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From ‘natel’ to ‘ça joue’: The Swiss French words which help you sound like a local

From “schmolitz” to “panosse”, some words and phrases common in the French-speaking part of Switzerland are different from their equivalents used in France. Here is the vernacular you should master if you live in Suisse Romandie.

From 'natel' to 'ça joue': The Swiss French words which help you sound like a local
No, the chalet is not crazy. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Each of Switzerland’s main languages – German, French and Italian – are shared with a larger and more influential neighbour. 

These three languages – when added to the unique Romansh language – makes for a diverse linguistic spectrum. 

It might come as a relief to foreigners living in one of the French-speaking cantons that differences between the Swiss version of the language and the one spoken in France is much smaller than the difference between standard German and Schwyzerdütch.

Except for some specific words and expressions, people in France understand their counterparts in Romandie much easier than is the case between Germans and Swiss-Germans.

READ MORE: ‘Just so fun to say’: Are these the best Swiss-German words to learn?

The Local recently asked its readers what are the most important Swiss-French words to know.

Which parts of Switzerland speak French?

Geneva, Vaud, Jura and Neuchâtel speak only French, while Valais and Fribourg speak predominantly French but also German. 

Bern, the seat of the de facto capital, is also bilingual, but with more German than French speakers. 

From the answers we received, several respondents mentioned the numbers. 

As anyone who has tried to learn French will tell you, the numbering system is particularly difficult – especially when you get in the double figures. 

The Swiss French numbering system is different to that of original French, with Swiss French using the words septante (seventy), huitante (eighty) and nonante (ninety). 

The Romands decided to simplify these words from their original French versions: soixante-dix, quatre-vingt, and quatre-vingt-dix, which literally translate to ‘sixty-ten’, ‘four twenties’ and ‘four twenties-ten’. 

However, regional differences are also at play here: Geneva uses the French version of these numbers, possibly because of its close proximity to France.

Some readers also mentioned the expression “ça joue”. Literally translated it means “it plays”, but in the Suisse Romande it means “yes, it’s alright”.

Other words and expressions mentioned in the reader survey were: “carnotzet” (a small bar), “bonap” (Bon appétit – enjoy your meal), “si jamais”, (if ever), vélo (bicycle), “ouais” (slangy oui – yes), and “tout de bon” (all the best).

READ MORE: Have your say: What are the most important Swiss French words to know?

Suisse-Romande versus France

Aside from the numbers mentioned above, some words and phrases used in this part of Switzerland are uniquely “Romand” and if you use them in France, chances are you will be met with a quizzical look.

Natel: Mobile phone (“téléphone mobile”)

French-speaking Switzerland: Seven life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Panosse: A wet broom (“serpillière in France)

Y a pas le feu au lac: Literally, this means “there’s no fire in the lake”. But what it actually means “there is no rush, no urgency.

Faire schmolitz : Wine drinking ritual in which two people decide to befriend each other by passing from the formal “vous” form to the more casual “tu”.

Schmoltz! Photo by Monstera from Pexel

Etre déçu en bien: Be pleasantly surprised (être agréablement surpris in France)

Ça va, le chalet?: Are you crazy ? (ça va pas la tête ?)

Tchô bonne: Have a good day /evening (bonne journée /soirée)

Lolette: a pacifier for babies (tétine in France)

Quart d’heure vaudois: This means a slight delay, not only in Vaud but in other Romand cantons as well (être en retard” in France). Please note that a similar expression doesn’t exist in the German-speaking cantons, and for a good reason: Swiss-Germans are rarely late.

‘The pleasure of punctuality’: Why are the Swiss so obsessed with being on time?

Tenir les pouces: Just like in Anglo countries, crossing fingers brings good luck in Suisse Romande. But in France, you’d have to “croiser les doigts”.

Tenir les pouces: universal sign of good luck. Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

Lost in translation?

If you are not totally familiar with the intricacies of the French language, keep in mind that these expressions have a different meaning in French than in English. Or, they may not mean what you think they might:

Préservatifs: No, these are not artificial food additives (“conservateurs”), but condoms. The latter is commonly found in food, the former usually isn’t.

Hors-ligne: This is often seen on buses in the Suisse Romandie. This doesn’t mean the bus is transporting horses; it does mean it is not in service.

Voilà, there you have it: some typical expressions you are bound to hear in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

Tchô bonne! 

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‘Don’t send anything’: How foreigners in France are being hit with big parcel fees

Amid reports from readers of unexpectedly large duty fees on packages sent to France, we put out a survey to ask you about your experiences. This is what you told us.

