How To Say Practical Joke in French? + Jackie & I have fun at Max's expense...

Paquerette flowers outside Chateau Lumiere
Merci for your encouraging notes following last week's update regarding subscribership. Your words revive me! Today's mischief takes place in La Ciotat (photo snapped outside Le Palais Lumière where a patch of daisies looks as innocent as a team of pranksters in hiding. Read on.) 


    : practical joke, prank, hoax

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Getting cozy on the couch with a cup of tea and our shepherd Ricci, I watched my daughter prepare to leave for her brother's pour rendre un service.

Grabbing the car keys Jackie turned to me, "Mom, why don't you come along to Max's? We can walk Ana's dog while she’s away.” 
Visions of climbing 4 flights of stairs to my son's condo (to lead a scent-obsessed Beagle on a kilometer-long promenade) had me sinking back into the sofa. "J'ai la flemme," I admitted.

"Energy comes in moving!" Jackie countered.

Don't you love it when young people share their wisdom? Jackie is right. I needed to shake up my afternoon routine. Some salty fresh air and, though I didn't know it yet, a little mischievous behavior, would be vivifiant for body, mind, and soul, and who could have guessed the positive effect would ripple out and tickle somebody else in the process.... 

If my daughter managed to rouse me, the drive to her brother's fired up every nerve ending in my being as I gripped the handle above the passenger door. "Jackie, slow down! Don't follow so close to the other cars! DID YOU SEE THE PEDESTRIAN???"

Speaking of pedestrian, between beginning today's story and procrastinating its development, I came across the word "pedestrian" and was amused by its various meanings:

1) lacking wit or imagination
2) walking

Isn't it interesting how the very act of walking stirs creative intelligence? Perhaps this explains how, after marching from the car to Max's condominium and up 4 flights of stairs, a creative urge came over me. The urge to play a practical joke on my son. Normally void of ideas for these kinds of bêtises, my mind was now reeling with ideas.

A look around Max’s home revealed he’s been struggling to keep up with le ménage ever since he began his new job two months ago. On top of domestic challenges, he's been exhausted from keeping on top of a new job. A little prank might perk him up.

"Jackie!" I giggled. "Do you know what a practical joke is?"


"I'll show you... Let's turn everything in Max's fridge upside down! Here..." I said, opening the door, “Start with the condiments..." While Jackie upended the ketchup, mayo, and pickles, I grabbed a bowl. "Let's put the jar of cornichons here in case it leaks. We just want to have fun--not flood his apartment," I said, bummed that we couldn’t turn over the bottles of beer because of their narrow tops.

As Jackie turned her attention to the shelves, putting everything the wrong way up, I carefully flipped the bowl of onions, peppers, and herbs on the counter, and then made my way over to the spices. Les épices were lined up neatly at the back of la table de cuisson, but not for long...

After we'd somersaulted everything in the frigo and around the stove, I headed to Max’s room when Jackie suggested we stop here. Elle avait raison. We'd made our mischievous mark, besides, there'd be more occasions in which to mess with Max. Especially after he retaliated--no doubt he would!

With a pat on the back we left Izzy the Beagle, swearing her to secrecy: Chut! Ne dis rien! "Now Izzy, don't tell Max what you saw!" With that, we returned home for dinner.... and waited for a call from Max, eager to know his reaction. 

Finally, when the call came, our victim didn't mention anything amiss.

"Where are you?" Jackie quizzed.

"I'm in the basement, organizing some things."
"Oh, anything else new?"
"No," Max replied with a yawn. Jackie and I were feeling let down until an afterthought from Max stirred us again:  "By the way, did you turn over that bowl on my countertop?"

"No..." Jackie responded. Giving me a thumbs up as she spoke into the receiver. "I don't know what you are talking about."

"Bon," Max said, sounding bored. "I've gotta finish up here. Talk to you later." We were sure we'd get a call back, but the night wore on, and not a word from Max.

Meantime, I began to doubt our farce. Was it not clever? But then, a brilliant practical joke isn't about cleverness--its appeal lies in timing. Was this bad timing?

