Francophones: reflexive verb question

Something that puzzled me on a recent trip to the Alps… on French Coke cans, the phrase “Serve Chilled” appears as “Se Boit Très Frais”.

Now, my French isn’t brilliant, but I would have thought that meant “Drinks Itself Very Cold”.

Why is the verb “boire” reflexive in this case? Why not “Buvez Très Frais”. I know reflexive verbs are used in phrases such as “La maison des Simpson se trouve à Springfield,” but then “finding oneself in a place” is a more likely concept than “drinking yourself”. Quoi donne? :slight_smile:

First things first:

Literal translations are a bad idea, since they are often meaningless.


frais = fresh
froid = cold


tres frais = very fresh or possibly…“refreshing”

Since this was found on a Coke can, you can see where this is going; it’s most likely the French take on “The Pause That Refreshes”.

Chefguy: frais can also mean “cool” when referring to temperature. For example, un matin frais would be translated as a “cool” or “brisk” morning.

As for the question: my gut instinct (after six years of French Immersion in HS) is that the proposed “Buvez très frais” makes it sounds like the implicit object of boire (i.e. vous, not le Coke) is what should be very cold during drinking. “Se boit très frais” avoids this. And you’re right in saying that this is essentially analogous to saying that “Les girafes se trouvent en Afrique” means “Giraffes are found in Africa”.

Hopefully there will be a real Francophone along shortly to confirm or repudiate this, though.

Chefguy, you are missing the point a bit. I know literal translations are a bad idea, I was just pointing out why I thought it was a strange wording for this phrase.

And I know for a fact that “Se boit très frais” does mean “serve chilled” (not anything to do with refreshment). I was just asking how the reflexive verb works in this case. I can’t quite work out the mechanics of the sentence.

Upon further research, this appears to be an example of the Passive Impersonal voice (bolding mine):

The page I linked to also seems to imply that you’re not alone (at least among us Anglos) in thinking this construction seems odd.

I think Spanish has the same sort of thing, and living in L.A. I see a great many examples:

Se Venta – For Sale, or “Sells Itself”
Se Renta – For Rent, or “Rents itself”,

and the ubiquitous
“Se habla espanol”–“Spanish Speaks Itself”

At least that’s what I think the literal meaning would be. Hopefully a real Spanish speaker will be along soon to confirm or correct this impression.

I would translate “Se habla espanol” as “Spanish is spoken.”

IANAnativespeaker, however.

Yes, it’s the same in Spanish. Non-reflexive verbs can be used reflexively to indicate a passive construction.

But better translations are (with implied words in parentheses):

Se venta: (It is) For Sale.
Se renta (or Se aquila): (It is) For Rent
Se habla español: Spanish (is) spoken (here).

This passive construction, however, can also be used for politeness in making a request:

Se puede entrar?

(May) one come in? - really meaning simply, “May I come in?”

While I am much less familiar with French than I am with Spanish, I believe the sense of the phrase in the OP would be more or less “To be drunk very cool.”

Se alquila.

Thank you, MikeS, that is exactly what I was after.