Holidays are one thing French people are experts on, as a lot of people in France enjoy 4 to 5 weeks off each year.
In the French schooling system, children and college students typically get at least 3 months vacation time in the summer, from June / July to September / October, depending on school, region, and class grade.
These 3 months holidays in the summer are traditionally referred to as "les grandes vacances" (the big holidays), and have inspired countless stories, books and movies.
Most kids growing up in the French school system will remain nostalgic of their carefree "grande vacances" all their lives, which is why the idea of long holidays is solidely anchored in the mentality of French grown-ups as well.
In France, "la rentrée", i.e. back to school after holidays, is a very important concept for everyone : students, teachers, professionals, politicians, government and private sector employees, job seekers etc.
That's because no-one generally expects anyone to do any real work, if any at all, during the summer vacation months, especially July and August, and in many cases late June and early September as well.
So many important events, be it economic, social, political, cultural, are delayed until "la rentrée", when everyone gets back to work and becomes available again for serious matters.
Of course, many people choose to scatter their 4-5 week vacation allowance throughout the year, often taking 2 or 3 weeks off in the summer, and the rest at Christmas or Easter to match their children's school holidays.
So there are also small "rentrée" after Christmas, Easter, and every official school holiday - they are numerous - throughout the year.
Vacationing in France is elevated to an art form. It's easy to understand why talking about holidays in French is so important, both for French speakers and learners of the French language : holidays are a key aspect of the French lifestyle.
Talking about holidays in French : the dialogue
The following is a dialogue in which a person tells her friend about her holidays in French. You'll also hear the audio for the dialogue. In the rest of the article, we look at some key phrases used to talk about holidays, along with explanations and examples.
Here's the dialogue in French between Claire and Alain :
Tu as passé de bonnes vacances ?
Oui je me suis éclatée.
Tu es allée où ?
Je suis partie dans le sud pendant 2 semaines.
Tu es partie en voiture ?
Non j'ai pris le train. Ma voiture est tombée en panne au moment du départ !
Ah bon... Tu as loué un apart ?
Non, je suis allé au camping.
Sympa ! Tu es allée te baigner tous les jours ?
Non, la plage était bourrée et il faisait trop chaud.
Ah ... Mais tu as bien mangé au moins ?
Oui, mais j'ai eu une intoxication alimentaire ... J'ai dû rester au lit pendant 3 jours.
Quelle galère ! Mais à part ça, tu t'es bien amusée ?
Un peu ... La boite était fermée pour travaux.
Oh non ! Tu as pu quand même faire des rencontres ?
Oui mes voisins. Mais ils buvaient comme des trous et étaient très bruyants.
Je vois ... des vacances de rêve quoi ! Tu dois être ravie de reprendre le boulot !
Listen to the audio in French :
Here's the English version :
Did you have a nice vacation ?
Yeah I had a blast !
Where did you go ?
I went to the South for two weeks.
Did you drive there ?
No I took the train. My car broke down right before leaving...
Really ... Did you rent an appartment ?
No, I went to a campsite.
Nice ! Did you go swimming every day ?
No, the beach was packed and the weather was too hot.
Oh ... But did you eat well at least ?
Yeah, but I had food poisoning. I had to stay in bed for 3 days.
What a drag ! But aside from that, did you have fun ?
Kind of ... The discotheque was closed because of construction work.
Oh no ! Did you still make some acquaintances ?
Yes my neighbors. But they were drinking a lot and were very loud.
I see, all in all a dream vacation ... You must be psyched to be back to work !
Talking about holidays in French : how was your holiday
Alain asks Claire a typical post-holiday question :
"Tu as passé de bonnes vacances ?" (did you have a nice vacation ?)
That's something French speakers always ask someone returning from holiday. Other common questions include :
"Alors, c'était bien les vacances ?" (so, was it a good vacation ?)
"Alors c'était comment les vacances ?" (so, how was your vacation ?)
"Tes vacances se sont bien passées ?" (did your vacation go well ?)
"Ça s'est bien passé les vacances ?" (same meaning)
Claire's response is :
"je me suis éclatée" (I had a blast, a great time, a lot of fun)
The verb "s'éclater" literally means to blow oneself up, to burst, but is a colloquial way of saying to have great fun. It is used very frequently in colloquial French, and particularly when talking about holidays or about partying.
It can also be used in other contexts, such as having a good time at work, playing sports, or any kind of activity, to say someone had a good time or did really well :
"Depuis qu'elle est à la retraite elle s'éclate !" (since she's retired she's having a great time)
"Tu t'es éclaté hier à la compète !" (you really kicked ass yesterday at the contest)
"Je m'éclate dans mon nouveau job" (I'm having a blast in my new job)
Alain then asks Claire where she travelled to for her holiday :
"Tu es allée où ?"
