prise de bec


Salt marsh
Le marais salant: salt marsh in the Camargue.

chômer (sho-may) verb
    : to lie idle; to be idle, inactive
    : to be unemployed, out of work

[from the Latin "caumare": "to rest during the heat"]

Listen to the French definition* of chômer (that's my daughter speaking): 
"Célébrer une fête par le repos, en ne travaillant pas."
(To celebrate an occasion by rest, by not working.)

* Download chomer.wav. Download chomer.mp3

Below a Mediterranean sky emblazoned with a rainbow of kites... there in the turquoise sea, beneath the swooping cerfs-volants,* a half-kilometer out from the coastline (or so it seemed, for it took a thousand steps before the water hit waist-level), je flottais.*

Now and then I glanced back to the shoreline, where my extended French family salt-and-peppered the sandy beach: the aunts collected pretty jackknife clams or "couteaux," the cousins worked on their tans, the uncles played pétanque,* and the kids ran circles around the portable picnic tables, which were lopsided from the weight of French gastronomy: there were fresh-baked olive cakes, home-grown canary melons, grilled sardines, chocolate cake, et encore!*

At a safe distance from the kitesurfers and floating peacefully, I thought about our gathering. Hadn't we all returned from vacation last week--so why were we taking another day off work? Just what public holiday was this one? I wondered, too embarrassed to ask. What did August 21st represent? Surely some historical event in French history took place on this day. Or maybe we are commemorating something saintly? Then again, does Grandmother's Day exist in France ("La Fête de Mémé" perhaps)?

Reaching our destination was an event in itself: we had driven past several rice factories, a few salt museums, a field of lethargic Camargue bulls, rambling rice pastures, plenty of pampas grass, hot-dog shaped "cattails" and those knobby-kneed and long-legged flamants roses*... before reaching this, the tipping point of the continent (all those home-baked goods piled high on one French picnic table).

Retracing that same scenic path on the way home last night, fed, full, and facing another workday, I asked my brother-in-law, Jacques, just what public holiday we had been so patriotically observing.

"Ce n'était pas un jour férié,"* Jacques answered, and I noticed his guilty grin.
"I managed to get off work," he added, as if an explanation was needed. Well, it looked like the rest of our French clan, all thirtysomething of us, had "managed" the same.

Comment on today's post, translate the French word for chômer into another language... or share your own language savoir-faire, here.

le cerf-volant
(m) = kite;  je flottais = I floated; la pétanque (f) = a popular French game played with metal balls a.k.a. "boules"; et encore = and more; le flamant (m) rose = pink flamingo; ce n'était pas un jour férié = it wasn't a public holiday

Vacances Provence & The Cote D'Azur: Including The Camargue: The French on France

Related Words and expressions:
le chomage = unemployment, joblessness
une période de chômage = layoff
l'allocation de chômage = dole, unemployment compensation
chômable = non-working
un jour chômé = public holiday
un chômeur = unemployed worker
les chômeurs = the unemployed


Ultimate French Beginner-Intermediate (CD/Book) 
Fleur De Sel De Camargue French Sea Salt
Red Camargue rice - a.k.a "riz rouge"
Horses of the Camargue
Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language...

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


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


La "fête des mémés " existe vraiment, on dit "fête des grands mères" c'est au début du printemps je crois!


nathalie in avignon

What beach was that, Kristin?
I was at la plage de Piemançon yesterday!


Salut Nathalie! We were at "Beauduc" (near Saintes Maries de la Mer) - a kitesurfer's heaven:


Hi Kristin! Do you happen to have the recipe for the olive cake? Sounds yummy! I think the pleasure of having a large family to gather makes the day a holiday in and of itself. Sounds more delicious than the olive cake! PS, where I live here in the Pacific Northwest, petanque is known as bocci ball. Seems to be played the same. I have a petanque court in my backyard!

Dandy Dab

Wish there had been a better photo, showing the birds and horses and magnificence of the Camarque.. Can you email me other pictures?

Christine Dashper

Ah memories! We visited the Camargue last year, and the Parc Ornothologique (pardon any spelling errors), and couldn't get enough of 'le flamant'. Only the occasisional one or two in the zoo here in Oz, to see so many gathered was fantastic. Regards Christine

Nancy Peterson

Kristin, after a friend of mine chastised me for not acting more on my desire to keep up with my French, I found the link to your site on Yahoo! I've been reading your site for about a year and finding other ways to shake the rust off my French. About a month ago, I arranged to take an extension on a business trip and spent 2 days in Paris. I barely spoke English! That and being able to see the 3 museums with Monet works (Musee d'Orsay, L'Orangerie, Musee Marmottan) were highlights of my trip. After 35 years away, I was very happy to be back in Paris. Thanks for helping to inspire me to "go for it"!
Salutations, Nancy (Fairport NY)


I am new to French and I have to say that j'AIME this site. :) I thank you for doing this on behalf of French-learners everywhere!


You're so right - any day can be a holiday in France. I agree with Nancy in Fairport, NY (maybe because I'm from East Rochester, NY!)your site is an inspiration for all of us.


I too would love the recipe for olive cake.
Perhaps you can do a column about it and give us the recipe???
I'm sure it would go well with all the Rouge Bleu wine we've been drinking lately! :)
Candice in NYC


What a lovely day! I felt like I escaped my never ending piles of laundry and fussy little one for a minute or two, as I read about your picnic. Eagerly anticipating the next word, and mini escape.


Help! I have a new (old) 69 Mustang rouge decapotable.....thinking I was terribly creative I ordered a vanity license plate, deciding on CAMARQ....the ue and e not fitting within the 7 letters allowable and being unheard. I was very pleased to use a wild horse of southern france for my wild horse in the southwest US. This week more than one person wanted to know why I would put CAMARO on a MUSTANG!!!! Permanent marker in hand,I (probably illegally) made sure the Q is a little more distinct, only to find now that it is correctly spelled with a G not a Q!!!!
Thankfully having nothing more important to fret over in my perfect little world, I'm devastated that I've screwed this up!
However when I look up the word online, I find it spelled both ways...although more often with the G. Is there ever an occasion where it is correctly spelled with a Q????
Tammy/Lake Powell

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)