The next day I nearly bypassed the morning prayer to open text messages first thing. The little devil in me was desperate to know if Max had discovered the full extent of our friendly trespass. Surely by now he would have seen the contents of his frigo mis à l'envers.

Still no word from him, I tried to be coy with my message. "Hey, Son. Do you know the term "topsy turvy?"

(No response.)

"Things feeling a little upside down over there?" I persisted.

Finally, my phone chimed! "I saw your joke" the text read. My son's deadpan response killed it -- that wonderful creative buzz born of a pedestrian effort.
"But Max," I despaired, "didn't you think it was funny?" 



"He's just tired," Jackie remarked when I couldn't let go--until finally I did.

I let go of the fish. In French un poisson is synonymous with "practical joke" or farce. But it may as well be synonymous with "the outcome of things".  It reminds me of the would-be thrill and adventure of writing: the reward, it turns out, lies not in the untouchable outcome but in the golden nuggets we gather along the way. This story (and the fun and games behind it) was born of one child's wisdom and the other’s wisecrackery. Indeed, the old Max will be back. Once he gets the hang of his new job, he'll be back at our home, setting all kinds of traps for the family. After all, we learned these pranks from him—even more, Max has shown us time and again how les badinages and plaisanteries are a good way not to take ourselves too seriously.

Meantime, let the outcome be the uncontrollable outcome. Continue to work, love, learn, and especially to have fun. See you next week, dear reader, for another story about whatever the universe conjures up.


Typical of Max to shake up his professional presentation...with something unexpected! (That's the cereal he and his sister used to eat when they were little). 
You might say our son has been in the wine business ages before we had our two vineyards: At the age of 10, Max rode his bike to town to buy a bottle of wine as a gift for his dad. After consulting with the storekeeper in our little French village, the boy rode home with a Côtes du Rhône!


Click here for Jean-Marc’s vocabulary soundfile in French & English

un canular = practical joke
j'ai la flemme = I'm feeling lazy
debout et en avant! = up and at 'em!
une bêtise = mischief, tomfoolery
cornichons = pickles
le ménage = housework
les épices
 =  spices
la table de cuisson = stovetop
le frigo = fridge
elle avait raison = she was right
Chut! Ne dis rien! = hush, don’t say a word!
mis à l'envers = put upside down
un poisson = fish
le badinage
= banter
la plaisanterie = joke
une farce = practical joke
une rousse
= a redhead (see photo at the end of this post)

Jackie walking Izzy
Jackie walking Izzy the pocket Beagle on the beach

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Ana and Jackie
In today's story, I mention "rendre un service" (return a favor). After Max's girlfriend Ana dyed Jackie's hair, Jackie offered to walk Ana's dogs, who sometimes stay at Max's. How's that for bartering services? 
Jackie hair color
Looks great, Ana! After blond, brunette…we’ll see how long Jackie remains une rousse.

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A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

Jackie's Airport Layover + A “flighty” Hint or Clue Regarding Something I’m Up To

Le Petit Prince airplane on french merry-go-round
Because airports are part of today's update, here’s one of the few pictures from my camera roll in theme with the story. It's a bit of a stretch, but then so is today's update (and that is your first clue).


    : clue, hint

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

As I type this billet my daughter is flying over the Atlantic, halfway between New York and Paris. Jackie's been away 4 weeks, on the road and in the air since earning her B+3 bachelor's degree in Lyon. (Ça y est! It's official: we have a graduate!)

Such freedom after buckling down for the intensive program must feel revigorante. After receiving her UI (user interface) degree, our 26-year-old flew from Marseille to Denver, on to Palm Springs, then to Tulum (le Mexique) where she zipped around on a scooter (mama mia!), then onto her old stomping grounds in Miami, and finally to New York City where former Florida roommate, Ruby, offered a canapé to sleep on and a snuggly Shiba Inu. (Jackie wanted to sneak the puppy into her bagage cabine before leaving.) 