This would normally mean "where did you go ?" but in the context of someone returning from vacation, it clearly refers to the person's vacation trip. Other alternative ways to ask would be :
"Tu es partie où ?" (where did you leave to ?)
"Tu as voyagé où ?" (where did you travel to ?)
"Tu es partie quelque part ?" (did you go anywhere ?)
"Qu'est-ce-que tu as fait ?" (what did you do - for your vacation ?)
Claire says :
"Je suis partie dans le sud pendant deux semaines."
Note that in this context, you can use "partir" and "aller" interchangeably.
Claire is saying "I went South", as in "South of France". Among Parisians, when talking about holidays, "le sud" is often used to refer to the Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur Mediterranean region, or sometimes the Atlantic coast of Aquitaine or Basque Country - although the term "sud-ouest" is used more often to for the latter areas.
Claire says "je suis partie pendant deux semaines", indicating the duration of her stay. Other examples of this construct :
"Il est parti en Malaisie pendant un mois"
"Elle a voyagé en Afrique pendant un an"
Talking about holidays in French : about the trip
Alain then asks about the means of transport she used for travelling :
"Tu es partie en voiture ?"
He uses the construct "en + transport" which translates to "by + tranport" : "en train", "en avion", "en bateau", "en vélo"
He assumes she drove, otherwise he may have asked :
"Tu es partie comment ?" (how did you travel ?)
She replies to his question saying "non j'ai pris le train" (no I took the train)
instead of "je suis partie en train". This is another way of indicating the means of transport used for travel : "prendre + transport". You can optionally add "pour" to indicate the destination ("take transport to"). Claire doesn't use "pour" because she's already indicated where she traveled to.
"Il prend le bateau pour l'Australie" (he took the boat to Australia)
"Nous prenons l'avion pour le Maroc" (we're flying to Morocco)
Note than for some reason, we more rarely say "j'ai pris la voiture", it's like the car has a special status as a transport means ! We say instead :
"Je suis parti / allé à Bordeaux en voiture"
She adds :
"Ma voiture est tombée en panne au moment du départ !"
The phrase "tomber en panne" means to break down, to malfunction. It can be applied to a a vehicle or a device, or by extension to the person driving the vehicle (have a breakdown):
"Je suis tombée en panne sur l'autoroute" (I had a breakdown on the highway)
"Mon ordi est tombé en panne ce matin" (my computer stopped working this morning)
An alternative to "tomber en panne" is "avoir une panne" :
"J'ai eu une panne sur l'autoroute" (I had a breakdown on the highway, alternative to the above way)
"Ma voiture a eu une panne ce matin" (my car had a breakdown ce matin)
The word "panne" alone refers to the malfunction :
"La panne est dûe à quoi ?" (what's the mafunction due to ?)
Claire's car broke down as she was about to hit the road :
"Au moment du départ"
This is a common phrase to use when talking about holidays in French. It means "at the time of departure" :
"Il y a toujours des problèmes au moment du départ" (there are always problems at the time of departure)
She could have also used the common phrase "au dernier moment" (at the last minute) :
"Ma voiture est tombée en panne au dernier moment"
Talking about holidays in French : accomodation
Alain asks Claire :
"Tu as loué un apart ?" (did you rent an appartment ?)
"Apart" is short for "appartement" in colloquial, spoken French. French speakers have a tendency to cut off longer words in everyday speech : "la fac" for "la faculté", "l'ordi" for "l'ordinateur", "la sécu" for "la sécurité", "la rando" for "la randonnée", the list is endless.
The verb "louer" in French, renting something to someone, like in English, is quite confusing because it goes both ways, e.g. renting a place to stay at or renting out a property you own. You need to look at context to clarify the meaning.
In this case, since Alain is talking about Claire's holidays, he's obviously asking her whether she rented a holiday place to stay at.
She answers :
"Non, je suis allé au camping"
Here, "aller" has a meaning of "to stay at" :
"Je suis allé à l'hotel" (I stayed at a hotel)
"On est allés dans une auberge" (we stayed in a hostel)
Notice how the English word "camping" is used in French to designate a campsite, although it can also be used to mean the act of camping :
"J'adore faire du camping, j'adore camper" (I love camping, I love to camp)
It's funny how French speakers adopt all sorts of English words and phrases, and often deform them to their own taste. For example, the word "sweatshirt" has made it into the French language but is pronounced "sweetshirt", and almost always shortened to "sweet" :
"T'as pas vu mon sweet ?" (did you see my sweatshirt ?)
Likewise, "basket" is used to mean sneakers, stock exchange crash has become un "krach" boursier (pronounced "crack"). To chat online is said "tchatcher" in French. A living room is often referred to as "le living" in French. "C'est top" is used to mean "it's great, top-notch".
