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Do French people really use the expression “Ooh La La”?

Hello, today, an old post from my Ask a Frenchman series that has some educational value for native English speakers, especially the North American kind.


Marie, from somewhere (I suspect the US considering the question) asked the following thing:

Do French people really use the expression “Ooh La La”? If so, what does it mean? Is it used more by women or does everyone say it? How do the French pronounce it? Do you use it?


This question reminds me of an interesting anecdote that happened during my first months in the US, a long long time ago.
One day, I announced something to a friend. I can’t remember what, some good news of some sort, and her response was “Ooh la la!” with a big smile on her face. Then, she looked at me, expecting some sort of reaction to her “ooh la la”.

At that very moment, my thoughts were split between:

  • “Why did she just say ooh la la?”
  • “Why that big grin on her face? Is she thinking this is cool or something?”
  • “Why is she expecting a reaction from me right now? I mean, she’s a friend, and that exchange was very weird, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to react.”

So, I didn’t react. I just pretended that I didn’t hear it and moved on with the conversation (we remained friends for a while despite that unfortunate non-conversation).

A little while after this episode, I finally understood what happened. She thought that French people said “Ooh la la” quite often, so she said it to impress me or something along the lines of “See, I know the expression, ain’t you proud of me?” My lack of reaction must have seriously disappointed her.


ooh la la
Quiz: Can you guess why I chose this picture to illustrate this article?


After this not-so-brief introduction, let’s try to answer Mary’s question(s):

No, French people don’t say “ooh la la.” I don’t think I have ever heard a French person say it.

What you may hear coming from a French person is “Oh la la !” (with an “Oh” and not an “Ooh”.) However, this expression implies very different things from what you may think, both in terms of meaning, context, and impressions it gives to the audience.

Oh la la !” is used as an expression of surprise or shock but it usually tends to be a negative surprise or shock.

You may hear it with a positive connotation on rare occasions, but this is far from the norm.

Another important point to keep in mind is that they’re nothing fashionable, trendy, cool, chic, or anything similar associated with the expression. Oh, and there is nothing remotely sexy or risqué to it. Not a single thing.

“Oh la la !” is more or less the French equivalent of “Oh my God !” or “Oh shit !” in a situation when you don’t want to curse. “Oh, putain !” is more appropriate otherwise.


Now you know.

So if you want to use “Ooh la la!” in an English-speaking context with other English speakers, be my guest, who am I to judge? Just no that if you use it with a French person, especially if you’re using it in a positive way, you’re running the risk of eliciting some major eye-rolling or confusion.

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