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Stressed? French/English idioms when you're "at the edge"!


The above idiom in French is one of my favorites! It is both witty and wise. It gives me a different way to think about the ever growing need for us to manage our reactions to what happens to us in our increasingly busy lives. French business people have to deal with the same amount of stress as anyone else, yet they may be less reluctant than others to express it openly. (This is my very indirect way of saying that the French have a reputation for....uhm..... griping (râler) a lot!)


While English speakers may speak of "blowing off steam" (décompresser), in French there is often mention of an edge or a limit. Take the very common expression, "j'en ai ras le bol!" (I've had it up to here!) I imagine a bowl of water (le bol) filled to the rim....with the person's anger or frustration at a tipping point. The deluge is just one drop away!


Thierry showing up half an hour late to the meeting that he himself called for?!!

that was..."the straw that broke the camel's back!" In French that comes out as "la goutte d'eau qui fait déborder le vase". (The drop of water which caused the water in the vase to spill over.) Similarly, in English we might say, "I'm at the end of my rope!"

As a coach (and linguist) I find these expressions worth exploring. When working with executives who deal with stress on a daily basis....I ask them to consider how much of it is perceived stress. When do we drown in our own drinking glasses? Clearly the solution does not involve finding a larger glass or a longer rope, but nevertheless how many times do we say to ourselves,

"If only I had another 24 hours in the day, I could get this file out of the way."

As Oliver Burkeman, in his amusing video on "Busy-ness" points out, "the bitter reward for answering all of one's emails...is only more emails!"


Now, we would all like to believe that buying an expensive daily planner or trying a few time management techniques will help us solve this feeling of being "debordé" /overwhelmed...but deep down we know it that it isn't that simple. As a coach, I have no objection to using “tools”, but I also realize that generating a lasting change in one's daily requires a fair amount of self-awareness and is a process which occurs over time. Having a healthy morning routine is important. Mindfulness meditation is a habit which I practice myself and encourage my clients to consider. Neuroscience is also providing new insight as to how the brain functions (how we learn) and making valuable contributions to the field of coaching.