Talking about holidays in French : activities
Alain says "sympa !" That's a very common phrase to say in response to someone telling something you think is nice or cool. It's short for "c'est sympa !" (that's nice / cool !)
He asks :
"Tu es allée te baigner tous les jours ?" (did you go swimming every day ?)
"Se baigner" is commonly used in French when talking about holidays at the beach (or any water vacation, river, pool etc). Although the usual English translation is "to swim", se baigner doesn't necessarily imply the act of swimming, it may merely mean dipping into the water.
Note the construct "aller + verb" which translates to "to go + verb" :
"Tu es allé skier souvent ?" (did you go skiing often ?)
"Je suis allé faire les courses hier" (I went shopping yesterday)
"Ils sont allés manger il y a une heure" (they went to eat one hour ago)
Claire replies :
"Non, la plage était bourrée" (no, the beach was packed)
"Bourré(e)" is a colloquial expression that means very crowded - you can optionally add "de monde" or "de gens" :
"Le cinéma était bourré !"
"Le centre commercial est bourré de monde !"
Another colloquial French expression to refer to a very crowded place is "plein à craquer" (full and ready to burst) :
"L'hôtel était plein à craquer !"
Talking about why she didn't hit the beach every day, she also says :
"Il faisait trop chaud" (the weather was too hot).
"Il fait + weather condition" is a very common way to talk about weather in spoken French :
"Il fait froid ce soir" (it's cold tonight)
"Il a fait mauvais temps" (the weather was bad)
"Il fait trop lourd" (the weather is too heavy)
Talking about holidays in French : food and health
As Alain begins to understand Claire's holidays may not have been as perfect as she'd hoped, he asks :
"Mais tu as bien mangé au moins ?" (did you eat well at least ?)
In a different context, this question might be asked right after a meal, e.g. a lunch invitation :
"Tu as bien mangé ? C'était bon ?" (did you eat well ? was it good ?)
Here however, our French friends are talking about holidays, so what Alain in implicitly asking is :
"Tu as bien mangé pendant tes vacances ?" (did you eat well during your holidays ?)
He adds "au moins" (at least) taking note of the fact that the beach part of her vacation wasn't all that great, and he's inquiring to find out if the food experience somewhat made up for it.
For example, you just finished a phone marketing campaign but didn't make any sale. Your boss asks you :
"Tu as eu des contacts intéressants au moins ?" (have you made some interesting contacts at least ?)
Again, "at least" expresses a mitigating fact that partly makes up for a negative outcome.
In Claire's holiday report, however, food didn't make up for the lack of beach time :
"j'ai eu une intoxication alimentaire" (I had food poisoning)
Quite a common issue while on summer holidays, in places where the weather is hot and fresh produce does not stay fresh very long - especially when the cold chain is not maintained the way it should be.
Here are some other common phrases for stomach issues :
"J'ai attrapé mal au ventre" (I caught a stomach ache)
"J'ai eu une gastro" (I got food infection - enterogastritis)
"J'ai mangé quelque chose de pas frais" (I ate something bad, not fresh)
She adds :
"J'ai dû rester au lit pendant 3 jours" (I had to stay in bed for 3 days)
An equivalent phrase to "rester au lit" is "rester coucher" :
"Il doit rester couché une semaine" (he must stay in bed for a week)
A slightly more formal variant is :
"Il doit garder le lit une semaine"
Talking about holidays in French : going out and having fun
Alain replies :
"quelle galère !"
This phrase is used daily to say "what a pain !" There are many expressions revolving around "galère" (galley) to indicate an annoying or tedious situation :
"En vacances, se loger c'est la galère !" (on holiday, finding accomodation is a pain)
"J'ai vraiment galéré pour y arriver !" (I really struggled to make it)
Alain is a positive guy, so he asks :
"Mais à part ça, tu t'es bien amusée ?"
He starts his sentence with "mais à part ça" (but aside from that), referring to the negative aspects Claire has mentioned so far about her vacation (car breakdown, overcrowded beach, food infection)
He then asks a very common question to ask a person in French when talking about holidays :
"Tu t'es bien amusée ?" (did you have fun ?)
Some common replies are :
"Oui je me suis très bien amusée !" (yes I really had good fun)
"Oui je me suis éclatée" (see earlier in this article)
"Oui c'était super" (yes it was great)
Instead, she answers :
"Un peu ... La boite était fermée pour travaux."
"Un peu" literally means "a little", but often sometimes used in French to mean "kind of", "not really". It it sometimes employed as a way to express lack of enthusiasm or even negative feelings, similar to the use of "bof ...".
