European Nationality-Related Idioms

“In our modern time, it is necessary to have the European spirit”

Madame de Staël

Yes, we all know: “every road goes to Rome” and “it was not built in a day”. These proverbs can be heard all throughout Europe… But Europeans also have specific sayings and idioms related to other European nationalities and they are extremely funny. If French people propose you “to go make yourself see at the home of the Greeks, they are not inviting you for a nice trip to Greece…  When Spaniards “pretend to be Swedish“, they just pretend to be ignorant… When Romanians “steal the German’s pipe“, they are just getting drunk… Dutch people are panicking heavily when they “get Spanish tension” and Slovenians “go to Rome” when they give birth! The following list of European nationality-related idioms is a first attempt to compile and gather together all those traditional and often entertaining sayings. Do not hesitate to share yours in each individual pages… 


À grande e à francesa” 

Portuguese may not live extravagantly or “at big and at French” (“À grande e à francesa“) but they try to please everyone, even two opposing parties, or in other words to “please Greeks and Trojans” (“Agradar a gregos e troianos“). They sometimes “look Greek” (“ver-se grego“) when they can’t accomplish a task or stuggle with something – partly because they do not have “a galegos’ strength” (“Força de um galego“). They are particularly rich when they “speak well French” (“falar bem francês“) as long as they do not fancy things “for english to see” (“para inglês ver“) which means made only for appearances. They get confused when they “loose their latin” (“perder o latin“) and may sometimes “speak French as a Spanish cow” (“falar francês como uma vaca espanhola“). When something works properly, Portuguese say that it is as “right as a swiss clock” (“Certo que nem um relógio suiço“), but they are sure of something: “neither good wind nor good marriage come from Spain” (“De Espanha nem bom vento nem bom casement“) (read more)


Spain - Hacerse el suecoHacerse el sueco”

In Spain, do not “pretend to be a Swede” (“Hacerse el sueco“) because it means that you pretend not to understand or know anything about something. And you know how bad it is, to be Swedish! On the opposite, it would be most appreciated if you could “put a pike in Flanders” (“poner una pica en flandes“) as it means that you have achieved significant successes. Hopefully you would then be able to celebrate your success “drinking like a German” (“beber como un tudesco“) while making sure that your friends are not “jealous as a Turk” (“celoso como un turco“). Once your party is over, just try to “leave the French way” without saying goodbye (“despedirse a la francesa“). It is the height of politness! (read more)

France – Belgium – Luxemburg – Switzerland

Aller se faire voir chez les 

How rude! If French people propose you “to go make yourself see at the home of the Greeks (“aller se faire voir chez les Grecs“), they are not inviting you for a nice trip to Greece. They just want you to fuck off… Ask yourself then maybe if you are not their “turkish head” (“tête de Turc“) or in other words, their scapegoat. Is it because you’ve been “drunk as a Pole” yesterday (“saoul comme un Polonais“)? Or because you have the “spanish illness” (“le mal espagnol“)? No one knows… But, if you are lucky to be “beautiful as a Greek” (“beau comme un Grec“), French people may eventually offer you some fun with an “English condom” (“capote anglaise“). They may even propose you to share impossible dreams or desires or in other words to “build castles in Spain” (“construire des chateaux en Espagne). In that case, your dreams with your French lover may be postponed “until the Greek Calends” (“renvoyer aux calendes grecques“) long after your lover would have “left English style” (“filer à l’anglaise“). You would then be alone, experiencing the famous hot and cold “Scottish shower” (“prendre une douche écossaise“). But just feel lucky : “Here’s something the Germans won’t get!” (C’est toujours ça que les allemands n’auront pas!“) (read more)

United-Kingdom – Ireland

Go Dutch

Don’t know what the Netherlands did to the United-Kingdom, but English people don’t spare them in their expressions… Someone speaks nonsense? He just speaks “double Dutch“… Someone gives unwelcome advice? He is just a “Dutch Uncle“… Someone wants to share the bill at the restaurant? He just wants to “go Dutch“… Someone lacks confidence and needs an alcoholic drink to take away the nerves? He just have “Dutch courage“… A “Dutch Feast is known for the  host getting drunk before the guests… Spaniards are not particularly spared neither. Unauthorized working methods that benefit those who follow them are “Spanish practices“. If someone is being “walked Spanish“, she/he is physically forced to leave a place. And what about France? A “French letter” is simply a condom… A “French shower” is to spray oneself with deodorant instead of washing… One apologies in English for swearing with the simple “Pardon my French“. And one “takes French leave” when she/he leaves a party without saying “Goodbye”. Last, English people recommand you to “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” as an allusion to the story of the wooden horse of Troy… If you don’t understand why, it’s maybe because “it’s all Greek to you“… (read more)