Soon my youngest will land in Paris for a several-hour layover. At Aeroport Charles de Gaulle she'll have plenty of time to think about her next move (more schooling? a job? Or more travel before settling down?). Meantime I'm wondering just what will she do in the Paris airport with all that time on her hands? What healthy alternatives are there to do in any international airport besides drop more money and eat at Chuck E. Cheese (Is there a Chuck E. Cheese in Paris? I know my daughter was asking about it when nostalgia had her revisiting her favorite childhood haunts on her US visit).

But back to costly airport layovers—a subject I’ve been obsessed about lately (more about that in a bit)….A visit online at reveals a thousand ways to spend-while-you-wait for your connecting flight. From food to fancy fringues, if you're not careful with your portemonnaie your vacation could end up costing even more than you bargained for.

Beginning with food... Brioche Dorée, Ladurée (pastries and candy…), McDonald's, Starbucks--unless you’ve managed to hijack a sandwich from the previous flight (and pockets full of pretzels from the cocktail cart) these airport eateries will be your pricey alternatives....

One could always stick to water. But have you seen the price of a bottle of H20? I don't know about Paris, but a tiny bottle of water was $6 when I landed in Frankfurt 2 weeks ago. It sent me on a nostalgic hunt for the nearest water fountain (located just across the mall from one of the Frankfurter hotdog stands).

After you’ve eaten, you might be tempted by all the airport boutiques--a most dangerous way to pass the time! One more warning: jet lag is like being drunk—your senses are not as sharp. This is not a good time to be making costly decisions. Meantime Bulgari, Céline, Gucci, Dior - line the Paris airport walkways like pricey little traps. A young woman with a credit card could get in trouble!

Say you manage to skip the overpriced food and tempting boutiques (including the glittering joailleries!)—just what is there to do for all those terminally long hours in an airport terminal, international or otherwise? Some sort of healthy activity would be ideal. But what—beyond walking in circles—is available beneath the friendly skies that won't take your wallet for a ride?

They say business is about finding a need and filling it. And this, dear reader, got me thinking about a side gig. Lately, it's been a struggle to keep this blog up and "flying", and now with a sharp decline in readership, I wonder what tomorrow holds. Fifteen years ago, at its peak, this French Word-A-Day newsletter had 50,000 subscribers from all over the world. And now I watch with growing alarm as dozens unsubscribe each week. This journal is becoming a shadow of its former self--even the old saying If you build it they will come no longer seems to apply when readers are rushing elsewhere. But where?

Part of me (the part that doesn’t take things too personally) suspects that with the growth of social media readers are migrating north, leaving the warm shores of the blogosphere for a thrilly-chilly dose of whatever the Algorithm Gods serve up on Instagram--anything to keep us addicted to bite-size bits of information. When I lament about the future of blogging, my tech-savvy daughter tells me You must keep up with the times, Mom! But how to keep up with the times as a writer? Isn't writing timeless?

And so I’ve begun dreaming up a side-gig--un petit boulot supplémentaire--something outside the writing sphere but with the familiar rhythm and beat that keeps my soul singing and my mind dancing. There you have it, dear reader--sphere, rhythm, beat, dancing--a few hints, clues, or indices regarding an idea that’s taken a seat I’m my mind. You might say a seat amidst thousands in a bustling airport terminal. In the next 5 weeks, I’ll flesh out this novel idea and report back to you beginning of April. For now, cha-cha-cha! Time to get up and make a move!


Dogs at the airport
One healthy, free activity at the airport during a long layover is dog watching. It's a favorite airport sport. But I may have one better... stay tuned!


Click here to listen to the French  pronunciation

un indice = clue, hint
le billet =
post, blog post
ça y est =
that's it
= to fly over
revigorant,e = invigorating
le canapé = couch, sofa
le bagage en cabine = carry-on bag
les fringues = threads (clothing)
le porte-monnaie
= wallet
une escale = layover
la joaillerie = jewelry store
intemporelle = timeless
un petit boulot supplémentaire = a side gig


Sincere appreciation to readers supporting this journal via a donation!

Lowery W. 
Jackie C. 