She refers to the discotheque as "la boite", a colloquial expression. If you want to be clearer, you may say "la boite de nuit".
She says the club was closed for construction work :
"elle est fermée pour travaux"
The expression "fermé pour (cause)" is commonly used in French :
"L'hôtel est fermé pour rénovation" (the hotel is closed for renovation)
"Le supermarché est fermé pour congé annuel" (the supermarket is closed for annual vacation)
"Le magasin est fermé pour arrêt d'activité" (the store is going out of business)
Sometimes, signs also read :
"Fermé pour cause départ" (closed because the owner is leaving)
Talking about holidays in French : meeting new people
Alain replies :
"Tu as pu quand même faire des rencontres ?"
The expression "faire des rencontres", frequently used when taking about holidays or social activities in French, means to make acquaintances, to meet people :
"On fait des rencontres en été" (in the summer you meet new people)
"Hier j'ai fait une rencontre" (yesterday I met someone)
He asks "tu as pu", which means "were you able to (do something)" or "did you succeed in (doing something)" :
"Tu as pu régler le problème ?" (were you able to solve the problem ?)
"Elle a pu s'inscrire à l'université ?" (did she succeed in enrolling at the university ?)
He uses the expression "quand même", here meaning "anyway", "still", "in spite of everything" - note it's a different nuance than "au moins" (at least). Examples :
Q : "Ma voiture est en panne ..." (my car broke down)
A : "Tu as pu quand même aller travailler ?" (Were you still able to go to work ?)
Q : "J'ai mal au ventre depuis ce matin..." (my stomach hurts since this morning)
A : "Tu vas sortir quand même ?" (are you going out anyway ?)
Note that, in different contexts, "quand même" can have other meanings as well - it's one of these highly used and highly versatile French expressions .
Claire responds "oui mes voisins", implicitly "oui j'ai fait la rencontre de mes voisins" (I met my neighbors).
That sounds like happy news, but then she adds :
"Ils buvaient comme des trous et étaient très bruyants" (they were drinking a lot and were very noisy)
The expression "boire comme un trou" is a very popular one in France. It literally means "drink like a hole", that is drink a lot, drink too much :
"Ce garçon est gentil mais il boit comme un trou !" (this boy is nice but he drinks too much)
A similar expression is "être toujours entre deux vins" :
"Ce type est toujours entre deux vins" : literally "this guy is always between 2 wines", i.e. he drinks all the time.
You can also use :
"Il est toujours bourré" (he's always drunk)
When it comes to drinking too much, the colloquial French is quite rich. For example, to say "he's a drunk" you can use :
"C'est un ivrogne"
or "C'est un pochard / un pochetron (slang)"
Since they were drinking a lot, Claire's neighbors were very noisy. Another way to say it is :
"Ils faisaient beaucoup de bruit" (they were making a lot of noise)
"Ma voisine n'est pas bruyante. Elle ne fait jamais de bruit" (my neighbor isn't noisy. She never makes any noise)
Talking about holidays in French : returning from vacation
Alain then says :
"je vois ... des vacances de rêve quoi !"
After hearing Claire's hellish vacation narration, he ironically concludes hers was a dream holiday. The expression "de rêve" can be used for all kinds of dreamy things :
"Un job de rêve" (a dream job)
"Une assistante de rêve" (a dream assistant)
Note Alain adds the word "quoi !" at the end of his phrase. French speakers frequently use "quoi" to mean "in other words", "in short", "that is" :
"Elle est épuisée après dix minutes de marche" (she's exhausted after a 10 minute walk)
"Je vois ... grande grande sportive quoi ..." (I see... a real sporty girl)
He adds in the end :
"Tu dois être ravie de reprendre le boulot !" (you must be very happy to get back to work)
"Etre content(e) de" or "être ravi(e) de" + verb is a common way in French to express satisfaction for doing something :
"Je suis ravi de déjeuner avec elle" (I'm very happy to have lunch with her)
"Je suis très contente d'acheter cette voiture" (I'm very happy to buy this car)
Here, Alain talks about Claire going back to work after her dreamy holidays. "Boulot" is a very frequently used word for "travail" (work) - in the polite slang category. Another, more slangy word is "taf" :
"J'ai du boulot", "j'ai du taf" : "I have work to do"
"Je vais au boulot" , "je vais au taf" : I'm going to work
The phrase "reprendre le boulot" (get back to work) is also very commonly used :
"Tu reprends quand le boulot / travail ?" (when are you going back to work ?)
"Tu as déjà repris le boulot ou tu es toujours en vacances ?" (did you already get back to work or are you still on holiday ?)
We won't hear Claire's final opinion about her vacation and about her going back to work, but judging from her holiday story, office life also has its positive side !
"Le travail a aussi ses bons côtés !"