French lesson: Increase Your Vocabulary

La Glace: ordering and enjoying ice cream in France

Food is a huge part of the tourist industry in France, and critics come from around the world to put chefs to the test and write reviews for high-end magazine. You don’t have to be a foodie, however, to enjoy well-made French food, and you don’t have to be wildly adventurous to sample some of the best that France has to offer.

The Ice Cream ShopIce Cream FlavorsMaking Your Order

Ice cream is something that the French simply got right. Italian-style gelato was introduced in France by Catherine de Medici (as the legend goes) in the late 16th century, when she was married into the French royal family.

Most ice cream shops in France still serve ice cream that more closely resembles gelato (yum!) than the ice cream we are more familiar with Stateside.

Whether you’re in the city or on the beach, eating it out of a cone, a dish, or on a crêpe, ice cream is the perfect dish to accompany any summer vacation in France.

Glace means ‘ice cream,’ but it also means plain old ice. (Technically, the literal term for ‘ice cream’ is crème glacée, but no one uses that term.)

A sign indicating a Palais de Glace means ‘Ice Palace,’ not (unfortunately) ‘Ice Cream Palace.’ If you see a shop marked Glace à l’Italienne, don’t expect Italian ice cream; instead, you’ll find what we call ‘Italian Ice’ — a drink made with flavored syrup or fruit puree.

Le glacier – The Ice Cream Shop

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Glacier, like glace has multiple meanings. In the geological sense, it has the same meaning in French as in English. Context, though, is everything, and in this case it means ice cream maker or shop.

Here are the key words you’ll need to know when stepping into an ice cream shop:

La Glace Ice Cream
la glace

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ice cream
le sorbet

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sorbet
une boule

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one scoop
deux boules

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two scoops
trois boules

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three scoops
un cornet (de glace)

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a(n ice cream) cone
une coupe

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a dish

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Parfums de glace – Ice cream flavors

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Okay, now on to the myriad flavors!

Because French ice cream and sorbet is available is so many flavors — shops in beach towns like Nice have the widest selection — I have divided my lists by category: Classic (although perhaps not so typical in the U.S.), Fruit, and Unusual flavors.

Classiques

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Classic
arlequin

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sprinkles (lit. “harlequin,” the clown)
canelle

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cinnamon
caramel

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caramel
chewing gum

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bubble gum
chocolat (noir)

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(dark) chocolate
guimauve

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marshmallow
menthe

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mint
meringue

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meringue
nougat

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nougat
pistache

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pistachio
vanille

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vanilla

All Flavors

Fruit flavors are more often than not indicative of a sorbet, but classic gelato is also made with fruit. There will usually be a separate area for sorbets, but when in doubt, you can always ask.

Fruits Fruits
ananas

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pineapple
banane

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banana
cassis

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black current
citron

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lemon
citron vert

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lime
fraise

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strawbeery
framboise

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raspberry
litchie or lychee

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lychee
mandarine

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mandarin
mangue

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mango
myrtille

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blueberry
orange

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orange
pamplemousse

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grapefruit
pêche

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peach
poire

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pear
pomme verte

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green apple
rhubarbe

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rhubarb

All Flavors

The South of France is home to some very unusual ice cream.  Traditional flavors include herbs and savory ingredients not usually seen in a sweet desert.  If you’re feeling adventurous about ice cream, the French Riviera is the place to be!

Exceptionnel Unusual
figue

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fig
fleur d’oranger

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orange blossom
lavande

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lavender
olive noire

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back olive
romarin

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rosemary
rose

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rose
thym

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thyme
tomate basilic

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tomato basil
vanille et poivre rose

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vanilla and pink peppercorn

As hard as it may be to believe, there are probably a couple of flavors I forgot to mention (or have never come across myself).  Not to worry, though, the aesthetically pleasing displays (like the ones pictured in this section) make it easy to identify flavors visually.  Read on to practice placing an order.

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Au Comptoir – At the Counter

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Now you have all the necessary vocabulary for understand an ice cream menu! If you’d like to do better than gesturing wildly and speaking in slow, loud English (as though that makes it easier to understand a new language), familiarize yourself with a few of the following phrases so you can be prepared when stepping up to the counter.

Phrases

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Sentences
Une boule (deux boules, trois boules) dans une coupe, s’il vous plaît.

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One scoop (two scoops, three scoops) in a cone, please.
Un cornet à deux boules, s’il vous plaît.

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Two scoops in a cone, please.
Je voudrais trois boules, s’il vous plaît, dans un cornet.

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I would like three scoops please, in a cone.
Deux boules au chocolat et une au fraise.

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Two scoops of chocolate and one scoop of strawberry.

Once you’ve indicated how many scoops you want and whether you’d like a cone or a dish, you can simply point to or name the flavors you want (using the table above).

The more glaciers you visit, the more parfums you’ll be able to try, and the more practice you’ll get with your French phrases.  Get out there and eat some ice cream!

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