Culotté: a cheeky word for you today

KINDLE Do Not Go Gentle. Go to Paris

Travel with award-winning author Gail Thorell Schilling as she jaunts alone to Paris and southern France to ransom her self-confidence and learn how to age in her engaging memoir, Do Not Go Gentle. Go to Paris: Travels of an Uncertain Woman of a Certain Age.  Rattled by fears that she is losing her keys, her job, her looks, this 62-year-old American with a little French and less money transcends mishaps ranging from botched connections to a fickle sweetheart. Her travels expose her to the wisdom of feisty Frenchwomen, still vital in elder years. Joie de vivre, she learns, has no expiration date. Click here to order the book, Worldwide distribution via Amazon.

Today's Word: culotté (koo-loh-tay)

    : cheeky, daring, sassy

Sound File: listen to Jean-Marc read the example sentence from

Culotté, cela veut dire "avoir du culot, être effronté ; manifester cet état d'esprit : C'est plutôt culotté de venir sans être invité." Culotté, it means "to be cheeky, to be daring; to manifest this state of mind: It is rather cheeky to come without being invited."

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Robot Panties (or Les Culottes en Fer)

By now we are all familiar with the automated side of life, as increasingly machines replace people. But do you ever wonder how Old France is faring in this new world? In the past week, I've been surprised by the degree to which public areas are automated--from fast food to fast doctors we are going to have to have more than steel nerves to function in the coming robotic world....

For now, we must resist while we can.

On our way home from the Alps, I agreed we could stop at Mac Do (as they call it here) on one condition: we would not do the drive-through but would go inside, sit down and eat our lunch (with linens if possible...). This intention to slow down was foiled when we encountered the computerized self-service stations where extra seating used to be. Taking a deep breath, I searched for the "Royale" burger I had the last time I was here (a year ago?). Not finding it, I went to the front counter to order from a human, only to learn that was impossible. All of the registers had been removed, and the counter now served as a barrier. It wouldn't be the first barrier we would run into....

Arriving home a few hours later, I unpacked in time to accompany Mom to the doctor. At the medical center I searched for a secretary when another patient pointed to a dull gray tablet near the exit. Studying the screen I was explaining to Mom how to use the computerized check-in when we ran into another pépin: the instructions were, of course, in French.

"Don't worry Mom. If you ever have to come here alone somebody will help you!" I assured her. With that I offered a pleading look to the two patients, who smiled in solidarity.

From there Mom and I went grocery shopping only for one of us to become frustrated upon learning that every fruit/veg had to be weighed electronically and self-labeled. My feisty Mamacita, having moved here from Mexico (where she had only to reach out her kitchen window to pick papayas) returned everything to the bins and grabbed a prepackaged sack of pears. Harrumph (well, I'll say harrumph. Mom exclaimed a much more colorful word!). If this automated society is challenging for the French, it is baffling for immigrants. Thankfully we aliens could stick together on this changing planet.

On the way to the checkout, we were eager to pay and leave only to learn no humans were available (owing to a broken cash register. The newly remodeled store put in two cash registers and five self-checkouts... Mom and I headed to the second register, only to find it abandoned; we would have to use the self check-out stations. Knowing this would take a while (our motley duo attempted self check last time. If you think weighing 3 apples back at the produce section was complicated, try typing in 46 tiny digits when the scan code doesn't work). Taking another deep breath, I asked if they had a public bathroom (a pressing question since arriving to the store 45 minutes earlier...). Non, the manager smiled, they did not. Now I ask you, who smiles when delivering bad news if not a robot? Which leads me to the point I am trying to make....

Looking around the shiny new store (which included a beverage stand and snacks for sale), I wondered how it was possible to put so much effort into supermarket efficiency and so little thought into human beings? You might say the company's decision to forgo a public restroom was culotté --cheeky on their part!  Humor aside, I (and my bladder) can't help but think: In order to keep up with this futuristic society, we'll need more than nerves of steel, we may need robot panties!  