Ta en spansk en

Nordics have really weird relationships… Look at Norway: their closest neighbor -Sweden- is obviously the center of all the attention. Norwegians particularly make fun of the “Party Swedes” (“Party svensker“), those Swedish young people who come to work in bars and restaurants in Norway, working hard and partying a lot. Norwegians invented for them “the swedish button” (“svenskeknappen“) a reset switch or “on/off” button, so simple that even proverbially stupid Swedes can use it. They should understand it easily. But if not, they may say in Norwegian that “it’s all Greek to them” (“Det er helt gresk for meg“). In that case, Norwegians may ask to “do the Spanish thing” (Ta en spansk en“), that is to say to do something improvised and not necessarily legal, strictly speaking, but “eeh, who cares, it’s the simple solution!” It would work, as long as they don’t get “angry like a Turk” (“Sint som en tyrk“)…  (read more)


Dansk skalle

Don’t tickle Swedes, or you’ll experience the “Danish skull” (“Dansk skalle“). A ‘headbutt’ if you prefer… It is for sure not particularly pleasant, especially during really cold “Russian winters” (“Ryssvinter“). I suggest you better “take a Turkish shower” with Swedes (“att ta en Turkdusch“), even if it is a bit disgusting : it means to shower in deodorant instead of taking an actual shower after working out. Or even better: try to hit on a nice-looking Swede and “take a French lunch” (“Ta en fransk lunch“). Don’t expect however nice appetizers or delicious meals, “French lunch” means here having sex during your lunch break… Do you follow Swedes or are they “talking sheer Greek” (“Han pratar rena rama grekiskan“)? If not, they’ll better “take the French leave” (“Göra en fransk exit“) (read more)


Puhua siansaksaa

Most of Finnish nationality-related idioms are making fun of the others’ languages! Finns have the weirdest language in Europe but they are the ones joking the most at the others. It’s the pot calling the kettle black! Finns say for instance they “speak pig’s German” (“puhua siansaksaa“) when somebody is speaking something completly weird or in not understandable language! How rude! They say they “speak Norwegian” (“Puhua norjaa“) when they… puke! They “curse like a Turk” (“Kiroilee kuin Turkkilainen“) when someone is a real badmouth! They are “russian” (“Ryssiä“) when they totally fuck up! And it’s not over… Finns are “looking at in all swedish way” (“Katsoa khan ruotsiksi“) when they look at someone cross-eyed! They are “hungry like a wolf in Estonia” (“Nälkä kuin Viron sudella“) when they are really hungry… How kind! (read more)


At leve på polsk”

Welcome in Denmark! In this beautiful country, you will be strongly requested neither to be “drunk as a Swede” (“Fuld som en svensker“) nor to be “as drunk as a Greenlander” (“Så stiv som en Grøndlænder“). Both of them have to reputation to be heavy drinkers… In Denmark, you will have the opportunity “to live in Polish” (“At leve på polsk“) that is to say to live in a cohabitation without being married. Your marital status will not matter to Danes, they will be indifferent, or in other words they will be “greek-catholic” to your situation (“græsk-katolsk“). Shopping in Denmark can bring you home a nice loaf of white bread called “french bread” (“Franskbrød“) or a useful wrench called “swedish key” (“Svensknøgle“). During your stay in Denmark, please avoid having the “Turkish faith” (“Tyrkertro“): Danes don’t appreciate people believing in something too strongly and stubbornly… (read more)

Netherlands – Belgium

Geen geld, geen Zwitsers”

