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The French Leave


To take French leave; to go off without taking leave of the company.
                                        The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

French Leave refers to the act of leaving a party without bidding farewell to — and thereby not disturbing — the host. The term is also used to mean the act of leisurely desertion from a military unit or to go away or do a thing without permission.     

OK, this one is confidential so lean in close. SP is a big fan of the French Leave, or the French Goodbye as my friends in the Deep South say. Many a night at many an event– when the good time has peaked — SP has been known to sneak away from a fete undetected. I always call in the AM (or whatever time one awakes) to assure the host that a grand time was had. To be clear, we are taking French Leave at big parties here, not intimate gatherings at which you are required to say farewell and thank you to your host. You know the difference.

But at big parties (more than 40 guests) — whether you are in a house or out and about on the town — it is often preferable to simply leave. It is ridiculous for people to make a big showy performance of leaving a party. This act always seems to me to be an indulgence in the exhibition of self-importance, as if the lack of your presence will be so glaring that the party will surely suffer by your absence. You know these types. They swan around the room making a big to do about taking their leave and wanting to be begged to stay. Don’t interrupt the flow of the guests who are having a great night out and appear in no way ready to leave. First of all, goodbyes are depressing. Nobody wants to hear them. Nobody likes them so why must we inflict them? Just leave, for Pete’s sake.

Here’s a tip on the correct execution of the French Leave. Upon arrival at the big party, make your way to the host first. Always. Before getting a drink, before taking a bite, certainly before falling into a conversation, you should make a beeline to the host and say hello and tell her what a wonderful party this is. The reasoning here is two-fold. One, it is correct. Two, in case the party turns dull, or more likely, the crowd grows too large to fight the salmon in the swim upstream to get a drink at the bar, you can take your French Leave and no one will notice, especially the host. Also, if in the case that you must leave — getting too drunk, an emergency beckons, you meet a remarkable person you want to spend more time with — you won’t have to search the crowd to find the host for a goodbye. Just hellos please, save the goodbyes.

Now of course, if everyone left French there would be no party, so keep this one under your hat. We are a small coterie here, no need to worry about this getting out. If our paths happen to cross the next time you are sneaking out, you don’t have to say anything. SP will understand.


  1. Stuart Mudie April 8, 2009 Reply

    Curiously – or perhaps not – the equivalent of this expression in French is “filer à l’anglaise”, which means “to sneak off like an English person”.

    • Kevin January 30, 2014 Reply

      I find that hilarious. Thank you for posting.

  2. Jill April 8, 2009 Reply

    With large parties…this is the only way to go. I had no idea there was a name for it. I feel better about it now!

  3. Mrs. NR April 8, 2009 Reply

    Have you ever heard of the Irish Exit?
    Growing up with many nice Irish Catholics in NY, it was used often when someone had over-indulged at the bar and made an intoxicated, silent departure from a watering hole or party.
    Not the most pc of terms…

  4. Miss JimmyLouisecurtis April 8, 2009 Reply

    J’adore le French leave!

  5. nycbill April 10, 2009 Reply

    i totally agree…….if you’re the host it becomes quite annoying spending the last hour and a half saying goodbye…..just leave, let me enjoy the party……a party is not for goodbyes…

  6. Blake el Snake April 14, 2009 Reply

    This is good reading. It made me want to explore the rest of your site. Keep it up, SP. All the kids out there need to read this stuff.

  7. Lisa Borgnes Giramonti April 14, 2009 Reply

    My husband will be so happy to read this. He has long been a stalwart proponent of the “French Leave”, while I have always felt a trifle guilty about it. But you’re right…charm them with a grand hello and make a stealthy exit, if need be!

  8. Jill April 15, 2009 Reply

    I think I’m more Irish Exit than French Leave. Maybe “Greek Goodbye”.

  9. kate April 22, 2009 Reply

    so interesting! it seems every language has its term for that sort of goodbye… in germany we call it “einen polnischen (abgang) machen”, which means “to do it like the polish people”.
    maybe these phrases reveal more about the countries they’re used in, that the countries they refer to..

  10. Tintin May 5, 2009 Reply

    We called this the Apache in Chicago. To sneak out in the middle of the night.

  11. Kristen May 12, 2009 Reply

    Love this! My husband always asks me whether we should say goodbye to the host at large parties and I always tell him, no, we don’t want to interrupt the flow of the party or draw attention to the fact that we are leaving. Let’s just slip out the door!

  12. jan August 6, 2009 Reply

    Ah! Thanks for this wonderful posting! BUT — I have noticed that SOME hosts are delighted that guests are taking their leave publicly — so that other guests might take the hint that the evening is way past its prime! At least the host does not have to resort to yawning and putting on his jammies and robe! Just teasing!

  13. vikas nayyar May 1, 2011 Reply

    yeah, itz nice and gentleman way to leave the mass party without disturbing others and host

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