A la queue leu leu

Par Halfcentury (Travail personnel) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Among the French expressions I love most is ‘à la queue leu leu’. It means to move in single file, one after another or ‘les uns derrières les autres’…

The poetry of those words! I alway imagined they had something to do with elephants, moving in their elegant yet clunky way from head to tail, but it seems the etymology of the expression goes back to wolves (‘leu’ being an old word for ‘loup’ or wolf).

‘Queue’, of course, means tail or something else which I will leave to your imagination.

‘A la queue leu leu’ is often used to describe things that come in a series, like bad news or the long lines of traffic that characterize French life during strike season.

However, it is most often associated with happy occasions and the song of the same name. You will hear it played in the salles des fêtes around France at the end of every festive event from New Year’s Eve to weddings. I’ve also seen it at school fêtes, when even the most staid and stuffy of the teaching staff gets a little silly and everyone ends up snaking around the room in a congo line.

There is something in the air this morning — Spring, I think — that makes me feel like dancing.

Go on, I dare you! Everyone, ‘à la queue leu leu!’

When was the last time you got up and danced?


  1. Alpenhorn · March 8, 2018

    I’m always learning a new French expression from you.This blog reminds me of the story my Dutch mother-in-law always tells about her then 6 year-old daughter learning English in Augusta, Georgia. Her favorite sentence was, “Liiiine ’em up” (Make sure you pronounce that drawl).

    • MELewis · March 8, 2018

      Lol! 😉 So glad to be a source of French expressions! (Which I hope to get mostly right!)

  2. phildange · March 8, 2018

    There is a hyphen : à la queue leu-leu . In the Middle Age wolves were a real danger as we can see in many children’s tales, and it was said that they liked to walk “in a congo line” as you say (first time I hear this expression) . So the idea was “behind one wolf’s tail there is another wolf following” .
    The expression is not only used for a serie of things, its main use is about living beings walking or waiting in line, each one behind the previous one . There is a synonym , “en file indienne”, probably because the French trappers exploring Canada noticed this local habit for walking . You see, no Congo here but North America instead .
    I have not danced for years now, but let’s say between 18 and 45 I was a dancing addict, even like a mad man in the first half . But this bloody song … burk ! It spoiled many evening parties for me, like an epitomizing of what I sadly despise and loathe in French mind .

    • MELewis · March 8, 2018

      As a card-carrying member of the hyphen police, I am appalled. Can you please cite your source? Even Larousse does not indicate a hyphen (believe it or not, I do check these things…). So glad to have incited your wrath, even if it is wrongly placed, as it always brings a rich stream of reflection and interesting anecdotes! My apologies for ‘congo line’ — now that FranceTaste has corrected it to conga line you will go forth with at least one small learning from this (not always) humble blog! 😀

      • phildange · March 8, 2018

        I duly apologize my fair lady, even le Littré, the archbishop of French dictionaries, don’t use a hyphen either . Seeing a mistake so often makes people believe it’s true, and I’m not better (Crying !) . On the other hand, I launch a public subscription for a sofware that would blow up a bomb each time this gross moron song starts being played .

  3. francetaste · March 8, 2018

    And here I thought leu-leu was like la-la, as in tra-la-la and o-la-la.
    It isn’t a congo line but a conga line. Comes from Cuba, but has African origins. One theory is that the dance copies the single-file shuffle of shackled slaves. Another is that it’s a corruption of a Bantu word. Lucille Ball’s husband, the Cuban musician Desi Arnez, popularized the conga line as a dance in the 1930s; his band used conga drums.
    Personally, Argentine tango is my dance of choice.

    • phildange · March 8, 2018

      Thanks for the conga . Yes tango is the best, high class sensuality . Never tried but love watching . I danced Brazilian style dances from my life in Brazil, and salsa from the Carribeans . But my origins are rock, Teddy Boys and Hell’s Angels jive to start, soon followed by everything possible on any rock music . BTW, a super high class dance, like Argentinian tango, is flamenco .Very spectacular, here in the south west we have many opportunities .

      • francetaste · March 8, 2018

        You must not be far from me. Flamenco is a big deal in Carcassonne.

      • phildange · March 8, 2018

        I am in the wild west, in the huge forêt des Landes, far from these Mediterranean cozy centers for retired Anglophones . (But I loved wandering in your département, mainly around the Cathar fortresses, times when the area was still wild too ) .

      • coteetcampagne · March 8, 2018

        Actually I try to avoid the “cozy Mediterranean centre” (please use English spelling Mr P) for retired expats of any kind. Our village is pretty real, thank goodness.
        I might go out now and conga down our street, just to entertain the old ladies.

        Last time I danced in public Mel ? https://coteetcampagne.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/episode-88-in-which-i-go-a-bit-gaga-and-entertain-the-natives/

      • phildange · March 8, 2018


    • MELewis · March 8, 2018

      And there was me, all proud of myself for remembering the correct term in English! Thanks for correcting me, and together perhaps we shall be up to the challenge of enlightening Phil. 😉 BTW, I loved Desi Arnez, along with his better-half, who was my comedy hero as a kid.

  4. Garfield Hug · March 8, 2018

    I call it the “Congo Line” and I did this at our annual dinner held on in Feb recently. It was fun, silly fun! Now I learnt the French words for it, thank you!

    • MELewis · March 8, 2018

      Funny and silly should be a new international language that we can all dance together! 😀

  5. Osyth · March 8, 2018

    My first home in France had the Salle de fête in the garden (I lived in the old school building for clarity) – how many times did I watch that queue leu-leu snaking round the garden (and find the casualties sleeping it off the following morning!). Last time I danced …. this morning – my husband arrived yesterday, the sun is shining and any music is enough excuse to dance when we are together ….