Dutch people have the reputation to be stingy. Don’t they say “No money, no Swiss” (“Geen geld, geen Zwitsers“) for “no goods without payment”? In the Netherlands, one would indeed panic heavily at the idea of having no money, or in other words, one would “get Spanish tension” (“Het Spaans benauwd krijgen“). Dutch people also have mixed feelings about France. They certainly think that one could live in France a pleasant and carefree life or “living like God in France” (“Leven als God in Frankrijk“) but on the opposite, they avoid “doing something with the French stroke” (“Iets met de Franse slag doen“) when something could be done in a careless, imprecise, shoddy way. What’s more, when “there is not a word of French in there” (“Daar is geen woord Frans bin“), Dutch people mean that something has been stated in a clear, concise, unambiguous manner. French people will appreciate… The same reproach goes to the Poles where “a Polish Parliament” (“Een Poolse landdag“) designates a pretty disorderly mess and the Spaniards when “something happen in a Spanish way” (“Er Spaans aan toe gaan“) means a loud and disorderly situation… (read more)

Germany – Luxemburg

Hinter schwedischen Gardinen

‘Hey Buddy!’ or shall I say in German “Hey, Old Swede” (“Na, Alter Schwede“) you wanna come to Germany? You are more than welcome, just expect there to “live as God in France” (“Wie Gott in Frankreich“). At the beginning, you might not understand a word of German and be totally lost – and you may say then that “these are just bohemian villages to you” (“Das sind böhmisches Dörfer für mich“) but you will slowly get used to it. You might not believe it, or in other words it will “seam Spanish to you” (“Das kommt mir Spanisch for“), but German people are really gentle. As long as you don’t “turk something” (“etwas türken“), that is to say falsify or counterfeit something. If so, you might go to jail, or in other words, be put “behind swedish curtains” (“hinter schwedischen Gardinen“). You would then feel in serious troubles and cry out “then Holland is now in need” (“Dann ist Holland jetzt in Not“). What a disaster! Germans will maybe approve and say that “now Poland is open” (“Dann ist Polen offen“) and you might not be able anymore to leave without saying Goodbye, or put another way, “make a Polish exit” (“einen polnischen Abgang machen“) (read more)


Moch mi net krawutisch

Austrians do speak German. So they share most of the German nationality-related idioms. But they also have some other own idioms that are quite funny. When an Austrian is very angry and furious, she/he might say “don’t make me croatian” (“moch mi net krawutisch“). So, you are warned! What’s more, whenever Austrians want to emphasize that something’s not alright, like corruption or violence and that they all should know better, they just cry out “We’re not on the Balkan!” (“Wir sind ja nicht am Balkan!“) (read more)


Fare il portoghese

Public transportation in Italy is what it is… As you probably know, trains and buses are not always “punctual like a swiss watch” (“puntuali come un orologio svizzero“). But this is not a reason not to pay. So please refrain from free-riding while traveling, or in other word do not “do the Portuguese” (“fare il portoghese“). If you get catch, you may have to pay a fine, as “there is always a judge in Berlin” (“C’è un giudice a Berlino“) which means that eventually justice is always found. Those Germans! They are always told to be conscientious. Don’t we say indeed in Italian that “she/he is German” (“E’ tedesca!“) is a synonymous for “she/he is meticulous”? Turks do not share the same reputation: if you smoke a lot in Italy, you may hear that you “smoke like Turks” (“fumare come turchi“) (read more)

Czech Republic – Slovakia

Kde domov můj?

Once in a Hungarion year” (“Jednou za uherský rok“) that is to say, not really often, Czechs or Slovaks “drink like a Dane” (“Pít jako Dán“). Winter is over, they have then the impression of “living like God in France” (“Má se jako pánbůh ve Frankreichu“). Because, we have to admit, in winter, Czechs and Slovaks feel like “its cold like in a Russian tank” (“Je tu zima jak v ruským tank“). They don’t understand why, or better said, they think “it’s a Spanish village to them” (“Je to pro mne španĕlská vesnice“), but a poor and miserable economy is called by them a “Turkish economy” (“Turecké hospodaření“). And speaking about Turks, Czechs and Slovaks don’t say that one “out-Herod Herod” or is “more Catholic than the Pope”, but they simply state that “wannabe-Turk is worse than being Turk” (“Poturčenec horší Turka“). Czechs and Slovaks always say “goodbye” at the end of a party, but when they don’t, they “leave English style” (“zmizet po anglicku“) (read more)