*    *    *
I leave you with an image of Mom, in her favorite place to shop--the farmers market. The warmth and conviviality cannot be weighed or labeled with a machine. And (at this one, in St Cyr-sur-Mer) the public toilettes are at the end of the leafy lane. :-)


Mac Do
= Mc Donald's
les culottes
= panties, underpants, knickers
le fer
= iron
le pépin = glitch, hitch, snag
= cheeky
les toilettes (nfpl)
= restrooms, bathrooms

Improve your French pronunciation with the book Exercises in French Phonics

Rainbow in La Ciotat
Thank you very much for reading these stories, especially via email. Each week, more people sign off the email listserver--yet another sign of the changing times. It is a crowded world out there and a chaotic inbox only makes it more overwhelming. So merci encore for hanging on, for being a subscriber to this journal. Without you I would not be writing. I leave you with a rainbow, un arc-en-ciel, spotted here in La Ciotat a few weeks ago. I am leaving, now, to visit our daughter in Miami, and hope to post some photos on my Instagram if you would like to follow me there.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Cheri, did you pay the water bill? Two breakdowns in the Alps....

Find your “joie de vivre” in Provence this summer on our small group tour. Unpack at the villa and become a “local” in our little French village. We offer daily excursions to historical sites, (this year Nimes), the best markets, a private wine tasting/tour and to our secret lavender fields. At Lavender and Vine we make it easy for you to feel at home in Provence.

Today's word (posted in 2004): en panne

    : broken down, out of order

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Last winter Jean-Marc and I bought a tiny chalet in the Alps--so small the previous owners named it "Blanche Neige". So far, we have only tested 3 nains (when Jean-Marc, our son, Max, and friend Jorge went skiing early January). I stayed home, leaving the man trio to share the loft upstairs and the lilliputian quarters below.

This past weekend, Jean-Marc and I drove the 3.5 hours from La Ciotat to Serre Chevalier, to spend time at Blanche Neige and to be with our friends. After a nerve-racking drive in rain and in slippery ice, we made it to the mountains after dark, only to hike past the snow that had made a 3 ft wall in front of the stone cabin. What a relief to make it inside and to light a fire in the poêle à bois before taking hot showers and tucking into bed beneath the rafters.  The next day and night went well, more hot showers and enough water to boil pasta... but on Sunday morning we woke up to a worrisome panne....

I noticed it when I tried to flush the toilet. No water. No water, no flush. In the bathroom, one room over, I turned on the faucet. A few drops came out, et c'est tout! 

Returning to the loft, I made my way over to the mattress on the floor and crawled back into bed. "On a un petit problème," I informed Jean-Marc, who then began to cite a few possibilities, including our facture d'eau.

Did he just say he didn't pay the water bill?

Little stone cabin

I looked outside the windows to snow flurries and an icy winter white scene. It was freezing out and there would be no hot shower this morning. And who knew what else was in store? No water meant no coffee, no tea, no porridge. (Porridge may be an exaggeration, but it adds drama don't you think? Oatmeal sounds so boring. Both, however, require WATER!)

Back to the unpaid water bill (if this indeed is the culprit), the old Kristi would have been fuming inside. But the new Kristi (after 25 years of marriage...) stayed calm and reached for the bottle of Evian beside Jean-Marc's side of the bed. With the few ounces of water that remained, I carefully washed my hands. As for my late-to-pay-the-water-bill husband, if he was thirsty he could drink wine! But I needed to have clean hands--the least amount of comfort given the situation we were in!

We maneuvered our way out of the loft (some ducking, some squatting to get past the wooden beams beneath which we sleep). There in the one-room pièce below Jean-Marc opened a door on the floor and entered the cellar below. After fidgeting with the robinet he asked me to turn on the faucet in the kitchen sink. Nada. Pas une goutte.