    • MELewis · March 8, 2018

      Oh, how many past lives have you led, dear Osyth? I am intrigued as ever and laughing as I imagine you observing the hungover queue-leu-leu dancers the morning after! So glad you and HB2 are enjoying an early spring reunion. Reason to dance indeed! 🙂

      • Osyth · March 9, 2018

        Far too many. But that is the place I let go of in September so very recently past!

  6. dunnasead.co · March 8, 2018

    Over here in Germany, it’s called the Polonaise Blankenese, Blankenese being a very expensive and hoity toity government officials’ villa area. You can probably imagine he Polonaise part on your own. As for French music, we once spent a vacation in St Jean de Luz, where the hotel woke us each morning (about five thirty) and called us to cocktails about the same time in the afternoon, with the song (pardon my miserable French) Le chevalier qui retourne de la Guerre (or something similar.) It was about the same as being called to do exercises at school, with the entire hotel guests yelling un deux trois. At least St Jean was spectacular.

    • phildange · March 8, 2018

      Wasn’t the song “Malbrough s’en va-t-en guerre, mironton mironton mirontaine”? Funny, it’s a XVIIIth century song about the first duke of Marlborough on the melody of “For he’s a jolly good fellow” ..

    • MELewis · March 12, 2018

      Good grief! As much as I like the cutting loose of silly songs, that 5:30 a.m. wakeup call would not have worked for me. Sounds more like a Club Med-style than what most French hotels would do. Glad you enjoyed St. Jean de Luz despite the enforced sing-song!

      • dunnasead.co · March 13, 2018

        It was a club, not as posh as the med, which we didn’t know when our travel agent booked us. When we asked about the “activities”, unusual where we usually stay ie b and b, or lodge, she just said “the location is fabulous. Just ignore it all and go to the beach. It’s not really intrusive. And to top it off, it was the weekend of the fete de la biere. Saith the raven, nevermore.

  7. poshbirdy · March 8, 2018

    I love this post, though I’m afraid I sit firmly down whenever they play that rot. I was, however, dancing 4 weeks ago at a gig at the O2, and the only thing that impaired my enjoyment of the show was an incorrectly-placed apostrophe on one of the stage visuals (I’m also a card carrier, you see) which stopped me temporarily in my tracks, before I was able to recover myself and to continue enjoying the music

    • MELewis · March 9, 2018

      Ah, a fellow punctuation fiend! Have you read ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ by Lynne Truss? A truly enjoyable read after which I felt less alone. Glad you were still able to dance. 😀

      • Kiki · March 19, 2018

        Here’s another one…. (with very bad English punctuation…. and ditto French)

  8. The Pink Agendist · March 8, 2018

    I thought this was going to be a rude post! How disappointing 😀

    • MELewis · March 8, 2018

      Well I wasn’t going to get into THAT definition. 😉

  9. J.D. Riso · March 8, 2018

    Your reference to the “other” meaning of queue made me laugh out loud. I know what it is. 😉

    • MELewis · March 9, 2018

      Happy it made you smile. I only learned it fairly recently. (To my considerable shame…)

  10. The Laughing Housewife · March 9, 2018

    I often have music on in the kitchen and dance while I’m cooking. That’s what makes it bearable 🙂

    • MELewis · March 12, 2018

      Great way to make the grunt work fun! Rock on!

  11. acflory · March 10, 2018

    -grin- that is one catchy song!

    • MELewis · March 12, 2018

      Isn’t it just? Love it or hate it, you have to admit it’s hard to ignore!

  12. Bea dM · March 10, 2018

    Thanks for reminding me of a great expression : I shall use it, as French is in demand again, and I’m training a number of corporate students. I didn’t know it was used for congo lines 🙂

    • MELewis · March 12, 2018

      Ha, ha….and I stand corrected thanks to FranceTaste: it’s conga line! Glad to hear that French is in demand. 😀

  13. Lisa @ cheergerm · March 11, 2018

    Love this Mel! I danced ‘Italian queue style’ last Saturday night at a friends 40th Birthday with her extended Italian family and friends. It was tops. Keep dancing.

    • MELewis · March 12, 2018

      Nice to see you out and about, Lisa — and partying to boot! Italian festivities are the best. Had the good fortune to attend a former colleague and friend’s wedding in Puglia last year. The dancing just felt so joyful and the most natural thing to do, other than eat! 😉 Have not heard of ‘Italian queue style’ though…must google it.

  14. Kiki · March 19, 2018

    Mel, that’s quite funny – I know the expression only from my husband. He uses it often for things achingly banal, or boring…. but never ever in all of 10 years in France did we do a Queue leu leu, and we did attend not only stiff occasions! 🙂 We did a lot of crazy dancing at African weddings. Maybe that was one of the occasions for a Queue leu leu! 🙂
    You’re such a fount of French wisdom!!! Cheers, je te souhaite une bonne semaine, malgré le temps bizarre.

    • MELewis · March 22, 2018

      Ha, ha…I think it’s not so much wisdom as being long in the tooth as we say. And raising two kids in this country exposes you to many different social occasions! No African weddings yet though!!!

  15. Dale · March 21, 2018

    And here I thought À lal queue leu leu was a québécois thing.
    Alors là! Not a wedding can be found where a queue leu leu forms… 🙂

    • MELewis · March 22, 2018

      It’s funny, I have so little knowledge of what goes on in Québec as all of my francophone experience has been in France. It’s a bit embarrassing sometimes when I go back to Canada and put my foot in it. 🙂 So glad to have your insights and also to know the queue leu leu has made it across the Atlantic!

      • Dale · March 22, 2018

        Bien sûr! There are huge differences between French from France and French from Québec. Did you ever see the videos with Solange Te Parle… she has one on teaching the French how to speak québécois. Atually… here it is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYm83H5TOMM

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