Guette au trou

“What are you looking at?” my husband asks.

“The neighbours across the street have a strange car in their driveway,” I say, stepping back from the curtain.

“Guette au trou!”

This conversation or variations on its theme has taken place hundreds of times in recent years. What can I say? I am not a voyeur but our house has a lot of windows. And there’s something about being at home and watching what goes on outside that I find endlessly fascinating.

This, according to the French, makes me a ‘guette au trou’. A spy, a snoop, or a nosey neighbour in common parlance.

For years I heard this expression and assumed that a ‘guette’ was a cute little mouse of some kind hiding in its hole. Ha! A quick google has put an end to that illusion.

The original ‘guette au trou’ is a phrase that was coined to describe the ‘sage femme’ or midwife. Crudely put, it describes the one who literally watches at the hole to see whether the baby is coming. It is derived from the verb ‘guetter’, meaning to watch in the patient way of a cat that is on the lookout for a mouse.

It is not to be confused with the related ‘guet-apens’, a trap or an ambush that is set to catch someone. In the news, people are said to have fallen into or ‘tomber dans un guet-apens’, often with criminal intent.

Interestingly, in both of these expressions ‘guette’ and ‘guet’ are pronounced just like the English word ‘get’. But, when you use it by itself, by saying that someone is on the lookout, ‘il fait le guet’, the pronunciation is more like gay.

All these years in France and I’m only now figuring out the origins of such expressions and how they are spelled or properly pronounced. Sometimes it feels like I’ve only just begun my journey. And on others I feel so rich with untapped knowledge of French that has only now bubbled to the surface of my brain. Language is truly a source of continual learning and inspiration.

Perhaps I’ve been distracted. So many comings and goings, windows to watch from, people scurrying about…

Are you — or do you have — a nosey neighbour?


  1. phildange · October 17, 2019

    … psss, sorry to correct you but “guette” is not the feminine of “guet” that has no feminine . “Guette” is only a conjugated form of the verb guetter. Il or Elle guette something or somebody .

    • MELewis · October 17, 2019

      Thanks, Phil, for the fact checking and correction! 🤓 I admit to be confused as to why some people spell it ‘guet au trou’ and others ‘guette au trou’…?

      • phildange · October 17, 2019

        People who write “Guet au trou” don’t master syntax, that’s all .

  2. Caffe · October 17, 2019

    I would be such neighbour but I don’t live in a house.
    Living in a flat we have less possibility to be „Guette au trou!” 😉

    • MELewis · October 17, 2019

      Ah, but living in a flat you probably have a lot more going on in the street below! 😂

      • Caffe · October 17, 2019

        But from the 7 floor you can’t see precisely;-)

      • MELewis · October 17, 2019


  3. Al in France · October 17, 2019

    From my windows it is virtually impossible to be nosey. To be a true “guette au trou” I have to go into the garden and even then it’s hard to see anything! Usually it’s a chance to see my neighbours and to exchange a few (kind) words!

    • MELewis · October 17, 2019

      Ha, ha…I think you either have it your genes or not. You sound like a much nicer neighbour than moi!

  4. pedmar10 · October 17, 2019

    But gladly you have been corrected on the verb. However, me my neighbors are stone face i think in 6 yrs in the neighborhood we have spoken twice. Hardly anyboby on the streets either but I live in the country different from living in towns/cities. Cheers

    • MELewis · October 17, 2019

      Right, and I’ve updated the post to reflect that correction now! In my experience, stone-faced neighbours are quite common in both the French countryside and in the cities and towns….sadly. 😔

      • pedmar10 · October 17, 2019

        That I agree!!!

  5. Joanne Sisco · October 17, 2019

    This is one of those interesting ones!! It doesn’t appear to ‘translate’ in Quebec-French since I got a completely blank look from my husband when I tried it on for size with him.

    I think we all have a bit of guette au trou in us 🙂

    • MELewis · October 17, 2019

      Interesting indeed…I’ve had very little experience speaking French in Canada but I get the feeling there is an ocean of difference. We’ll be visiting this December so I’ll get to fall into the gap and report back! 😂

      • Joanne Sisco · October 17, 2019

        Ooooh – that will be interesting! I expect to read about it 😉

  6. Ally Bean · October 17, 2019

    This is a fascinating glimpse into the origins of that phrase. While somewhat crude in its origin, I see how it evolved into its current meaning. I’m at home many days all day, and like you I don’t consider myself nosy but we have windows, I look outside, I see things…

    [I found you via Joanne, btw. “Hi!”]

    • MELewis · October 17, 2019

      Hey, Ally Bean, thanks for stopping by, and ‘salut’ right back! Glad you enjoyed the post. Hard to keep the eyes off those windows, eh? 😉

  7. Becky Ross Michael · October 17, 2019

    Such interesting background on this expression!

    • MELewis · October 17, 2019

      Glad you found it illuminating! 🙂

  8. Neil Lewis · October 17, 2019

    You are just embracing your inner Gladys Kravitz. Does that name leave anyone Bewitched in France?

    • MELewis · October 17, 2019

      Ha, ha…probably not. The show was called ‘”Ma sorcière bien aimé’ in France but I never watched it. And it took me a moment to remember good old Gladys Kravitz. But she was hilarious! Wasn’t her husband’s name George? 🧐

      • Liz Lewis · October 17, 2019

        Siblings….. I was also thinking about Gladys Kravitz!! Neil beat me to it. I often refer to GK when I catch Ken or Lucy staring at something! 😉

      • MELewis · October 17, 2019

        Hilarious! 😂

  9. Susanne · October 17, 2019

    I think I’m the curious neighbour not the snoopy one!

  10. Katherine Wikoff · October 17, 2019

    I love that there’s an actual word to describe the patient, watchful waiting of a cat for a mouse!

  11. acflory · October 18, 2019

    I live on a semi rural block so can’t sneak-peak very well. Not that I’d want to…-cough-
    Love the pic of that cat-in-a-hat. 🙂

    • MELewis · October 18, 2019

      It’s pretty dull around us, too. Time to move to a more exciting neighborhood! 😆

      • acflory · October 18, 2019

        -giggles- but the alpacas are such great conversationalists!

  12. Victoria Blake · October 18, 2019

    I live on a main street and also a corner and I’m a writer who is constantly looking out of the window. Also we have a neighbour who can never leave the house without forgetting something and also being in a rush. So I am constantly watching her digging in her bag for what seems hours and then going back in to get what she’s forgotten. She also does AirBnB and is definitely not a superhost because her customers seem to spend many a long hour on her doorstep frantically phoning into the void. She also has a habit of hiring tiny vans and then bringing out enormous amounts of furniture and endeavouring to get it all in. It’s like the Laurel and Hardy sketch when their car breaks into pieces. So I am definitely the cat in the hat! I will miss her if she ever moves.

    • MELewis · October 18, 2019

      Lol, let’s put it down to our inner writer, shall we? 😀 It all sounds most amusing and I’m sure I’d be glued to my window!

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