Jean-marc calling for help
Jean-Marc, calling the water company

Around this time we heard our neighbors' voices and Jean-Marc went outside to find Françoise at her window and, across the street, Jean-Yves was standing in front of his house. More than sympathizing with our dilemma, our voisins quickly flew into action. Françoise texted the emergency number for our water company and Jean-Yves sent over a giant vase of hot water (a treasure better than gold!) I quickly washed up (à la bird bath) and dressed--in time to answer the door. An agent from the water company had arrived.

Quelle image! Looking out from our diamond-shaped window I saw a character from another epoch. The young man wore an unusual béret: flat as a pizza and around the same size in diameter!

"Quel beau chapeau!" I said, greeting him. Remembering the varying types of bérets (I bought an Italian one (falls nicely over the ears) for my mom last year) I asked, "Is it Spanish?" I noticed his ears were completely exposed and I had a mind to pull down the sides of the flat béret and cover them. It was freezing outside! 

"No, it is from the French army. Ça s'appelle une tarte!"

Next, his colleague arrived carrying a giant cocotte-minute and the two descended into the cellar. With the help of a tank of gas and a blow torch, the men melted the ice that had formed around our pipes and the water flowed once more!

Trap door to cellar
Trap door to the cellar full of wine and icy pipes! (And do you spy Mr Sacks?)

That evening we invited our neighbors over for an apéro to thank them for their help. Françoise brought Danièle, who is lodging with her, and who is doing ski touring with our other neighbor, Jean-Yves, an expert mountain guide. Jean-Yves showed up with un fromage de tête (a delicacy consisting of various meats (ears, cheeks... all combined with a lot of parsley and set with gelatin). As we sat before the fire, chatting, I admitted to Danièle that it is so very hard to ask for help, isn't it? If I had been here alone, I told her, I don't think I would have ventured out to knock on my neighbor's door. I would have tried, somehow, to get by. (I can only imagine, in such a scenario, how things would've looked by day two!) And to think there are people who remain in similar absurd situations...all because they are uncomfortable asking for help. 

Danièle reminded me of the French valeur of solidarity. "Especially here in the mountains, in a far off hameau like this one. We all help each other. Never hesitate to ask for assistance--that is how it works!" On that note I asked our guests about the unusual béret the plumber wore, and the trio each had something to say, beginning with Jean-Yves: "Ce sont les bérets de chasseur alpin." 

"They were worn by the military," Francoise, said. 
Danièle pointed out that these béret-porting troops were the ones who scoured the mountainside during the war both to protect civilians and defend the border.

Jean-Marc added that, since obligatory military service ended some twenty years ago, with President Chirac, certain young men wear the béret out of regional pride and to honor tradition.

My mind returned to the picture I saw outside our diamond-shaped window, of the young man in his extra-wide béret. I remember how timeless he looked. The scene could have very well been from another time and place, except, thankfully, he was only here to rescue our pipes, and, in so doing, prevent a possible guerre des rose or war of the roses. Which reminds me, my hubby did indeed pay the water bill. It was time to thank him for that...only he was already back outside, trying to fix our car which would not start. Oh no! Another panne! 

Many thanks for reading. Edits are most welcome in the comments, below.

Jimny suzuki
And we had just gotten our car out of the shop, remember?

Soutiras beret chasseur alpin militaire
Le commandant Soutiras, officier des Chasseurs alpins, en 1939


Blanche Neige = Snow White
le nain, la naine = dwarf
le poêle à bois = wood stove
la panne = breakdown, out of order
et c'est tout = and that's all
la facture d'eau = water bill, invoice
la pièce = room
le robinet = tap, faucet
pas une goutte = not a drop
le voisin = neighbor
quelle image = what a sight!
la cocotte-minute = pressure cooker
un apéro = pre-dinner drink
un fromage de tête = pork brawn, head-cheese pâté
la valeur = value
le hameau = hamlet
le chasseur alpin = mountain infantry man
Blossoming cover
Book birthday! Blossoming in Provence turned 8 years old last month. This book came together during a 21-day publishing challenge. Today's challenge is to ask for help (still so hard to do!) in getting this book into the hands of someone new. Would you kindly consider buying a copy for a friend? Thank you in advance. Time now to have a piece of cake and celebrate!

