Get your Ducks in a Row with these 10 Interesting International Idioms

If you’ve done as the title says and got your ducks in a row, then you will be more than prepared for the rest of this article! The English language is filled with innumerable intriguing idioms. Sometimes the only way to properly describe the weather is to say that it’s raining cats and dogs, and sometimes the only way to punish someone for letting the cat out of the bag is by giving them a taste of their own medicine. They may seem ridiculous to some, but don’t judge a book by its cover. There is a method to the madness that is idiomatic expression and, often, it might be the only thing that truly hits the nail on the head. Luckily for us, other languages are no different! Languages around the world are filled to the brim with these engaging expressions and so, we’ve gathered together some of our favourites. Let’s stop beating around the bush and get these out of our system! 

1. Haut comme trois pommes

To start off our list of expressions, we present to you this amusing French idiom. If you ever visit France or find yourself in the presence of French speakers, you may hear a person described as being “haut comme trois pommes”. This short phrase literally translates back to English as “three apples tall” and is used to describe someone’s (lack of) height. Perhaps three apples small would be more fitting.

2. Tomber dans les pommes

We’re keeping to French, and apples, with this next idiomatic expression. Now, if for some reason you were to faint, we’re going to assume that you’d prefer to land on, say, a collection of cushions, or even a comfy seat. What we’d guess you probably wouldn’t like to land on is a pile of apples. Would we be right? This French phrase literally means “to fall in the apples” and is used if someone faints. Ouch.


3. Encontrar tu media naranja

The next stop on our idiomatic journey is Spain, and you guessed it: we’re still talking about fruit. Telling someone that they are your “half orange” probably won’t mean much and might actually sound quite strange if they are not familiar with Spanish. However, to a Spanish speaker “encontrar tu media naranja” means to ‘find your soulmate’ and so “media naranja” can be used to mean your ‘other/better half’. How sweet!


4. Echar agua al mar

We will remain with Spanish for the next expression on our list! If you’re ever in need of the perfect expression to use when someone’s actions are unbelievably pointless, then you need look no further; Spanish speakers have got you covered! “Echar agua al mar” means to throw water into the sea. It doesn’t get much more pointless than that.

5. Da steppt der Bär

Continuing with animal-related expressions, we make our way over to Germany. Literally, “da steppt der Bär” means “the bear dances there”. So, if you’re confused by a German party invitation and are perhaps worried you may be sharing your company with some giant grizzly bears, don’t fret, as this just means “it will be a good party”. We can’t make any promises about no bears though.


6. Tomaten auf den Augen haben

Here we have yet another fantastic fruit-related idiom for you to add to your language repertoire! We all have that one friend who is a bit oblivious and unaware of what’s happening in the world around them (if you can’t think of who that friend is, then it might just be you). Well, in Germany, it’s said that these people are so blind to situations and their surroundings because they have “tomatoes on [their] eyes”. We suppose that would make it quite difficult to see, so we’ll let them off the hook!


7. Avoir un chat dans la gorge

Next up, we have another French idiom to add to your fast-growing list! You may be familiar with the saying used commonly by English speakers, to have “a frog in your throat”. This odd expression means to have a croaky throat and struggle to speak as a result of it. However, take a trip to France and you will find that this phrase slightly changes. Apparently, instead of having frogs in their throats (like English speakers), French speakers actually have cats in their throats! “Avoir un chat dans la gorge”; to have a cat in your throat. In all honesty, we can’t decide which scenario is worse.


8. Correre dietro alle farfalle

For our next idiomatic expression, we ask you to imagine yourself running through grass, chasing after beautiful butterflies on a shining Summer’s day. Seems like a picturesque scene taken straight out of a movie, right? Well, not to Italians. In Italy, what “[running] behind the butterflies” actually means is to pointlessly chase after something. Not quite the blissful scene that you may have initially imagined, but is it as pointless as throwing water into the sea? We’ll leave that up to you to decide.


9. Reggere la candela

We’ll continue with Italian for our next idiom, which is rather funny if imagined literally. “Reggere la candela” is a fantastic expression and it literally means “to hold the candle”. To put this into context: picture a couple out for a lovely, romantic meal. Now picture a friend holding a candle over the middle of the table for them as they dine. This is similar to – and just as awkward as – the English expression, where that friend is the “third wheel”.


10. Non tutte le ciambelle riescono col buco

Last, but certainly not least, we have our final idiom. At some point in life, something won’t turn out as you had hoped, and at that point, your only option will be to simply shrug it off. Luckily for you, Italian speakers created the perfect expression for when that time comes. Not everything goes as you plan, just as not all doughnuts come out with a hole.


And with that, we will call it a day on our list of international idioms. We hope that these have been interesting and that you’ve learned something new. You never know, you might end up using these one day – but we’ll leave you to cross that bridge when you come to it! 

Comment down below if you know of any international idioms that we haven’t mentioned; they’re the best thing since sliced bread and we’d love to read them!

4 thoughts on “Get your Ducks in a Row with these 10 Interesting International Idioms”

  1. When at the opera some years ago I was quite surprised at the overhead running translation at one point which read ‘the cheese has fallen right on his spaghetti’. From the context things had worked out perfectly. I think the opera was Rigoletto.

  2. Not sure of the spelling but it is something like “tourner autour du pot” = beat around the bush. I still remember the little cartoon my French friend drew for me to remember this idiom. I think the translation is “revolve around the pot”.

    • We have a similar expression in Swedish – “to walk like a cat around hot porridge”, also meaning to beat around the bush!

  3. “Les hommes en blanc” this is a French Idiom which literally means ~men in black~ when translated to English the French use it to refer to medicine


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