Poirot French to English: Your Guide to Poirot Translations
Translations not only of Poirot French to English, but of of every French, Italian and German phrases from each novel in the Poirot series. This is your quick reference guide to understanding every word to ensure you never miss a single clue uttered by our favourite multi-lingual Belgium sleuth. After all, as the great man says of himself…”I am an international detective…I belong to the world” – Poirot makes the effort to understand as many languages as he can…and so should we.
Throughout Agatha Christie’s Poirot stories, our favourite Belgium detective often speaks in French and unless you are able to translate these, they can sometimes leave you at a bit of a loss as to the meaning. Here at EverythingAgatha, we’ve taken the time to go through and translate Poirot French to English and more…Often Poirot will make short exclamations or add in a single word of French to which we can guess the meaning from the context but occasionally there will be a complete phrase which adds a lot to the narrative and is therefore useful to know the translation of.
Within this reference guide your will find a list of the most common phrases and exclamations from Poirot and other Agatha Christie characters and some of their origins as well as more lengthy extracts translated and explain from each specific novel.
Poirot the Linguist
We first meet Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie’s very first novel ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ where we quickly learn that Poirot is a refugee from Belgium now living in England. Unlike most countries, Belgium has not one or two but three national languages – French, Dutch and German and at the offset, Poirot, within his very first conversation, indeed speaks both French and English. Indeed, the very first words spoken by Poirot are in French, ‘mon ami!’
So, we immediately know Poirot is bilingual from the first novel and from the French speaking part of Belgium. Throughout all his appearances, Poirot continually breaks out in French, often this is when he is taken by surprise slipping into his ‘mother tongue’ with phrases such as ‘mille tonners’, ‘Ma foi’ or even ‘Quelle idee!’ He regularly refers to others in French nouns such as ‘mon amie’, ‘mes enfants’, ‘les femmes’ or ‘pourvre petit’. From this we must assume Poirot’s mother language is French rather than Flemish/ Dutch. Indeed, when Poirot meets a Dutch backpacker at the start of ‘Dead Man’s Folly’ there is not attempt on his part to speak with her in this language – rather, they both converse in English. Although he does address the girls Italian companion as ‘signorina’, he does not refer to the Dutch girls as ‘mejuffrouw’.
Throughout the novels of Agatha Christie we discover more of Poirot’s linguistic abilities. Most notably, in ‘Murder on the Orient’ express we learn how well Poirot speaks German as he interviews Hildegarde Schmidt in German:
Within the novel ‘The Clocks’ his knowledge of the German language is also called upon to aid his investigations. Although there is an Italian character, Antonio Foscarelli, in ‘The Murder on the Orient Express’, he is described as speaking fluent French and we do not discover Poirot’s Italian abilities until ‘Black Coffee’ with his interchange with Dr Carelli:
So, in these two novels we discover that Poirot speaks not just English, French, German and Italian. Further more, we can also identify that Poirot also has some knowledge of Latin from the novel ‘Evil Under the Sun’. Although he has not studied the Classics a cited in the opening of ‘The Labours of Hercules’ it could be that he has picked this up through his religion as Ecclesiastical Latin is the official language of the Roman Catholic Church.
There are however limitations to Poirot’s linguistic abilities – in ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ we at the outset of his his interview with the Princess Dragomiroff, which is conducted in English, Poirot invites the Princess to write her name herself for fear he may not be able to understand it.
Christie introduces to Poirot to many nationalities though out the novels; perhaps the most multi-national novel of all is ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’ where Poirot meets students from Egypt, America, France, Jamaica, India and West Africa staying at a Hostel owned by a Greek, managed by a English lady supported by Italian cooks. We do not see evidence for any further linguistic abilities from Poirot here or with any of the other international characters he meets.
One of the most common nationalities (aside from French and Americans) Poirot meets are Greeks such as Demetrius and Zia and Papopolous in ‘They Mystery of the Blue Train’, Dr Jacob Tanios in ‘Dumb Witness’ and Mrs Nicoletis in ‘Hickory, Dickory Dock’. Poirot never converses with any of these characters in anything other than English though so it is evident Greek was not a familiar language to him. Similarly, when he meets the Spanish Pila Estavados in ‘Hercule Poirot’s Christmas’ he only ever uses ‘seniorita’ and nothing further.
Poirot enjoys to travel and in the novels we see him visit France, Egypt, Iraq, Jerusalem and Turkey as well as Greece and Belgium in the short novels so there are plenty of opportunities for him to display knowledge of any further languages. Although one the popular televisions adaptations has him speaking Arabic with Hastings declaring ‘I didn’t know you spoke Arabic!’, there is no evidence for this in the novels. Indeed, it appears that French, English, Italian and German with a bit of Latin are enough for the greatest detective in the world.
Poirot’s mastery of English is impressive but Christie appears to have had fun by introducing certain idiosyncrasies of language for Poirot such as his often literal interpretation of Englahs phrases and sayings and a single word he seems to have particular difficulty with…’dearange’. Poirot uses it incorrectly (and has it pointed out to him in both examples below) by Dr Shepperd in ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’
and by Ariadne Oliver in ‘Dead Man’s Folly’
In terms of Poirot’s interpretation of English phrases, here are a few of my favourites:
“All goes in the swimming fashion” -> Rather than, ‘all goes swimmingly’ – meaning in a smoothly
Cook your gander – Death in the Clouds -> Rather than ‘your goose is cooked’
It is on the knees of the gods – Dumb Witness -> Rather than, it is in the laps of the gods. (On a side note, this phrase actually comes from Home’s Iliad with some translations of the Greek being ‘knees’ rather than laps – although as mentioned before, Poirot shouldn’t actually know any Greek and not studied the Classics…so probably just a happy co-incidence!)
Am I being taken up the garden walk? – Mrs McGinty’s Dead -> Rather than, being taken ‘up the garden path’ meaning to be misled or deceived.
Finally, despite these little variances and errors, we should always applaud Poirot’s continual efforts to learn and improve upon his English grammar and vocabulary. Often in the novels we see his curiosity it wanting to know more ad continually self improve. I particularly enjoy his leaning of the word ‘pixie’ in Evil Under the Sun:
The guides below are to help you – like Poirot – understand as much of what is happening in these stories as possible. If Agatha Christie took the time to learn these phrases and write them in her novels then it seems a shame that people sometimes to skip over anything in italics – here’s everything you need to ensure you can read every work Christie took the trouble to write and make sure you don’t miss anything of the novels whether an exclamation or perhaps, even a clue to solving the case.