Five French Weather Phrases

Winter barn
Ça caille

The Brits have a reputation for talking about the weather. Hardly a surprise, since you can experience four different seasons in one day in parts of the UK. It was a surprise to us initially that French people also talk about the weather a lot. In our region, which is mostly a farming area, the climate has always been an important matter and greatly influences the difference between a good and a bad harvest. The French have developed some colourful phrases to describe different types of weather.

Ça caille

Winter 2013 - icicle-ridden bolet
Fine show of icicles hanging from our bolet roof

This phrase literally means “it curdles” but is employed to mean that it’s freezing. It originates from a dairy product, le caillé, which is fermented or curdled cow’s, ewe’s or goat’s milk, and is the first stage in the cheese-making process. Some cheese-makers around here sell it as a by-product.

I first came across it when reading a novel by Jean Anglade, La Soupe à la Fourchette, about a farming family in Cantal during World War II. They prized le caillé as an afternoon snack. A large basin was placed on the table and everyone ate from the bowl with a spoon. It was considered very bad form to encroach on your neighbour’s section of the bowl.

Il pleut/il tombe des cordes

Cows - water trough in a sea of mud
Water trough surrounded by a sea of mud

We say, “It’s pouring” or “It’s raining cats and dogs”. The French say it’s raining ropes or wires (it makes me think of piano wires), which is perhaps a more logical graphic way to describe the rain. The phrase apparently originated at the end of the 18th century.

A less polite expression is “Il pleut comme une vache qui pisse.” I don’t think I need to translate that.

Il fait un vrai temps de Toussaint

Teysseroles - Autumn view Nov 12
Autumn view from the cemetery at Teysseroles

Toussaint, All Saints’ Day falls on 1st November. Traditionally, the beginning of November marks the transition between the warm autumn weather and the damp, misty days of early winter. Weather records show that in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was not uncommon for snow to fall at Toussaint. However, records for the past 15 years show that Toussaint is often dry and sunny, which is our experience, with daytime temperatures of over 20C in southern France. So maybe this phrase is losing its currency.

Il fait un vent à décorner les bœufs

Salers Cow
Don’t get on the wrong side of this one

The wind’s strong enough for de-horning the oxen. I have never actually heard this expression, which suggests that it’s no longer so current these days. It is said to date from the 19th century, when cattle were regularly de-horned to avoid damage to themselves and other cattle or people. This was usually done when they were out in the fields and could provoke bleeding, which in turn attracted flies. When it’s windy, flies are less in evidence, and so this operation was performed on windy days.

Un soleil de plomb

Literally, a sun of lead, or a blazing sun. When it’s very hot in the summer, the effort of moving in the sunshine makes you feel as if a weight is pressing down on you. This expression became current in the 1830s for reasons I’ve been unable to determine.

Every year, we experience one or two episodes of la canicule (heatwave), and particularly in 2003, when it lasted the whole summer. Then, it’s prudent to retire indoors and close the shutters until early evening.

Parched prairie

2018: il a plu des cordes

According to Météo France, 2018 was the hottest year since the beginning of the 20th century. This is despite the fact that it didn’t seem to stop raining between the previous December and the beginning of June. This appears to be another emerging weather pattern: our stats show that the first six months of the year are getting worse, while the second six months are improving.

The summer months, June, July and August 2018, clocked up 76 fine and sunny days (comparable with 2003) out of 92, but the earlier months were pretty grim. January, February and March could muster only 11 fine days out of 90. And, despite what Météo France says, the number of fine days overall was below average.

In 2018, we had 972 mm of rain (almost a metre), against the average for 15 years of 870 mm, i.e. nearly 12% over average.

rainfall 2018

We are told that 2019 has started unusually sunny in southern France and that our département, Tarn-et-Garonne is no exception. Well, it is here. We have had a lot of fog and grey weather, which tends to be the case when we have high pressure in the winter. But at least it has not been unremittingly damp and miserable, as it was last January.

We keep reminding ourselves that it’s only another two months until the cuckoo arrives.

You might also like:

Canicule: the Dog Days of Summer
All Aboard the “Moscou-Paris”
5 Reasons Why Autumn is the Best Season

Copyright © 2019 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Well, over here in Rieupeyroux, we’ve had quite a bit of snow … very pretty, but now slushy and unpleasant. My newish learn, which I like a lot, is “Il fait glagla!” … Brrr! IT’s freezing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’ve had a couple of light dustings, but they usually melt pretty fast. It’s just so gloomy and damp here. I hadn’t come across that phrases. I’m sure I’ll find opportunities to use it!


  2. Today the village was clear of mist, but just a couple of hundred metres up, it was bathed in fog. Quite often I leave home in bright sunshine, and descend to the plain which is covered in cloud! The snow is melting now, but there’s more forecast for today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We have had a lot of fog this winter – this morning included. However, it’s now cleared away and, although dull, the weather is much milder. We had a dusting of snow yesterday and the day before. I will be very glad if we don’t get any more…


  3. Around here the number of sunny days depends on the altitude. We are right by Lake Geneva where it’s often foggy and grey in the winter, but if you drive 10 minutes up to higher ground, the sun is shining. It’s funny how the conditions vary so much from one region to another — we had almost drought conditions this summer and almost no rain fell at all until late autumn. Very little snow on the ground in our parts either, while it has fallen elsewhere in places that don’t usually get snow. Climate confusion?

    Liked by 1 person

    • We also find that places higher up can be in bright sunshine while we are still in the fog, although we are in the higher part of our département. It was very dry here over the summer and autumn, but desperately wet during the spring to the point where we wondered if we’d ever see the sun again! We used to get more snow, but have had hardly any for the past few years.

      Liked by 1 person

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