The words of the wise and Niçoise

The words of the wise and Niçoise

Nice is home to one of the oldest human settlements in Europe. Settled in 350 B.C. by the ancient Greeks, it was originally called Nikaia after the goddess of victory. Since then, it’s changed hands multiple times, thanks to its strategic location and port.

May Day flowers over Nice

Although Nice has been French for 150 years, many of its residents identify as Niçoise, not French (similar to how I always say I’m California, not American). Niçoise culture is more unpretentious than the rest of the Cote d’Azur, and remarkably more laid-back than Paris. The Niçoise language is still spoken by a substantial minority, despite being impossible for any native French or Italian speaker to understand.

Some popular Niçoise proverbs illustrate the practical and budget-conscious thinking that dominates the traditional culture. Here are a few of my favorites:

A ardit demandaire prount refudiare: A bold asker is best matched by a resolute denier.

Loura seren sensa denari, baleren davan l’armari: When we are without money, we dance in front of the buffet.

L’ordre aduha lou pan, lou desordre la fam: Order brings bread, disorder brings hunger. (I like the rhyming of pain et faim when translated into French—this one is my favorite!)


Qu depensa sense counta maja sous ben e lou tasta pa: Who spends without counting eats delicacies without tasting them

San-dounat es mourt: Saint Giving is dead! (Sounds like my parents…why don’t you just go shake the money tree?)

Una clau d’or duerbe pertout: A key of gold opens anywhere.

Enfan e can counouissoun qu ben li fan: Children and dogs recognize who loves them.

Regal, favour e doun roumpoun roca e maioun: Delicacies, favors and donations ruin a house.

Au nemic qu’escap noun li course darie: If your enemy escapes, don’t run after him.

Which one is your favorite?

  • Rntllady

    Are there any bakeries or cafes that serve Nicoise specilaities? have you sampled any? Liked proverb about the dogs & children knowing who likes them!


  • keli

    what a fun little post. I like. 🙂

  • I’d have to say “Order brings bread, disorder brings hunger.” is my favorite of the selection you posted, because it is so true. As a single girl from a family of modest (and poorly managed) means, I *totally* get the significance of this proverb.

    And on the Niçoise language – awesome! I love languages, and all of the lesser-spoken or not “officially” (or only recently) recognized tongues. I think it would be so cool to learn Catalan, Niçoise, Venetian, etc. Before the trip that I was supposed to take to Nice this spring (when I got stuck in Paris, per the volcano, instead) I was researching the nuances of dialects in the region. Doesn’t Menton have it’s own thing, too? And other small towns along the coast there and further inland? At any rate, I find all these rogue languages so intriguing. Like so many delicacies to be discovered, tasted, learned, and savored.

    If it’s of interest to you, I have a little post on Venetian on my travel blog –

    Back on Niçoise, questions: Are there books or other educational materials if one wants to learn Niçoise? I’m guessing not, though I hope I’m wrong. I’ve had the darnedest time finding materials on Veneziano, for instance; I found only one book on the language. My Venetian friends have taught me some words, phrases, and general pronunciation, but it’s not enough. So are you learning some Niçoise or is it difficult or not really practical/possible?

  • is l’amari (buffet) a piece of furniture or a spread of food? anyway im going with the dancing expression, cause dancing is always a good idea

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    There are lots of bakeries and cafes that serve Nicoise specialties, like torte de blette and socca. I will be sure to do a post soon about the best Nicoise food!

  • Anonymous

    A buffet is a spread of food. I like the concept of dancing in front of it too–it’s a fun image!

  • Yoko Lytle

    Hello. I am a British raised American living in New York married to a Niçois Frenchman and we have a 6-month old son. I am keen to teach him as much Niçois as possible and wondered if you had come across any good learning resources for Niçois language with kids? Thank you!

  • camorose

    Not specifically Nicoise, but I do highly recommend the Alliance Francaise in New York City as a resource for learning French!