I hope you enjoyed a little bit of French history in today's story. Come to France to experience the rich culture. Photo by my friend Beth, from her Lavender and Vine Tour, info here.

Max wearing his wool hat
Our son Max, wearing another timeless hat: after the authentic béret, here's a men's newsboy cap, (more styles here). 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Voir: An assumption...followed by an unforgettable encounter

Patricia Sands book Drawing Lessons
A New Year's sale from Amazon! The spirit of van Gogh lives on the pages of this touching story set in Arles and the intriguing Camargue." Follow Patricia at or on Instagram

Today's Word: voir

    : to see, watch, look at

voir la vie en rose = to look on the bright side

Audio: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following:
La marque constante de la sagesse est de voir le miraculeux dans le banal. The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE  by Kristi Espinasse

On another of those eye-opening walks (whether for the sunset or the beauty in an encounter) Mom and I were once again enchanted by strangers.

We were halfway along our favorite sentier, when two figures appeared on the horizon. As the couple came into focus, I saw her headscarf and glimpsed his long beard. Malgré moi, my mind interpreted the incoming data:

headscarf + long beard = formal religion observed

Acting out of what I believed was respect, I smiled at the woman but carefully avoided eye contact with the man. Don't ask how I came up with such a protocol, except it was loosely based on a conversation with a North African friend who wore the same modest headscarf: "Men and women," she explained, "unless married, are not to be alone in the same car."

Surely there were exceptions to la règle. I don't doubt she could drive with her father or her son or her nephew or cousin. There was so much to learn about my friend's culture and I enjoyed those days, sipping coffee with her in my kitchen, sharing our faiths.

Meantime, back to the future, Mom and I weren't in a car, but I didn't want to take any chances and end up crossing some sort of invisible boundary when the couple, now a few feet ahead of us, passed. As Mom was unusually quiet tonight, chances were low she would strike up a conversation with the les inconnus--even if it is her joy to do so. We were just about to pass the couple, honorably so, when the unexpected happened....

The man suddenly lunged at us! Flailing an invisible sword through the air, he shouted something unintelligible.

I think Mom caught on before I did, recognizing the man's mock sparring. Turns out he was only pointing out--in a most illustrative way--my own headdress: a wide-brimmed black felt hat.

Confused, I looked at my mom who smiled back playfully at the man with the beard. Mimicking his comic gesture: she swept her own invisible sword back and forth, fashioning a "Z" in the air.

"Zorro!" She said, repeating the man's unintelligible word (or one that hadn't made sense moments ago).

Reaching for my hat, I remembered what it looked like and sure enough--along with my black jeans and black coat, it all brought to mind that sword-swinging character.

"Oui, oui, Zorro!" I laughed, looking the bearded-man directly in the eyes, breaking whatever assumptions and oddly-concocted conclusions I had drawn, letting him know his humor was spot on. Touché!

*    *    *

I leave you with a picture of my funloving Mom as she is wearing a similar hat to the one I had on that day. Enjoy, and remember: ne jugez pas un livre par sa couverture or you might miss a wonderful story! 

Jules my mom in front of coiffeur in la ciotat france
My Mom, on one of our evening walks. I have a similar hat to Mom's, only the hatband is different...see mine below.
le sentier = path
malgré moi (malgré soi) = involuntarily
la règle = rule
les inconnus = the strangers
touché! = you win!
ne jugez pas un livre par sa couverture = don't judge a book by its cover
qui sait = who knows

For more French phrases, try The Penguin French Phrase Book.

Kristi black felt hat backpack
Zorro? I wear wide-brimmed hats in the winter to help keep the bright sun off my face. Mom wears hers because it keeps her warm and she likes the style. Check out these felt hats and protect your skin, as I have to. And qui sait...wearing one might lead to a mind-opening encounter.

*    *    *

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.