomber comme un cheveu dans la soupe”, but maybe it’s just the Belgian way to say it.

  • What a great photo! I can’t think of a direct English equivalent, but this post reminds me of an old English limerick:
    “A diner while dining at Crewe/ found quite a large mouse in his stew/ cried the waiter don’t shout/ and wave it about/ or the rest will be wanting one too.”

  • Amy

    I’ve never heard this one before. It’s hard not to be a little grossed out at the thought though! Thanks for sharing!

  • Nicole Egidio

    It’s interesting that you brought up an idiom about something being out of place because I’ve been meaning to ask you about the phrase “un canard dans le café.” I heard it in a song and assumed it meant something similar to the idiom you just explained. Am I right or does it mean something completely different? Thanks!

  • yourpapounet

    For Nicole : no, that duck has nothing to do in the soup either… You say “faire un canard” when you dip a sugar cube in a drink (coffee, or any kind of strong alcohol such as cognac, any fruit “eau-de-vie”)and then suck the cube. Kids will do that for coffee, they’re so curious to know what it tastes like… but they have to ask the adults first : “Dis, je peux faire un canard ?”

  • J’aime beaucoup tes traductions littérales!

  • Mary

    For the first time, I was actually able to find the literal translation for the phrase and the little scenario. yay for French class!

  • Like Bibil, I say “tomber comme un cheveu dans la soupe”, but I’m also from Belgium, so maybe it’s just another of our own linguistic aberrations…
    Congratulations on a great series of posts! I really enjoy reading each of them – it might be somehting to do with the fact that I’m a linguist ;-)

  • I’ve been meaning to write this to you for ages – I bought your book at Shakespeare and Company and proceeded to read the whole thing on the Thalys train from Paris to Amsterdam to visit my sister.
    I loved it. Thanks for sharing your passion with us. You inspired me to start my own blog. All the best, Mary

  • judie

    Ha, ha, this is great! Audrey’s funny limerick reminds me of yet another one, this, from my childhood: “I eat my peas with honey, I’ve done it all my life. It does seem rather funny, but it keeps them on my knife!”

  • Bibil and Claire – Interesting! Maybe it’s because French hair floats while Belgian hair sinks? :)

  • crisndg

    pareil ici le cheveu est dans la soupe

  • how interesting!

  • A fabulous series. A great way to pick up some amusing French colloquialisms.

  • Sarah

    What about “Le moutard me monte au nez”?

  • Pia

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  • i’ve always thought that french is a beautiful word, but it’s just darn too difficult to learn! but interesting post though.. thanks for sharing… and if there’s a hair on my soup, i’d be gross out if it were other than mine.. :o)

  • Katie

    This is great! My french husband just used this one the other day – us Americans loved it! Now we’ve all got hair in our soup!

  • Tarfman

    I can take « un cheveu sur la soupe »… so long as no one has « craché dans la soupe » en question, because that would be a little over the edge. But I’m sure Clotilde will brief us on that one at some later point.

  • Marcel

    Great review of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull!


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