Les pandores – run to your car and avoid a ticket…

Pandora and les pandores – a connection?

Are you familiar with Greek mythology? Do you recall the beautiful Pandora victim of her own curiosity and insubordination? She inadvertently let out all evils into this world when she opened a BOX-that-should-have-stayed-unopened because she-was-told-NOT-to-open-it-under-any-circumstances.

So when you hear someone discretely referring to police officers as les pandores, you might wonder how these are connected. The quick answer is that they’re not connected. Les pandores are often associated with uniformed officers ambulating the streets and slipping parking tickets under windshields. As it turns out, the original story behind the idiom is none too flattering.

It all began with a subversive poem

The expression Le pandore comes from a subversive 19th century French song, Pandore ou les deux gendarmes (1857) written by Gustav Nadau who was known for his political satire. The song describes how one beautiful Sunday morning, two uniformed and mounted officers, one of whom is called Pandore, engage in dull, small talk as they stroll down a lane (most likely some kind of controlled pathway where government could make good money off fines – same as today).

The “yes-man”

In the refrain, Pandore who is of lesser rank nods and acquiesces mindlessly to the ramblings of his superior, the Brigadier… Pandore is still nodding towards the end of the round after the Brigadier has long stopped speaking.

As the uniformed riders’ heads bob up and down like puppets, we are reminded that

  • uniform demands hierarchy
  • staying within the confines of rank means abolishing thought
  • do not exceed expectations! Dull chatter calls for a dull response from a dull mind
  • even a beautiful Sunday stroll cannot rival with their inflated sense of self-importance


This song was banned and remained very popular for over 100 years. To this day, the word still finds its way into the press, especially when police action exasperates the general public because of its perceived insignificance. Or when you find a parking ticket on your windshield.

This expression remains today because the poem was so popular – read it aloud and slide into the rhythm. It is pricelessly subtle satire.

Key words, first stanza and refrain (read aloud if possible)

Before we read the first stanza, let’s note some key words:

Sardine blanche by analogy (the shape and color of small silver fish also known as sardine in English) refers to the white chevrons or officer’s stripes indicative of rank, while the baudrier is the leather, shoulder sword-harness.

The word pandore originally came from the Dutch word for police officer (pandoer), itself from the Hungarian pandur (a uniformed mountaineer-ranger).

Deux gendarmes, un beau dimanche,
Chevauchaient le long d’un sentier;
L’un portait la sardine blanche,
L’autre, le jaune baudrier.
Le premier dit d’un ton sonore:
Le temps est beau pour la saison.


Brigadier, répondit Pandore,
Brigadier, vous avez raison.
Brigadier, répondit Pandore,
Brigadier, vous avez raison.

Any subliminal connection with the real Pandora, sent by Zeus to punish mankind by unleashing great evils onto the world, remains a mystery.  Hope remained in Pandora’s box – could it be the same hope that drives us to run to our cars before the horodateur runs out?

Language review

le pandore – a police officer of minor rank

chevaucher – to ride a horse

le sentier – a narrow path

une sardine:

  • the fish. In the tin, or in the net, sardines look like long, silvery strips.
  • by association (shape and color), the pegs used to hold down the tent while camping
  • by association (shape and color), stripes on an officers uniform (military, police, etc.). In conversation, prefer the words les galons de l’officier.

le baudrier: a harness, for mountain climbing (un baudrier d’escalade), for an adventure park (un baudrer d’accrobranche), etc.

Vous avez raison – tu as raison:

– you are right
– sometimes used to close an argument and snub the dissident party.

The link will lead you to the full poem of five stanzas.

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