Czeski film

Poles have a very long list of nationality-related idioms, starting with the Czechs. Whenever Poles have no idea of what the situation is about, whenever it makes no sense, Poles just say they are in a “Czech movie” (“Czeski film“)! A typo in a text or a spelling mistake is for them a “Czech mistake” (“czeski błąd“)! Why not? German and Swiss people have the reputation of being precise and accurate: Poles say in their respect “German precision” (“niemiecka precyzja“) and “to work as in a Swiss watch” (“chodzić jak w szwajcarskim zegarku“). Because they are told to be energetic and passionate, Spaniards gave Poles the expression of “spanish temperament” (“hiszpański temperament“) whenever someone is sexy and randy. English people are supposed to be phlegmatic, Poles say then “English phlegm” (“Angielska flegma“). And French people, with their reputation of being delicate, inspired the expression “French puppy” (“francuski piesek“) whenever someone is trendy, but at the same time very picky and easily offended. An “italian strike” (“strajk włoski“)  in Poland is whenever someone do her/his job, but extremely slow… Being “naked as a Turkish Saint” (“goły jak święty turecki“) means to be left without money! Last, Poles “pretend to be Greek” (“udawać Greka“) when they pretend not to know about something… or play dumb… (read more)


Läbi nagu Läti raha

In Estonia, everything is “all right and in order, like in Norway” (“Korras nagu Norras“). Estonian particularly enjoy the famous “German precision” (“Saksa täpsus“) where everything is done with great effort and craft. And whenever they are tired of their efforts, they say they are as “tired as Latvian money” (“Läbi nagu Läti raha“). Now funnily enough, the introduction of the euro will maybe change the use of this expression… On another note, whenever something is really sharp, some Estonians will say that it is as “sharp as a finnish knife” (“Terav nagu some puss“). Whenever someone is being sent to jail in Estonian, one will say she/he is sent “behind swedish curtains” (“Rootsi kardinate taga“). Last but not least, whenever something is written “like a Greek ‘e’” (“(Nagu) Kreeka ‘e’“) it means that one is confronted to a really bad handwriting. (read more)


Help needed 

Well, I didn’t find any Latvian sayings on another European nationality. If you are Latvian or speak Latvian, I would be very grateful if you could send me some examples to complete this list ! Please contact me here


Ramus kaip belgas

Lithuania: a land of many contrasts! On one hand, the “German tidiness” (“Vokiška tvarka“) means that everything is extremely tidy and sorted to the last detail. On the other hand, the “Russian tidiness” (“Rusiška tvarka“) is for Lithuanians when everything is a complete mess… On one hand, the “German punctuality” (“Vokiškas punktualumas“) is to be precisely on time. On the other hand, the “French punctuality” (“Prancūziškas punktualumaks“) is to be always late… Lithuanians have also been well-inspired by their neighbors: one can be “slow as an Estonian” (“Lėtas kaip estas“), one can “drink like a Russian” (“Geria kaip ruses“), one can have the “Polish honor” (“Lenkiškas honors“) and it can be in Lithuania as “cold as in Finland” (“Šalta kaip Suomijoj“). But maybe the most interesting Lithuanian idiom is the one claiming that one can be “calm as a Belgian” (“Ramus kaip belgas“). It is said to originate from the horse breeds from Ardennes mountains which were used to plow the fields while being very slow… (read more)


Испанский стыд

In Belarus, one feel the “Spanish shame” (“Испанский стыд”) whenever she/he experiences the very uncomfortable sympathetic feeling of watching someone else embarrassing her/himself. This feeling is often intensified when the person embarrassing her/himself is not aware of how embarrassing her/his behavior is. In this case it is more like one is feeling the embarrassment on her/her behalf. A famous proverb synonymous of being in deep trouble is to be “in trouble, like the Swede at Poltava” (“пропал, как швед по Полтавой”). French people may know this situation, as another proverb also says “to have flown over Paris like a sheet of plywood” (“пролететь, как фанера над Парижем”). Last, in Belarus as in other country, it is considered as “leaving English-style” (“уйти по-английски”) to exit without saying “Goodbye”… (read more)


