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French Culture

10 Little Known French Breakfast Facts

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis on October 4, 2016
Breakfast French Vocabulary and Typical Petit Déjeuner in France

“Mais où sont les croissants ?” In this article, we’ll see what French kids and people really eat for breakfast in France everyday, and study the French vocabulary for “le petit-déjeuner”.

First, let’s start with the French breakfast Vocabulary:

1 – French Breakfast Vocabulary

  1. Du pain – bread
  2. Du pain de mie – sandwich bread
  3. Des biscottes (f) – dry type of bread
  4. Une tartine – bread with topping (like toasts, but not necessarily toasted)
  5. Un toast, un morceau de pain grillé – toast
  6. Une viennoiserie – fancy sweet bread specialities such as croissants
  7. La confiture – jam
  8. Le miel – honey
  9. le beurre – butter
  10. les céréales – cereals
  11. Le thé – tea (watch the French pronunciation “té”)
  12. le lait – milk
  13. le lait entier – whole milk
  14. le lait écrémé – reduced fat milk
  15. le café – coffee
  16. le café noir – black coffee (no milk)
  17. le café allongé – American style coffee
  18. le café crème – expresso with milk
  19. le café au lait – coffee latte
  20. le chocolat chaud – hot cocoa
  21. le jus – juice
  22. le sucre – sugar

Then, let’s talk about the French breakfast habits.

2 – The “Hot Cocoa” French Mistake

In French, we don’t say “cacao chaud” but “chocolat chaud”. It’s pronounced “shocola sho”.

Although we seldom use that word, “cocoa” is “cacao” in French. “Une noix de coco” is a coconut, so if you ask for “coco” in France, the French are going to think you want a coconut, and be quite confused!

french vocabulary breakfast traditions in france

Don’t mistake “chocolat” et “coco” !!

3 – How do You Say Breakfast in French?

Breakfast is called “le petit-déjeuner” in France. In some francophone countries such as French speaking Switzerland, it’s called “le déjeuner”, which is confusing since “le déjeuner” is lunch in France!

The verb we use to say to have breakfast is “prendre son petit-déjeuner”.

  • À quelle heure aimez-vous prendre votre petit-déjeuner”?
    At what time do you enjoy having breakfast?

But it’s common to use “petit-déjeuner” as a verb, in a more relaxed setting. It’s not in the dictionary, so it’s not correct French, but I say it all the time in Spoken French!

  • Tu petit-déjeunes à quelle heure ?
    At what time do you have breakfast?

4 – What Food is Served For Breakfast in France?

Typically, breakfast in France is a rather light meal. In most French home, you’d be offered some French bread product, with a choice of jams, honey and butter, and a hot beverage such as coffee or tea.

If there are kids around, there may be cereals. Some adults eat them as well but it’s kind of a newer trend.

We don’t typically eat eggs, cold-cuts nor drink juices or eat fruits or cheese for breakfast in France.

what french eat breakfast in Franc

5 – Coffee in France for Breakfast

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The French still use instant coffee such as Nescafé, although more and more people are enjoying espresso at home thanks to the the successful Nespresso machines and the likes.

Brewing a large pot of coffee is not common in French homes.

I talked about all the different kind of coffees, and how to order your prefered kind of coffee in France in the story of my French audiobook À Moi Paris Level 6. The vocabulary will stick with you longer when you learn it in context, and with audio!

6 – The Myth of The French Drinking a Large Bowl of Café au Lait

There is something called “la chicorée”, and it’s a very common breakfast drink in the North of France. But it’s not that common throughout France, especially among younger people.

Seriously, I don’t know where this image of the french drinking a very large bowl of coffee with milk for breakfast comes from.

I think this may date back to WW2 when coffee was scarce and people drank “chicorée” more… I’m not sure though! In any case, I have never seen a French person drink a large bowl of coffee with plenty of milk in it in my lifetime. I’m not saying that no French person does it ever… I mean these big bowl are kind of retro and fashionable… So I’m sure some people use a big bowl to drink coffee at home… but it’s not the norm!

Kids don’t drink coffee in France, nor should they. So this isn’t a typical French kid breakfast drink either!

7 – What do French Kids Have For Breakfast?

It’s not “croissants” everyday at home!!

Most French kids eat cereals or bread.

During school days, it’s unlikely there is going to be fresh baguette for breakfast at 7AM! Since the baguette doesn’t keep, if there is some left over from the previous day, then you may grill it and use it as a toast. There might be a longer lasting sort of bread at home, like “un pain rond” that keeps for a couple of days. A lot of French people in the countryside also make their own bread.

Most likely, the kids will eat American style sandwich bread, toasted, then add butter and jam and make “une tartine”.

If the house is out of bread, then the French always have “des biscottes” just in case!

A French kid would drink a cold glass of milk, or a cold or hot cocoa (remember “shocola sho”). Nesquik is very popular (although we only have the chocolate flavor one, not the strawberry kind!)

And of course cereals are a big hit with French kids. Pretty much the same cereals as in the US, with less choice, and usually a bit less sugar… Cheerios, Rice Crispies, Chocapic…

No peanut butter and jelly in France. It’s now possible to find peanut butter (du beurre de cacahuètes) in all the major supermarkets, but its more to cook Asian food than to use as PB&J.

what french eat breakfast in France

8 – What is Typical Breakfast Food for a French Adult?

At home, pretty much the same thing as a kid, with coffee of course.

Many French people in larger cities enjoy having their breakfast in “un café”. They may even indulge in “un café noir et un croissant” every day!

Many adults skip breakfast in France, or just drink coffee… Bad habit, I know, but it’s true.

9 – What is the French Word for Brunch?

Brunch used to be an unknown concept in France. It’s no longer the case. Actually, going out for brunch is quite trendy nowadays… I don’t know that French people would go as far as inviting people over for brunch though!

In any case, there is no French word for brunch. So we say “le brunch”.

  • On se fait un brunch samedi ?
    Shall we meet up for brunch on Saturday?

10 – When do You Eat Croissants in France?

As I said, it’s common for French people to have a croissant for breakfast in a coffee place. Adults walking to work may also by a croissant on the go at “la boulangerie”, which is also true for kids walking to school.

At home, croissants or more of a weekend / special occasion breakfast food.

All these French bread speciality don’t keep: they have to be bought fresh and eaten right away for them to be crispy, so if you want to eat a croissant, you first have to go out to the bakery and get it! Hence the fact that we don’t always eat croissants at home.

Croissant, pains au chocolat and the likes are also a common after school snack, which French kids eat when they get out of school.

But “le goûter” in France is yet another subject!

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