Se faire la malle

You know that feeling you get when you’re preparing to leave a place? It’s rather strange and unsettling. Everything seems so impermanent and when it’s time do the things you would normally do, you wonder, why bother? Yet it can be sort of liberating. You can stop caring about certain things because, well, tomorrow you’ll be somewhere else.

Just this week I learned a new expression in French that perfectly describes (at least to me) the feeling I have at the moment: ‘On va se faire la malle.’

Meaning: we’re packing our bags. Taking off. Literally, doing ourselves a trunk. Or a bunk. I got the full sense of it here on my favourite website for contextual translations of French expressions in English.

It made sense. I knew that ‘une malle’ is a trunk. Remember those? My grandparents had one in their basement. Something you packed on a steamer when you travelled overseas. It seems the origin of the French locution can be traced to 1935 and is associated with prisoners planning their escape from jail.

It always amazes me when I come across an expression I’ve never heard before. After so many years in France, you’d think I’d have heard them all. But no. The French language is rich with such turns of phrase and there are many yet to learn.

‘Se faire la malle’ is my mindset at the moment. Not just because we’re gearing up for a major move in just over a month’s time, but because we’re going on a holiday. Just for a week, and nowhere too far away. In fact, because it’s nearby and the risk of infection is fairly low, we’re going on holiday in Switzerland.

How original, right? The same country we’re moving to. Although we may be forgiven, I think, given how lovely it is and how much there is to do and see. There will be time for travel in other years. For now, we’re heading to the Bernese Alps near Interlaken, and a little town called Lauterbrunnen.  

Many, many years ago, shortly after graduating, I took my maiden trip to Europe. I was a young woman on my own, and nervous about travelling in foreign lands. So I signed up for a Contiki tour out of London. We were a group of mostly single tourists from North America, the UK  and Australia. For several weeks we went through France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Switzerland. We stayed overnight at a campsite near a town that I remember thinking had to be the most beautiful place on earth: Lauterbrunnen. I only hope it lives up to the memory.

And while I am planning my own escape from France, I think it will not be long before I am dreaming of returning to it. There is nothing more attractive than something that is both familiar and unknown, something loved yet just out of reach. I’m fairly certain that as soon as I’m living in Switzerland, holidays in France will have a new appeal. And I’ll be attentive to keeping up my language and continually exploring new linguistic turf en français.

What’s your favourite French expression?

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash


  1. M. L. Kappa · July 16, 2020

    I always laugh when the young people around here use No Souci as a combination of Pas de souci and No Problem! And souci is pronounced with an english ‘I’ – sousai!
    And I’d like to make my Malle, too. I haven’t been back to Greece for eight months, but I think at the moment air travel is a bit of a lottery. We’ve been safe in Normandy all these months, and were living a quasi normal life. Why risk it. So, for the moment, staying put. I miss everyone. Sigh…

    • MELewis · July 16, 2020

      I, too, long for Greece at the moment, and I’m not even from there! I can sympathize with your reluctance to leave your peaceful Normande campagne. As you say, why risk it? Things will fall into place with time, even if we will probably not return to travel with quite the same abandon. As for the expressions, it drives me bonkers when I hear those twisted franglais pronunciations! 🤯

  2. margaret21 · July 16, 2020

    Oooh, I didn’t know that one either. I like it! My favourite is ‘ça ne casse pas trois pattes à un canard’, which has quite a different vibe from ‘It’s not worth writing home about’. Enjoy your bittersweet last month. Although you’ll be too busy living among half-packed boxes and detritus to enjoy it I guess. Good luck!

    • MELewis · July 16, 2020

      Well you beat me with that expression! What a strange formulation, and another one that I’ve never heard. It does feel sort of bittersweet at the moment, in between bouts of dread about packing and various other moving anxiety. It’s a good thing we’re going away as it will force me to think about something else for a week. Thanks for your wishes!

      • margaret21 · July 16, 2020

        I’ll look forward to further adventures soon (in a reformulated blog?)

      • MELewis · July 16, 2020

        Ha, guess I’ll have to update a few things to reflect my new reality. Thanks for reminding me…another to-do!

  3. pedmar10 · July 16, 2020

    Malle in our days is the equivalent of valise! oh yes the French is interesting right? And we are not counting the local dialect that can make it even more rich. the expression was also to say to escape. and the the 17C it could means you were dying like packing to leave our world or even to leave someone,abandon. As any language the expressions change over time. And I know other languages that are even more rich and all group under Spanish lol!

    • MELewis · July 16, 2020

      Yes, you’re right — the French language is rich and I never tire of its nuances. I know not a word of Spanish but will take your word for it. I don’t know how you manage to keep them all separate in your mind!

      • pedmar10 · July 16, 2020

        hahaha is not easy we get rare reviews at restaurants when the family start mixing 3 languages lol!

  4. Dale · July 16, 2020

    I’d never heard that expression, either. I would love to faire la Malle to anywhere right now! Ain’t gonna be happening anytime soon.
    Too many expressions going ng round my head now to pick one!

    • MELewis · July 16, 2020

      I imagine there are many interesting expressions from French Canada that I’ve never heard of. As for travel, well. Weren’t you supposed to have been on our side of the pond before the whole lockdown happened? I do hope things get back to some semblance of normalcy at least by mid next year or we will all go cabin crazy!

      • Dale · July 16, 2020

        Oh for sure!
        I am supposed to be there next April… I dunno now… The not working for over three months put a dent in my finances. I have until October to decide if I request my deposit be returned or if I go for it anyway…
        And yeah. I was also supposed to go see my special guy in April, then June, then July, now they say not till August – which I know will be pushed to September… maudite merde…

      • MELewis · July 16, 2020


      • Dale · July 16, 2020

        Yeah… that’s about all we can do!

  5. Joanne Sisco · July 16, 2020

    As usual, I’ve learned something new. Once upon a time I entertained delusions that I would one day actually learn to speak French well, but now reality has set in. It’s not going to happen in this lifetime 🙂 Instead I enjoy your forays into the peculiarities of this wonderful language.

    • MELewis · July 16, 2020

      It may still happen, Joanne. All it takes is having no choice but to communicate in French and it just comes by itself. You could always travel to France and accidentally get stranded somewhere in the countryside: I guarantee you would be fluent within a few months! Happy to be a source of inspiration for vicarious Frenchness!

  6. Al in France · July 17, 2020

    I love Lauterbrunnen…in fact all of that particular area is a delight both visually and for walking. Enjoy your hols 🙂

    • MELewis · July 22, 2020

      Thanks, we sure are! A bit steep in places, though…😉

  7. acflory · July 21, 2020

    Wow, it all seems to have happened so quickly! I know that’s not true but it feels like it. Have a great holiday and don’t stress too much about the move. 🙂

    • MELewis · July 22, 2020

      Thanks, Meeks, I am doing just that. It seemed to take forever to get things rolling and now they’ve (more or less, touch wood) fallen into place. 🤞

      • acflory · July 23, 2020

        Last time I moved was over 15 years ago and the mere thought of doing all that again makes me weak at the knees! I’m so glad it’s gone smoothly for you, though I imagine you’ve had to work like crazy to get to that point. Grats and Happy Moving Day? 😀

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