"(For) Your wonderful blog." --Jackie
"Thank you for your letters." --Lowery


Ricci relaxing
It's been 4+ months since we brought darling Ricci home from a farm in Aveyron. She's gone through two separations since then: one, after I went to the States and, two, when Jean-Marc left for New Zealand. As you can see by her relaxed attitude here, she's adapting very well! Still, she's got one eye open lest her current guardian leave the room.

Jackie on bike
After touring Tulum on a scooter, Jackie rode one of these on the beach. She's now safe here at home in France, after her memorable trip.

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A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

Pancarte: A Funny Sign Taped to the wall of our W.C.

Valentines Day in Rome
Valentine's Day is past but an unusual love note lingers in today's story....
Also, a book you might love: Amour: How the French Talk About Love. Find it in the "Books" section" here.


    : banner, sign

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

The last moments before Jean-Marc flew to New Zealand for his wine mission were spent fixing our plumbing--or trying to. Ever since we moved to this 1960s villa in 2017 we've been walking a fine, crooked line with our abominable système d'évacuation WC. It all boils down to the snaking path of our canalisations, the stubborn corners of which create blockage from a build-up of papier toilette. Repairing the problem could involve ripping out our floors to locate the crooked pipes and reroute them. The demolition involved could be extensive and I don't want to destroy our floors. So we have remained as stuck as our bouchon as we tiptoe around the problem, being soucieux with we put in the toilet. Easy for us, but try getting family and guests to behave...

(While we are here, dear reader, and just to add to your French vocabulary....Here are eight things not to toss in the toilet: lingettes humides, cotons-tiges, serviettes hygiéniques, cheveux, préservatifs, mouchoirs en papier, couches jetables et emballages de produits hygiéniques.) 

"I think one of the kids' friends tossed a tampon in here," Jean-Marc suspects after our pipes become clogged again (as evidenced by water rising unnervingly close to the toilet rim). 

"Well, we don't know that," I say, defending la coupable. I like to think people think before tossing just anything into a toilet, but my husband is right: the truth is many don't! We have discovered everything from plastic Q-tips to chicken bones in our toilet bowl! (Regarding the bones, for years I pinned the blame on a senior family member but, come to think of it, the latter happened when several workers were renovating our house, stopping at noon for lunch...poulet rôti???).

While we know better than to flush feminine products, I was astonished when our plumber advised us not to put le PQ in the cuvette. Well then, what did he expect us to do?
"Prenez une douche," he suggested. "You might take a shower after. It's what I do...."

I tried very hard not to picture our plumber following his own advice. Meantime, our toilet is located in a separate room from our salle de bains, did he really think we were going to hop on over to the shower to rinse off? Honestly! Sometimes I think France is still living in le Moyen Âge.

What with this non-flushing fiasco, Jean-Marc and I have become part-time plumbers in the 7 years we've been here, with one of us manning the garden hose and the other on standby beside the toilet. Removing a heavy metal grate from the back porch, my husband feeds le tuyau as far into our pipes as possible then releases a jet of water whilst inside the house I listen for the familiar glug, glug, glug of I'm not sure what. Then comes the call, VAS-Y! TIRE! With that, I flush the upstairs toilet. then hurry down the stairs to pull the chain on the other WC. (Ideally, one person is stationed at each toilet, but often there are only two of us here. Even so, I don't like to ask guests for help with this particular chore...)

When my sister and the kids visited last summer, Jean-Marc reminded me to tell my family NOT to put TP in the toilet. “But they'll think we are barbaric!” I argued. (For being so anti-barbaric I was rewarded with a grizzly midnight shift during the family visit as Jean-Marc and I snuck out to the backyard and pumped the pipes when all the toilets became stopped up!)

As the years passed, and our pesky plumbing problem persisted, I began dreaming of one of those Totos or Japanese toilets with the built-in water jets. But at 3000 euros a unit (and not all plumbers know how to install them) I researched other options. As stressful as this situation is, it's brought forth a few discoveries. For one, I've found The HappyPo--a portable douche that allows you to skip toilet paper altogether. And let me tell you, even if we move on to another house and the perfect plumbing system I will forever have my HappyPo with me in the WC! And you should too! This douche à fesses portable is especially helpful for those suffering from petits soucis (such as hemorrhoids).

