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 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!

A bientôt!


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    • rroxy

    • May 14, 2016

    • 10:38 pm

    • Reply

    What an interesting page, Clare!
    Do you know the expression “occupe-toi de tes oignons”? It means something like “it’s not your business”. We can also say “ce ne sont pas tes oignons”. This is a familiar expression, not rude anyway.
    As to the expression “aux petits oignons”, I generally use it with the ver “faire”, for example “je vais vous faire ça aux petits oignons”, meaning I will do / prepare something with great care for you.

  1. Fascinating Clare 🙂

    French spelling was reformed?! What have we missed on this side of the channel?

    • Yes, French spelling was reformed a while back but it is only this year that the new spellings have begun to be taught in schools. I’ll perhaps write a blog post about the changes.

      • Actually, that’s not quite accurate. I believe that new school text books published this year conform to the new spelling rules but I imagine that teachers will have been teaching the new spellings for a while.

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About the author

Clare Jones was born in the North of England in 1960. She fell in love with the French language at the age of 11 and went on to study it to degree level at Leicester University, where she also became a qualified teacher. In 2011 Clare collaborated with Tamsin Edwards to produce an iPhone application, “Figure out French, Rouler un patin: to give a French kiss and other French expressions for leisure and health”. Though she now lives in England, Clare always has her nose in a French book and she surrounds herself by all things French. She is currently very busy teaching French as a private tutor and when she has the time, she writes a blog on the subject of the French language (click on the blog tab to read it). Clare enjoys tai-chi, swimming, and cycling in the local country park. She is also an enthusiastic member of her local community choir.

About the illustrator

Tamsin Edwards studied art at both Nene Art College, Northampton, and Derby School of Art during the early 1980s. Though well known for her atmospheric watercolour landscapes, Tamsin also creates quirky pen & wash illustrations, often portraying comic images of people and places. Tamsin has already collaborated with Clare Jones to produce an iPhone application. Past commissioned projects also include the children’s storybook ‘Tales of Two Shires’ and a book of poetic verses. As well as regularly exhibiting work and selling to clients around the world, Tamsin has also had several paintings published in an international magazine. To view further examples of her work or to buy original artwork from this book, please visit Tamsin can be contacted at

Author Photo

Illustrator Tamsin Edwards (left) and author Clare Jones (right)

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