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7 French Autumn Words You Must Learn

In this last week of August, as the summer heat begins to release its grip, the shops fill with back-to-school items, and the leaves on the trees turn orange-yellow, our thoughts cannot help but turn to le changement des saisons (the change of the seasons).  

 L’automne (autumn) is one of the most pleasant seasons in Paris. Le temps est un peu frais mais beau (The weather is a little cool, but beautiful), en septembre et octobre, il n’y a pas beaucoup de pluie (in September and October there isn’t much rain) and les musées (the museums) aren’t as crowded as in summertime.  

 If you’re in France this fall, you’ll find that certain French autumn vocabulary words pop up again and again. Don’t be left out of the conversation! Learn the following 7 French autumn words and understand their place in French culture.

1. La Rentrée – The Return

In France, August is the time of vacation. Many pharmacies, boulangeries and other shops completely shut down; large cities are drained of nearly everyone except tourists; the métros and buses are empty, while French beaches heave with glistening bodies.  

In early September, the situation reverses. People return to the cities, tanned and rejuvenated. Shops fling open their doors, children return to school, the streets fill with people, and real life begins again. This is la rentrée.

During période de rentrée, which is more or less the first three weeks of September, it’s common to hear phrases like:

Bonne rentrée!” (Enjoy your return to school!)

Je suis trop chargée en ce moment. On se voit après la rentrée.” (I’ve too much on my plate at the moment. Let’s see each other after the return)

2.  Les Vendanges – The grape harvest

 Who doesn’t know that wine is a fundamental part of the French identity? No one. But many people don’t realize that in France celebration of wine begins long before that first delectable glass is poured. In September and October, les vendanges – the grape harvest –is celebrated in various ways all throughout France.   One of the most famous festival, La Feria des Vendanges takes place in Nîmes in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south of France.

 But Paris has it’s own celebration as well with the Fêtes des Vendanges de Montmartre, which will occur this year from 7 – 11 octobre. The hilly, picturesque neighborhood of Montmartre has a small vineyard that produces about 1500 bottles of wine each year. It’s a modest amount, but the joy of its making is big.

 So, if you want to practice your wine vocabulary, indulge in a little wine tasting, or just soak up the lively atmosphere of a wine-themed street fair, head over to Montmartre on these dates and check it out.

 3.    Reine-Claude – Greengage plums

Starting in late summer, these delectable little green plums make their annual appearance in market stalls throughout France. With their green peau (skin) and golden flesh, les reine-claudes look as if they’re bursting with the last bit of summer sunshine. And they taste like it, too. Invariably sweet and juicy, you’ll enjoy them by the kilo. If you want the pleasure to last, consider that they make an excellent confiture (jam.)


4.    Les Feuillages d’Automne – Fall foliage

As we mentioned, l’automne is the perfect time to go on long promenades in the French countryside. Not only is the weather pleasantly fraiche (cool), but the feuillage d’automne can be lovely.

If you’re in Paris, a little walk through the crackling, leaf-strewn lanes of the Jardin de Tuileries an give you a cozy autumnal feeling. But if you feel the need to be completely surrounded by nature, there’s nothing like a stroll in the forêt de Fontainebleau , the woodlands of the famous château, to make you feel far, far away from city life.

5.   Champignons sauvages – Wild mushrooms

 In l’automne, the French go crazy for wild mushrooms, whether eating them or picking them (la chasse aux champignons) or debating the merits of their favorites.  At the marché, you’re spoiled for choice for champignons sauvages.

Among many others expect to find an abundance of fat-bottomed cèpes (porcini); golden, crinkly-topped girolles (chantarelles); and the darkly shriveled but oh-so-delicious morilles (morels). In November, la saison des truffes (truffle season) begins. If you can cough up the money for this extraordinary-tasting fungus (truffles cost upward of $2,000 per kilo), it’s a must-try.

 6.  Nuit Blanche – White Night/ All-nighter

 If you’re a student in France, you’ve probably become quickly familiar with the term “nuit blanche,” which means you’ve stayed up all night or pulled an “all-nighter.” (Studying, no doubt!) But in Paris in autumn, Nuit Blanche has a greater meaning.

 In mid-September, signs go up everywhere reminding people that the annual “Nuit Blanche” is approaching. This refers to a night in early October where Paris turns into an all-night arts festival. Scores of museums, galleries, theaters and public spaces remain open all night, giving people a unique view of the city at night and opportunity to interact with Parisian spaces differently.

Nuit Blanche 2015 takes place on samedi 3 octobre.

7.  “Il est arrivé!” – It’s here!

In mid-November, you’ll likely see these words written in large swooping letters in the windows of numerous wine shops and cafés throughout Paris. Who’s here? The annual arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau, of course.

Every year, on the third Thursday of November at precisely one minute after midnight, the nationwide celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau wine begins. Beaujolais Nouveau is a very young wine, only six or seven weeks old, made of Gamay grapes. Traditionally, it was a vin ordinaire (a simple table wine) drank in Beaujolais to celebrate the end of les vendanges. Since the 1970’s, however, it has become a commercial and marketing sensation. Wine-lovers now celebrate this first wine of the season all around the world.

What are some of your favorite French autumn words and phrases?  Share with us below!