By Clare Jones
Last year I read with enormous pleasure Anna Gavalda’s book Ensemble c’est tout. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, the moment I finished it, I turned back to page one and read the whole book again. I won’t be doing the same thing with La Consolante by the same author. I really am finding it hard work and having read over 300 pages, I am seriously wondering whether I can make it to the end. I thought it was just me being a thick English person but having read the Amazon.fr reviews just now, I’m glad to say other readers with French as a native language have also found it very challenging stylistically (what a relief!) I believe the end of the book is excellent so I will probably keep going but no promises!
I wouldn’t normally write a negative comment about an author’s work on this blog but I thought it worth pointing out what might be blatantly obvious to you but which has only just dawned on me: just because I’m finding a French book difficult, it doesn’t mean that I am not as fluent in French as I thought or that I’m unintelligent, or that I won’t get great enjoyment from another French book. It just means that I’ve chosen badly for me this time. The next book I choose might be a dream to read!
Anyway, I came across the lovely expression être aux petits oignons when the main protagonist, Charles, visits the grave of Anouk, the mother of his childhood friend. Addressing the grave, he says out loud, “Mais dis-moi… Tu es vraiment aux petits oignons ici…” At the little onions? Charles is not comparing Anouk’s final resting place to a vegetable plot. Rather, it means something like ‘it’s perfect here’. The expression is often used with the verb traiter (to treat) – traiter quelqu’un aux petits oignons, ‘to treat somebody with love and care’ or ‘just so’.
The origin of the expression does indeed lie in French cuisine. Imagine a succulent casserole which has been prepared with care using baby onions. At first only used as a culinary term, in the 19th century its use spread to other areas of life (see Expressio for more explanations and examples).
Did you know that since French spelling was recently reformed, oignon can now be spelled ognon?
What other French expressions do you know to do with onions? Please leave a comment for us to share!
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