I’m back from spending a few days in Rouen in northern France. I was there on an interpreting job in June and happened to mention to my client that I’d love to go back and spend some more time discovering the town. Very kindly (and without prompting) he offered to lend me his flat while he was away on holiday with his family. In describing the flat, he mentioned that it is in a "quartier populaire" in the centre. "Populaire" in this context is a false friend. It doesn’t mean that it’s popular, but rather that it is lively, with a multi-racial population who are on the working-class end of the social scale. I’ve been trying to work out what the equivalent would be in English. "Lower-income multicultural urban area" has been suggested, but it’s very administrative, doesn’t quite roll off the tongue and lacks the community aspect that "populaire" definitely has. Any ideas?
Incidentally, I highly recommend Rouen for a nice weekend away. The town is completely steeped in history, with a cathedral dating back to the 11th century,
the Palais de Justice still bearing the marks of the bombs that destroyed a large part of the town during the second world war,
the square where victims of the plague were buried in a mass grave in 1428 and of course the places where Joan of Arc was tortured, judged, burnt and rehabilitated. It isn’t all death and tragedy though; we spent many happy hours admiring attractive streets and beautifully preserved houses as we strolled from crêperies to cafés.

By | 2016-10-18T15:50:21+00:00 August 12th, 2006|Culture|7 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Alison August 14, 2006 at 4:14 am

    I lived in Rouen for two years in the early 90s, and loved the city. Thanks for the photos; you were in the very places I used to haunt. I see they have sandblasted the Palais de Justice! It looks beautiful now, despite the pockmarks.

  2. Matt August 14, 2006 at 6:36 pm

    Quartier populaire = diverse working-class neighbourhood?

  3. Stephen Gobin August 14, 2006 at 8:06 pm

    quartier populaire
    I can think of two possible solutions, but whichever one is used emphasises either the working-class nature of the district or the ethnic mix:
    a mixed community
    a(n old) working-class area of …
    or to combine them:
    a(n old) working-class area (now) home to a mixed community.

  4. Individ-ewe-al August 14, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    I love Rouen, it’s one of the most gorgeous towns I’ve ever visited. For _populaire_ I would give “colourful”. Which can be positive or negative depending on the speaker and tone of voice.

  5. céline August 15, 2006 at 9:15 am

    All the suggestions are good, I think. Stephen and Matt’s would be appropriate for an “administrative” type text and Individ-ewe-al’s for a more subjective and emotional document.

  6. Elizabeth Adams August 16, 2006 at 10:25 pm

    How about: vibrant, up-and-coming, in the process of gentrification… All are used in the context of real estate.

  7. céline August 17, 2006 at 8:17 am

    Vibrant, yes, up-and-coming maybe in some cases, but in the process of gentrification, rather the opposite I think; a “quartier populaire” is definitely working-class.

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