шведська сім’я

Ukrainians have a funny way to name what the others call a ‘ménage à trois‘. In Ukraine, it is simply called a “Swedish family” (“шведська сім’я”). It’s just a family with two husbands and one wife or two wives and one husband, living in one home… Ukrainians also call a buffet a “Swedish table” (“шведський стіл”). When they want to express that one is not the person she/she pretends to be, Ukrainians say that “She/He is as X as I’m Spanish pilot” (“він такий X, як я іспанський льотчик”). They also go on “Italian strike” (“проводити італійський страйк”) when employees do no more than the minimum required by the rules of their contract. Last, in Ukrainian, a “Muscovite” (“москаль”) sometimes refers to a bad person, often (but not always) a person that expresses the traits typically associated with the stereotypes associated to Russians. (read more)

Romania – Moldova

A fura luleaua neamțului

How kind! Romanians say “you’re a Turk” (“Ești turc“) to people who cannot understand very simple ideas. The interrogative form “are you Turkish?” (“Ești turc?“) is also used in a way that would mean ‘are you that stupid?’. But Turks, do not worry! Romanians also say “are you Moldavian?” (“Ești moldovean?“) for people being extremely backwards, rural and poor, with no perception of the outside world… They also think that driving dangerously is “driving like a Belgian” (“conduci ca un belgian“) and smoking a lot is “smoking like a Turk” (“A fuma ca un turc“). Romanians think that something can be “beautiful as the Russian language” (“frumos ca limba russ“) as Russian is considered a difficult language to learn or understand. To split a bill equally between people is called in Romania “to split the German way” (“a împărți nemțește“) as well as to get drunk is poetically referred to as “to steal the German’s pipe” (“a fura luleaua neamțului“). Last, sitting in the lotus position is also called in Romania as “to sit in the Turkish way” (“A sta turcește“) (read more)


Vígan dudál a Portugál

In Hungary, there is ‘nothing to worry about’ when Hungarians say “the Portugal honks happily” (“vígan dudál a Portugál“). Unless you feel very bad and find yourself “in a Czech state” (“csehül érzi magát“) or “fear the shout of the Boeotians (Greeks)” that is to say fear stupid peoples’ opinions, you are entitled to a nice and funny stay in Hungary. Hungarians may sometimes feel themselves in very bad situations, or put another way, in “Balkan situations” (“balkáni állapotok“) maybe because everything seems upside down, mixed up, or in other words “tótágast” (where tót is the nickname for Slovak people, and tótágas can literally mean handstand). But they are clever enough to find simple solutions to their problems, or to find, as they say “Russian solutions” (“orosz módszer“). Apropos Russians, Hungarians also like to say that “there are as many, as the Russians” (“Annyian vannak, mint az oroszok“) whenever they enter very crowded places. Last, there are two different expressions in Hungary whenever someone leave a place without saying “Goodbye”: they either “leave English style” (“angolosan távozik”) or they “leave like St. Paul left the oláhs (Romanians)” (“otthagy valakit mint Szent Pál az oláhokat“) (read more)


Iti v Rim

Slovenians “go to Rome” (“iti v Rim“) when they give birth! How cute! But they “see Venice” (“videti Benetke“) when they are badly beaten or when they don’t get what they expect. We must admit: Italy and Slovenia have a long history in common… The same may apply to Austria and the Habsburg Empire: as life is supposed to be very expensive in Vienna, Slovenians sometimes say “one who wants to go to Vienna has to leave her/his stomach outside” (“Kdor hoče iti na Dunaj, mora pustiti trebuh zunaj“)! And whenever Slovenians don’t want to talk any longer about a sensitive topic, they just end up saying “and peaceful Bosnia” (“pa/in mirna Bosna“). In Slovenia, you will be requested not “to act like a French” (“Delati se Francoza“), it means you are pretending not to understand something. And do not “run away in a French way” (“oditi/popihati jo po francosko“). It is rather unpolite to leave without saying “Goodbye”. If you are “tired like a Turkish flag” (“Biti izmučen/zbit kot turška fana“), Slovenians may also advise you not to “smoke like a Turk” (“kaditi kot Turek“)… (read more)