At D-12 hours until his departure for New Zealand, we hang up the towel and agree, whether we believe it or not, that the plumbing is somewhat fixed again. So while Jean-Marc finished packing his bags, I had a nap. No sooner did my head hit the pillow than I heard my husband ripping piece after piece of tape... a familiar sound! Noooo.... He can't possibly be using duct tape (his solution to everything from broken bumpers to ripped hammocks) to fix our plumbing problem? My mind was alive with images and scenarios of our duct-taped toilet (???) until, exhausted, I fell to sleep.

When I woke up I'd forgotten all about the tape until I entered the bathroom. And there, taped to the wall and also to the door, a handwritten pancarte. (So that's what he was doing...) The first word was giant and in red: "ZERO" and the next words were in his characteristic cursive: ZERO papiers, serviettes...dans le WC. Merci d'utiliser la poupelle. Sorry. Merci." ZERO toilet paper, pads…in the toilet. Sorry. Thanks.

I found the all-caps, red-lettered note jarring (not to mention it riled my aesthetic sensibilities to see a sign like that at home). Finally, deep down, I didn't want this to be the last message I see before my man leaves (to think we once exchanged love notes!). But my emotions were overcome by amusement on noticing a slight error in the text. In the haste to tie up so many loose ends before his departure, my husband had scribbled a "p" instead of a "b" that poubelle (garbage can) read "poupelle".

(Pardonnez-moi for all this toilet talk, dear reader, but I can't stop laughing over the accidental exactitude of poupbelle--for isn't that where the plumber was suggesting we put the toilet paper? And didn’t it all add up to that?)

Back to the handwritten pancarte. Ah well, it wasn't the love letter of times past. And though I planned to rip it down as soon as my husband left, I've decided to keep it posted on the bathroom wall, that all-caps plea in Valentine-red ink. After all, it is a lively, caring, and protective sentiment all the same, one I can hold on to. Now if only our WC could learn to let go....  


Your comments, corrections, and shared experiences are appreciated. Click here to leave a message.

Bernard and Jean-Marc bike tour New Zealand
After 48 hours port à port, door to door, Jean-Marc landed in Christchurch. I leave you with a few pictures from his bike tour with longtime pal Bernard. Bernard and Jean-Marc began their biking adventure on the West Coast of New Zealand

Mille mercis to readers sending in a donation for the first time, and to those of you who regularly contribute to my journal. Your support means a lot and keeps me on track posting this weekly letter.

Mary S.
Gaby & Steve T.


Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the French and English

la pancarte = sign (read a 2008 entry from the healing village of Lourdes, France)
le WC = toilet 
les canalisations = pipes
soucieux, soucieuse = careful, mindful
un bouchon = a blockage
le coupable, la coupable = the guilty party
le PQ (le papier Q) = toilet paper
le poulet rôti = roast chicken
prenez une douche = take a shower
le Moyen Âge = the Middle Ages
le dépannage = fixing, repair
la cuve = tank (of toilet)
la cuvette = toilet bowl
le tuyau = pipe
vas-y, tire (la chasse d'eau)! = go ahead, flush (the toilet)!
la poubelle = the garbage can


The Paris Writers Workshop 2024, in its 28th year, is a dynamic week-long literary adventure (June 2–7) in the inspiring City of Light—with masterclasses by an award-winning faculty in Fiction/Novel, Creative Nonfiction/Memoir, Travel Writing, Poetry, and Screenwriting. Benefit from small-group masterclasses, individual meetings with instructors & literary agents, practical guidance for work in progress, tools of writing & paths to publishing. Early-bird registration thru March 15.

River in New Zealand
Thanks Bernard and Jean-Marc for these beautiful pictures! This must be the river they swam in.

Glorious New Zealand! Do you think Jean-Marc will ever want to return to France? 

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety