Un déjeuner de soleil


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 idiom is, “Un déjeuner de soleil.”

Literally translated as, “a sun’s lunch,” it is used to describe something that’s lovely but short-lived.

When it appeared in the 19th century, the expression refered to those fabrics whose colors faded fast when exposed to sunlight; the sun “swallowed” the colors, as if for lunch.

Over time, its scope broadened to apply to anything that’s ephemeral, but it retained the notion that one would wish for that thing to last longer.

Example: “Il voulait un canapé en cuir blanc pour leur salon, mais sa femme l’en a dissuadé : avec leurs trois enfants, ce serait un déjeuner de soleil.” “He wanted a white leather couch for their living room, but his wife talked him out of it: with their three children, it would be a sun’s lunch.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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

I have heard that expression often from my mother, who uses it mostly for garments that look nice when new but will stain easily and/or be impossible to clean. And like many, I’d always thought it was a weird construction that really meant un déjeuner au soleil (lunch in the sun), which can certainly be a fleeting thing when the sun is playing hide-and-seek (jouer à cache-cache in French).

Un Déjeuner de soleil is also the name of a 1937 film by Marcel Cravenne; the title was translated in English as A Picnic on the Grass, which seems to be missing the point in light of the above explanation.

  • The sun as something lvoely but short lived… well there is a concept that translates directly into english, what with our weather!

  • I wonder if you can help me? I am searching for a French word used to describe the particular shade of blue that the sky turns just before sunset. Actually, now that I am writing this, I am not certain that the shade is blue. Perhaps it is red or orange or something else entirely.

    My ex-boyfriend was fluent in French and told me about this word but I don’t speak French (years of lessons just didn’t stick) and none of my French speaking friends are familiar with this word.

    Does it exist or was my ex just making up words?

    I love the idea of it because, according to my ex, it describes not just a color but the specific brief moment in time that it exists. What a wonderful linguistic concept and it seems so French.

    Thank you!

  • Amy

    Oh, this is a lovely one! I can relate well, having two large and rambunctious dogs! Nothing stays clean for long!

  • I love this. There’s so much of good eating that’s fleeting, but so wonderful in the moment. Leave it to the French to have an expression that so beautifully conveys that. Thanks for sharing!

  • Beautiful post Clotilde…
    l’heure bleue Corinne?

  • Another one I’d never heard of !

  • I like this expression and I can see how it would apply to a lot of magnificent food :)

  • Oh, I love this one! I love this whole series, thanks so much for instituting it! I am fascinated with different idioms and how many times, two different cultures will have similar idioms or sayings. How did that happen? For example, the English saying “a stitch in time saves nine” has a Russian counterpart, “measure seven times, but cut only once.” How is it that two such different cultures both have a sewing idiom for the same concept? Anyway, I love learning about French ones, so thank you!

  • Lovely but short lived, c’est comme la vie elle-meme…

  • @cara Yes, I think that must be it. l’heure bleue. Of course. Thank you.

  • Marie

    Jamais entendu, celui là ! Mais il est joli, je le replacerai…

  • piccola

    Une suggestion pour continuer la série: “avoir la pêche.” C’est une si belle image!

  • celine

    How very interesting to finally understand where this expression (which I also definitely connect with our mother!) comes from!

    I, on the other hand, had always thought it was a lunch during which one would eat sun rays, i.e. nothing… But I could not really reconcile this picture with the actual meaning of the expression!

    I am not sure this expression is so commonly used any more, though, as I have sometimes used it with people who seemed quite puzzled by it!!

  • I am learning so much. I want more and will return. Thanks.

  • How about compiling all of your idioms in book form? I’ve been trying to cut and paste them into a Word document, so that I can memorize them bit by bit, but it is getting to be a big task!

  • sally j.

    I agree with the book idea. I love these so much! What a great feature on a great site!

  • I lucky to know your site, thank you very much.

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