Être dans le pâté


This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s idiom is, “Être dans le pâté.”

Literally translated as, “Being in the pâté,” it means feeling drowsy and out of it, usually in the morning after too much partying and/or not enough sleeping. It is a slang expression, not vulgar but definitely not elegant, so I don’t really suggest you use it — slang is the trickiest thing to get right in a foreign language — but I offer it here in case it comes up in conversation.

Example: “Elle était tellement dans le pâté qu’elle est partie en oubliant son téléphone.” “She was so badly in the pâté that she left and forgot her phone.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

This idiom is a late twentieth century riff on the older slang idioms être dans le cirage (being in polish) and être dans le coaltar* (being in coal tar), which both drew on the idea that workers who had to spend the day breathing in polish or tar fumes in badly ventilated environments quickly felt dazed and foggy-minded.

But one can also understand these idioms as likening the feeling of drowsiness to being plunged in a thick, paste-like substance, which would certainly feel uncomfortable and slow down your movements, and it is this second interpretation that gave way to the modern pâté variation.

* Pronounced [kol-tar] and sometimes frenchified to coltard.

  • A lovely image, Clotilde! I’m trying to think what an English equivalent would be. Being “in the soup”?

  • Richard

    No, ‘in the soup’ means ‘in trouble’.

    Perhaps ‘under the weather’, although that has connotations of illness.

    ‘Wading through treacle’?

  • tia

    français est ma deuxième langue alors les idioms sont très difficiles pour moi à apprendre. Merci!

  • bG

    I’ve always heard and used “walking around in a fog”. Admittedly, not a food reference.

  • G. Alarcon

    In school I was never really good in conquering foreign idioms. “Être dans le pâté” is so colorful and meaningful. I can’t believe that this idiom represents all of those subtle meanings.

    Thanks for providing an interesting post.

  • Laurence

    Hello Clotilde, Cela fait un moment que je te suis (suite aux recommandations de Maïa) sans jamais laisser de commentaire. Mais là, je ne résiste pas à l’envie d’en laisser un. Ce n’est sans doute pas ton post le plus gastronomiquement marquant mais c’est celui qui m’a fait le plus marrer. Surtout avec la bande son. Alors merci et bravo pour ces belles aventures culinaro-blogesques. Bises, Laurence (la 4° du groupe constitué de ta soeur, Maïa et Sophie)

  • If only being in pâté was as delightful as eating it! :-)

  • I love your charming phrase lessons… brings me closer to the cuisine through the national sense of humor and character!


  • I’m always in the pâté, especially recently :)


  • Jessica Lauren

    Your blog is such a breath of fresh air, so delightful and joyous! A real source of inspiration, thank you for your many morsels of goodness.

    If you have a moment or two, please amuse yourself with my new creation. I would greatly appreciate the brief moment of adoration and any suggestions.

    Thank You.

  • jer

    oh this is great – I have so often felt this way and not known how to decribe it – now I do! I may mention this on my podcast, Because We Said So – this definitely an idiom that needs to be used more often!!

  • ruth

    To bg – Walking around in a fog would work as a food simile if the fog were as thick as pea soup.

  • EB

    SO much better than ‘being in a fog’… and I live in Fog City! Just imagine… Pate City…. mmmmm

  • Joan

    being in polish! could be a sticky situation…however could also be very shiny ‘n bright!

    Clotilde, have you thought of collecting these edible idiom posts plus the photos..a book! how lovely it would be..’n a cd as well..with the audio..

    methinks it would be a wondrous thing…fingers crossed :-)

  • Sometimes the French expression is more exact than any English translation. Besdies, only the French would use food for a description of ennui.

  • I love your posts on food idioms. I like the comment that jer made about the pea soup. Cute!

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