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Pédaler dans la choucroute

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Pédaler dans la choucroute

This is another (weird) expression directly related to the Tour de France - which ended on July 24 this year.

Pédaler dans la choucroute literally translates as pedaling in sauerkraut and means being entangled in a thorny situation, with the added notion that every effort made to get out of it is fruitless, or makes things worse. In short,  spinning one's wheels, going nowhere fast, being in over one’s head.

The image is clear enough: picture yourself riding a bicycle in a lake of sauerkraut and see how well you’d do.  It is also used for appliances and devices, computers in particular, when they’re whirring furiously without doing much actual work.

Note that it is a colloquial expression, to be used in casual conversation only — not in your thesis, nor if you’re having dinner with the French ambassador.  Although it might be worth a shot if you think you might impress him/her with your knowledge of the expression's origin.

Indeed, while we have a soft spot for tasty expressions and powerful visuals, we can't help but wonder about the story behind this one.  Why on Earth would someone ride a bike in a bowl of sauerkraut?

Origin

As indicated earlier, pédaler dans la choucroute takes us back to the early days of the Tour de France. At the time, when cyclists got too tired to continue, they would climb into the broom wagon, and it so happens that the wagon was covered in ads for ..... a brand of sauerkraut. Naturally, they were mocked for 'pedaling in sauerkraut' on their way to the finish line.  Eventually, the meaning left the world of cycling and evolved into saying that someone is wasting effort to no avail.

These days, you might hear all kinds of regional variations of the expression, such as pédaler dans la semoule - semolina - dans le couscous, or dans la purée - mashed potatoes All have the same meaning.

Examples

Ça fait une heure que j’essaie de résoudre cette équation, et franchement, je pédale dans la choucroute.
I’ve been trying to solve this equation for an hour, and frankly, I’m getting nowhere fast.

Il pédale dans la choucroute depuis 2 ans avec ce projet!
He has been spinning his wheels on that project for two years!

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