Things that we think are French, but aren’t

French kiss, French toast, French fries–what are they called in French?

Screenshot 2015-12-17 06.22.27
Picture source: screen shot from

The American emotional relationship with France is somewhat complicated, but on the whole, it’s enormously positive.  One linguistic reflection of this is the number of nice things in the world that we call “French” something or other.  I got curious about what those things are called in French.  My methodology for finding the answers: I looked them up on Wikipedia, then followed the link to the French-language page.  Here’s what I found.

French toast:  Everyone loves French toast.  In French, it’s pain perdu–“lost bread.”

French fries: Everyone loves French fries.  In French, they’re frites–“frieds.”  (“D” intended–it’s a past participle.)

French kiss: Who doesn’t remember their first French kiss with fondness?  In French, it’s a baiser amoureux (“romantic/amorous/loving kiss”), a baiser avec la langue (“kiss with the tongue”), or a baiser profond (“deep kiss”).  The French Wikipedia page says that in the 19th century, it was called a baiser florentin (“Florentine kiss”), presumably after the Italian city of Florence.  I hope that any French readers will be amused, and not shocked, to learn that in colloquial American English, to “french” someone means to give them a baiser profond.

French bread: Wikipedia redirects this one to baguette.

French cuff: there’s no separate Wikipedia page for this one, so I don’t know the French-language equivalent.

French window: these actually are quite French, and in French, they’re just called “windows.”

French door: no Wikipedia page for these, so I don’t know the French-language equivalent.

French twist: ditto.

French braid: France actually does take credit for this one–it’s la tresse française. 

French press: this is le piston.

Naturally, the next thing one wants to know is this: what things do French people call “American”?  Here are the things that I’ve been able to find:

le castor américain: North American beaver.

le poing américain: brass knuckles.

le football américain: Football.

le plan américain: a kind of camera angle.

la cuisine américaine: I see this in ads for apartments a lot–I think it means a non-detached kitchen.  I’d show you a picture of mine, but it’s totally draped with drying laundry at the moment.

le frigo américain: a stand-up fridge with two vertical doors.

la sauce américaine: I’ve seen this in the French-speaking part of Belgium, but not in France.  It looks like mayonnaise with ketchup in it–definitely not something that an American would put on French fries.





8 thoughts on “Things that we think are French, but aren’t”

  1. I wonder why it’s called an “American kitchen”–perhaps because it’s difficult to cook in it? I managed Provençal chicken gizzards once, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten.


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