The idiom to teach someone the ropes means to teach someone how to do something, especially a job. E.g.

"Jack has been here for years – he’ll show you the ropes."

Trying to convey the meaning in French I encountered ficelles du métier.

Jack est ici depuis des années - il va te montrer les ficelles du métier.

Can one use colloquially the idiom les ficelles du métier? What other ways exist to convey the same meaning (in both formal and informal setting)?

1 Answer 1


Apprendre les ficelles du métier is a common suggestion to translate to teach the ropes. The similarity between these metaphors likely helps. Both expressions refer to the demonstration of actual practice and not theoretical teaching.

There might be a slight nuance between them though.

To teach someone the ropes was originally telling an apprentice sailor which ropes was to be used to properly operate a sailboat.

On the other hand, the ficelles rather refer to tricks used to ease/simplify a job, like the hidden (invisible) strings a magician uses to hold something up in the air.

Unlike the cordages, knowing how to use these "strings" can be but is not necessarily a best practice. That depends on what ficelles are being taught...

Ficelles can also be found in these expressions:

Tirer sur les ficelles: remotely handle things/people like a puppeteer.

La ficelle était trop grosse: the trick was too visible so it was discovered.

Se débrouiller avec des bouts de ficelle: getting by without sufficient means.

Trop tirer sur la ficelle: Ask for too much.

  • 2
    Thinking about it, one could even argue that the origin is different for the French version and actually refers to the same thing as "tirer les ficelles", in the puppet setting, meaning that the similarity between ropes and ficelles would be a coincidence. This is pure speculation of course.
    – Reyedy
    Jul 3, 2020 at 7:29
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    @Reyedy I definitely think these ficelles are the same ones. That's what I'm refer to as hidden strings.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 3, 2020 at 8:18
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    @Reyedy I mean apprendre les ficelles and tirer les ficelles refer to the same metaphor. Ficelles (strings) are not cordages (ropes).
    – jlliagre
    Jul 3, 2020 at 8:21
  • @Reyedy — Que cela se fasse sans arrêt avec les écoutes et drisses des trois-mâts ou avec de la ficelle à rôti, l’art du matelotage est nécessaire et se transmet aux mousses comme aux apprentis.
    – Personne
    Jul 5, 2020 at 18:19

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