Croatia – Serbia – Bosnia-Herzegovina

Prolaziš pored (nečega) kao pored turskog groblja

Croats, Serbs and Bosnians have a quite funny expression: whenever they pass up by something without noticing it at all, they say they are “walking by (something) like it is a Turkish cemetery” (“Prolaziš pored (nečega) kao pored turskog groblja“). Croats, Serbs and Bosnians uses this expression for instance when a friend walks by someone in the street without noticing her/him. Useful expression! In Croatia and Serbia, when something is “like it is German made” (“Kao da ga je Nemac pravio“), one can be sure it is of a very great quality. On the contrary, it is rather not recommended to be “in debt like Greece” (“Dužan kao Grčka“). Interestingly, this expression is an old saying and dates back to the 19th century when Greece has defaulted on its external sovereign debt obligations at least five times. Croats, Serbs and Bosnians also have their version of the expression which means ‘to pretend to be stupid, ignorant or uniformed’, but by them, it is to “pretend to be English“(“Praviti se Englez“) (read more)


“Sikur të ndjek gjermani”

When you’re doing something very fast or in a hurry in Albania, it is “as if a German is after you” (“sikur të ndjek gjermani“) – which, we guess, is not something necessarily enjoyable! As it’s very unlikely that Germans will be after you nowadays, you might need to “climb up here and see Instabul” (“hip këtu, shiko Stambollin“) to say that something is not possible or is not going to happen. As for the French, Albanians say “I bought it like the Frenchman bought the chicken” (“e bleva sa frëngu pulën“) for something that has an exorbitant price – anyone who has been on Les Grands Boulevards in Paris knows why… All is a bit pretentious, as Albanians also use “as if you come from Paris” (“sikur ke ardhur/zbritur nga Parisi“) when someone is pretending to be very delicate and elegant.


Не се отказвай като власите накрай Дунава

One of the Bulgarian most interesting but sometimes pejorative saying is “Don’t quit like the Wallachians at the shores of the Danube” (“Не се отказвай като власите накрай Дунава”). It means to quit doing something when the end of the task is in sight, or the advice to not fall in despair because something is difficult when the end is obviously near. It also usually means that the tough part is over and it would be a shame to not finish what you started. Another historical Bulgarian saying is “Are you waiting for the Germans?” (“да дойдат германците ли?”) whenever someone is being sluggish, or just in panic. Bulgarians also say a “Turkish job” (“Турска работа”) when something is done sloppily and they can “sit turkish” (“седене по турски”) when they sit on the ground with legs crossed. Last, on a Bulgarian buffet, or in other word on a “Swedish table” (“шведска маса”), one can eat nice “russian salad” (“руска салата”). (read more)


εγγλέζος στα ραντεβού

Greece and Turkey have in commun a long-standing and tumultuous relationshipThis is maybe why many Greek sayings refer tothe Turks. Greeks are for instance strongly requested not to “smoke like a Turk” (“Καπνίζει σαν τούρκος“) as it is extremely bad for their health. They should avoid “making someone a Turk” (“με εκανε Τουρκο“) as it is a synonymous for making someone angry. When someone says “You want to hear some turkish now?” (“Θες ν’ ακούσεις κάνα τούρκικο τώρα“), it actually means “do you want me to swear?” But the same apply to the French people. If a Greek “tells some French” (“του είπε μερικά γαλλικά“), it does not mean she/he speaks well French, but simply that she/he is… swearing. On the contrary, “the appointment of an Englishman” (“εγγλέζος στα ραντεβού“) in Greece means be a stickler for punctuality, be very punctual, always on time. A “German number” (“Γερμανικό νούμερο“) in Greece is an expression used in the army meaning the ‘graveyard shift’. And an “Albanian tourist” (“Αλβανός τουρίστας“) is simply something that does not exist… (read more)


“Fransız kaldım”

Very few expressions found from Turkey on other nationalities. The funniest one may be “to stay like a Frenchman” (“Fransız kaldım“). It is a bit pejorative and means not to understand something. For example, as two people are talking, a third one joins them belatedly and they keep talking. The third one does not understand anything and says “Ben Fransız kaldım” (I stayed like a Frenchman). Turks also have the expression “to make French in appearance” (“Görünüşte fransızlaştırmak“) which means to look good only in appearance, to be a bit superficial. turks also have the expression “to the Greek Calends (“Balık kavağa çıkınca“) to designate something which is impossible or unlikely to occur. Last, they sometimes advise you “not to speak Greek” (“Yunanca konuşan yok!“) as it sometimes means to swear… (read more)

If you liked this article, you may also like European Tongue TwistersPalindromesLongest Words and Untranslatable words.

Close Menu