Two pensioners sit by a wall of packages.
Duty fees are payable on many goods sent to France. (Photo by ERIC CABANIS / AFP)

Among the more than 100 people who responded to our survey, 97.3 percent said that they had been hit by duty fees on packages sent to France.

For some readers, these unexpected costs came as a nasty surprise. 

Jane Vallet had to fork out €7.50 to pick up a birthday card and bar of chocolate from the post office.

Graham Hilton had to pay €650 to receive a set of alloy car wheels which he had already purchased for more than €1,300 (postage included), while Bryan Woy had to splash out €10 for a free tote bag sent to him as a reward for taking out a magazine subscription. 

Many readers of The Local have reported having to pay customs duties that often work out as being at least half the cost of the value of the package itself. 

This has put many off postage altogether. “Don’t send anything!” wrote Jill Brown. 

“We have now asked friends and family not to send gifts from the UK because of the duty imposed,” added another reader. 

EU rules

For people receiving packages from the UK (close to 70 percent of those surveyed), this is a relatively new phenomenon. 

READ MORE New rules and extra charges in sending parcels between UK and France

Before Brexit, duty fees did not apply because the UK was part of the EU.

Now, as well as having the appropriate postage, all items apart from documents sent from England, Scotland and Wales to the EU need an extra customs declaration form attached.

This form asks for the sender and recipient’s details, whether the item is a gift or an item sent for sale (which affects the level of duty for some countries) and a detailed description of what is in it – so birthday or Christmas parcels slightly lose their element of surprise. The form is available to download here.

Outside the UK

People sending packages from other non-EU countries, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, have always had to deal with duty fees and customs declarations, but several American readers also reported being hit with unexpectedly high fees. 

From July 1st 2021, all goods shipped to the EU from all non-EU countries were subject to VAT. Before this, such a rule only applied to goods worth €22 or more. Officially, this rule does not apply to commercial goods. According to La Poste, you can pay any VAT fees before or upon delivery.

Paying online in advance via La Poste’s secure site enables you to access reduced customs clearance fees. To do this, you’ll need a consignment number or delivery notice. 

You can also pay the fees by cheque or cash upon receipt of the package, or by card, cheque, or cash in your local post office.


In theory, if the parcel is marked as a gift with a value of less than €45 (excluding VAT), you will not have to pay customs duty. Goods purchased from online retailers and sent from outside the EU with a value of less than €150 should also not require a duty fee.

In reality, many of our readers say they are still being hit with these extra costs. 

When it comes to saving money on duty fees, this was your advice: 

Get visiting friends or family to bring goods in person

Judy Lindsay outlined the most obvious way to avoid paying customs duty on packages. 

“Have friends bring you what you need in their suitcase when they come for a visit,” she said. 

Any traveller over the age of 15 coming to France from outside the EU or EU customs area by sea or air has the right to bring €430 worth of items purchased as goods or received as gifts, without paying any duties. 

Multiple people cannot group together to pool their allowance to bring a single expensive item exceeding a value of €430 into France without customs charges. Personal belongings do not count towards this €430 limit.  

Bear in mind however, that items such as foodstuffs (including chocolate) cannot be brought into the EU from non-EU countries.

Use EU websites for online shopping 

Another key way to avoid paying duty fees is to only order goods from EU-based retailers, such as Irish firms.

“If you reside in France don’t buy anything from outside EU,” said Chris Hebden. 

This is because are no duty fees on packages sent between countries that form part of the EU customs union. 

“Use the local Amazon or other web delivery service,” wrote Elizabeth Nicolet. 

Be careful though, some EU websites have suppliers that are based outside the customs union in places such as the UK. In this case you will potentially be landed with a duty fee. If possible, always check where your package will ultimately be posted from before ordering. 

Obviously it is impossible to predict if or when a friend or family member is planning to send you a package in France. However, if you have a suspicion that they intend to send you a gift (perhaps a birthday is coming up for example), you could always ask for them to order you something from a French or EU website. 

Undervalued shipments

The duty you pay is based on the value of the item listed on the customs declaration form.

While it might be tempting to undervalue the parcel, it is actually illegal – you are effectively evading tax. Your package could be confiscated and the sender might end up with a €1,500 fine. 


Unfortunately, the ubiquity of customs fees has also lead to an explosion in scams where people receive an email or text informing them that their item has arrived but has a duty fee which can be paid by opening the link and putting in your credit card details. Do not do this, only pay fees to La Poste or to a company when ordering items online.