Sweet competition for that ol' classic menthe à l'eau.

la menthe (mont) noun, feminine
   1. mint

Some accidental wisdom from a 19th century French distillery book:
...on doit prendre la menthe au moment de sa floraison.
...we must take the mint the moment it flowers.

    --from the "Nouveau Manuel Complet du Distillateur Liquoriste"
          by Lebeaud, de Fontenelle & Malepeyre. 1879.

They don't have a word for serendipity in France. They have three: "une découverte heureuse" or "a happy discovery". To say that an event is serendipitous is to say that it is an "heureuse" event. Believe me I was smiling when I bumped into my daughter's former math tutor at the farmers market yesterday. There she stood, framed by a wall of syrup, her bright, calculating face set off by a rainbow of colors (all those fancy syrup bottles at the syrup stand just behind her). There was strawberry syrup, blueberry syrup, grenadine, peach, cinnamon, orgeat,* black currant, cherry, kiwi, caramel, bonbon, lavender, red poppy and menthe.... Mint!

I realized then and there that math, for my daughter, is like the mint flavored syrup once was for me, foreign. And it was something I did not like but eventually developed a hankering for. I remember shivering as the French sipped their diabolical mint drinks, mint syrup poured over carbonated lemonade for a "diabolo menthe". I liked mint okay, as long as it was in gum, just like Jackie likes math okay when it equals a gum-getable sum (like the fifty French cents she earns after shampooing the dog, then off she trots to buy more ewba bewba*).

Arithmetic wasn't my flavor as a kid either and as an adult I don't understand French math, specifically division. It's all backwards. When I was in school, you put the number to be divided, "le dividende," to the right of a curved bar and the other number, "le diviseur," to the left. Then you threw your scabby
fingers up into the air and began to count. Not so in civilized modern France.

I admit that I cannot help my daughter with her homework and even if I could she wouldn't allow it, not after the humiliating dictation incident a few years ago. She fired me back in the first grade when a smooth talking candidate came vying for my job--a native French speaker at that, her father. He loves mint syrup and majored in accounting.

But with a mother who almost failed high school and a father out traipsing through a vine jungle (Jean-Marc has seven more rows to prune at his new job as wine farmer) Jackie has been struggling with long division all on her own. And so the chance meeting back at the syrup stand was sweetly serendipitous. And while the English may have only one word for "happy discovery," my francophone daughter now has two: math tutor.

References: l'orgeat (m) = sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar and rose- or orange-flower water; ewba bewba = French pronunciation for "Hubba Bubba" (gum)

:: French Audio Clip ::
Listen to my son, Max, recite today's quote: Download menthe.wav
...on doit prendre la menthe au moment de sa floraison

Terms & Expressions:
  une menthe à l'eau = a (glass of) peppermint cordial
  la menthe verte = spearmint
  la menthe anglaise, poivrée = peppermint
  pastilles de menthe = peppermints
  un bonbon à la menthe = a mint (candy)
  une infusion à la menthe = mint tea
  vinaigrette à la menthe = mint sauce
  chocolat fourré de crème à la menthe = mint chocolate

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