En bisbille

Bisbille en Terrasse by Catherine Haro

The precise origins of the French expression, être en bisbille avec quelqu’un, are mysterious. The word ‘bisbille’ apparently comes from the Italian ‘bisbiglio’ meaning to murmur or whisper. How the meaning evolved in French to mean a quarrel or difference with someone is unclear. And yet it speaks volumes: whispering behind someone’s back is exactly the kind of behaviour that starts such disputes.

What is clear to me is that this ability to pick a fight and turn petty differences into a life-long feud has strong Latin roots. I have observed such behaviour in particular in my Italian and Portuguese friends and in every set of French neighbours.

I’ve posted before about how the French are so good at ignoring those they dislike. They either literally can’t ‘see’ each other (On ne peut plus se voir) or they sulk when they do (Faire la gueule).

I love the above painting, ‘Bisbille en Terrasse’ by French artist Catherine Haro, as it perfectly captures the mood of disgruntled people on a café terrace who seem to be at odds with all of those around them.

As for me, I’ve gotten better at not picking fights and am successfully avoiding conflict with others at the moment.

Are you ‘en bisbille’ with anyone?


  1. midihideaways · May 7, 2019

    Some families have not been speaking to one another because of a disagreement the grandfathers might have had decades/centuries ago – I say that life’s far too short for that kind of stuff!! 🙂

    • MELewis · May 7, 2019

      Yes, some people have very long memories for those things. You have the right approach!

  2. Suzanne et Pierre · May 7, 2019

    Ah la “bisbille”…such a lovely word for such an ugly thing. The painting is indeed quite representative and quite beautiful. I guess I am like anyone else and have picked fights over time but Quebecers are knows to avoid fights at all cost. People from France think we are so boring because we don’t want to debate and always want to please everyone. We have absorbed the old way of our First Nations who had a culture of consensus. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t in “bisbille” regularly with our family, friends and neighbours…(Suzanne)

    • MELewis · May 8, 2019

      Isn’t it a nice word indeed? I love the sound and for years believed it was actually spelled ‘bizzbee’ as I’d see it in an ad somewhere. As for being non-conflictual, I did not know this about Quebecers. It will be easy for me to adapt when we visit as the Swiss are also this way! Interesting insight, thanks Suzanne!

    • Joanne Sisco · May 12, 2019

      omg – I laughed out loud when I read this. I should introduce you to my husband, and his family in Quebec City. Oh, do they LOVE to debate. I swear they will argue black is white just for the sake of a hearty ‘discussion’!! … and all of it at full volume. It makes me crazy! 🙄

      • MELewis · May 13, 2019

        Exactly like my family! You sound like one of our long-suffering spouses who suffer in silence through our dinner table disputes! My sympathies…😜

      • Joanne Sisco · May 13, 2019

        Oh god, you mean to say they’re normal?! All these years I’ve been trying to convince my husband he wasn’t! 😆

      • MELewis · May 13, 2019

        Keep arguing— you’ll soon be one of them! 😭

      • Joanne Sisco · May 13, 2019


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