prise de bec

A neighboring IRM... read on in today's story, below.

prise de bec (preez-deuh-bek) noun, feminine
    : an altercation, a spat, an argument

"Le bec" ("beak") also means mouth.

In the chic town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz there were plenty of BMWs and so you might say we fit right in with our own deluxe IRM....

After watching the French movie "Camping"* (which shines the comedic limelight on that remarkable recreational species, the camper, in his garden of delights--or self-contained "tent town" replete with quirky campers like himself) my family was keen on spending our ten-day annual vacation at a campground: one teeming with portable cooking appliances, communal showers, cliques and, hopefully--oh so hopefully!--the spicy mini-dramas that only a close quarters community with its "let it all hang out" spirit can cook up.

During check-in time at the campsite, I studied the arriving vacationers (future characters for a brewing mini-drama?) and decided that our fellow campers did not look the part. Though half-clad, or "demi vêtu", as summertime campers are, they were neither racy nor raunchy, but appeared every bit as reserved as this reluctant campeuse*. Therefore I guessed, judging by their "covers", that we wouldn't be witnessing any juicy dramas unfold outside our aluminum-sided "star quarters". Oh, how I would soon regret those "covers"....

Several months back, faced with the camping conundrum that was "how to sell wife on the idea of spending our much-anticipated ten-day vacation camped out," Jean-Marc came up with a generous compromise: enter "IRM": "Idéale Résidence Mobile," which is just a fancy term for "mobile home" (which, in turn, is just a fancy name for "trailer"). When my husband mentioned that even the bed linens were included in the deal, I shouted "VENDU!"* Soon, I would spend my vacation sweetly sweeping the plastic faux-bois* floor, delighted to have a toilet and a shower of my own and to be able to stand while frying up our Gallic grits.

As for chores, sweeping the floor was as much work as I would find, for the kids would be territorial about the dishes (this, in their quest to earn money to spend at the campground's mini-market, from which they would bring back too much candy and not enough gossip).

The only thing missing from our pre-conceived notions about Campground was the mini-drama, but not for long. After unpacking my family's suitcases I went to make the beds, only to discover that sheets were not provided!

"You told me not to pack sheets," I began, huffing my way out to the terrace, where Jean-Marc was examining the BBQ. My husband snapped into defense mode.
"Oh, non. Non, non! I did not tell you not to pack sheets."
"You told me there was no need to -- that sheets would be included in the rental!"
"You may not have HEARD me, but I definitely told you to pack sheets."
"YOU may not REMEMBER telling me not to pack them, but...."

Noticing a passer-by, I slipped back inside our IRM... to continue the discussion in private. Jean-Marc followed, reluctantly.

"Most definitely you did NOT!..."
"Did too!..."
"Did not!"

Tired from the 6-hour drive, Jean-Marc had a solution.
"Look. I don't need a sheet," he said.
"Well, maybe YOU don't need a sheet... Monsieur Back-to-Nature... but the kids and I will need them."

I stomped back out to our IRM deck and promptly froze in my tracks. Up and down the narrow trailer lane, perched over their temporary property lines and leaning as far forward as gravity would permit, a half-clad audience had appeared, virtual popcorn in hand. Looking up and down the street, my eyes returned to our own mini front yard, where, at center stage before a deluxe "star quartered" caravan, I soon realized that WE were the first act in the spicy melodrama that my preconceived notions had obligingly cooked up, portable stove or not.

P.S.: On the second day, our neighbors took the relay... with a shouting match, or "prise de bec," to rival our act. I must say, I was a bit less obvious while ogling the operetta (viewing it from behind discreetly-parted curtains, where I listened, greedily, before an open window).

Share your own story, respond to this post, or help translate today's word "une prise de bec" ("argument") into another language... in the comments box, below.

Camping; la campeuse (le campeur) = camper; vendu! = sold!; faux-bois = fake wood

Zip around in this Miniature Euro Electric Scooter
Caravan & Camping France 2008
Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language...

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Deborah Schultz

Loved your story about camping
I went camping once or rather my husband called it camping--I called it hell.
The closest I come to camping now is the Holiday Inn


My, my, my a good olde double wide in the heart of southern france.....mmm, camping at it's finest. Was the Holiday Inn far down the road? (I hope not)...

Jennifer Schellenberg

I had to chuckle at this story bc we had our own French camping experience this year. We're an American family of 7 who moved over from the Chicago last summer bc of my husband's job (have plenty of stories of our own about living in the French world :). We're living in a small town on the outskirts of Grenoble. It was early June and my kids were dying to try out their camping equipment they opened at Christmas. I looked online and reserved a spot at a 3 star campground near Pont D'Arc near the Ardeche River. We loaded up the car topper and car and drove a few hours. Since June isn't a popular month to camp in, we had our pick of the neatly lined up campsites with only a tiny shrub separating the sites- can't imagine it in the summer! I had asked Mark if he had the keys to the car topper but he realized he had forgotten them as he went to unload it. So there we were breaking into our own topper with a pocket knife and mallot and a lot of stubborn determination! He managed to get it open and we set up our things. Somewhere I missed that real campfires were forbidden so I had to drive out to Intermarche and buy an electric grill- it totally takes the fun out of roasting hot dogs and marshmallows!! At least the bathrooms were clean :) Despite all that, the kids had a blast and are begging to camp again- maybe in the mountains next time. I'm ready to hit the beaches of Corsica this week which is more my style of a vacance holiday!
Thanks for all you write on your web site!

Kerry Ann

Chere Kristin- Great story! Vacations are wonderful for family lore! Can you share the complete title and year of the movie Camping-it sounds like a comedy worth watching. Mille Mercis, Kerry Ann

R. Roll

You're a brave soul. I've never gone camping, partly because my husband says my idea of roughing it is Holiday Inn.


Hi Charles: double-wide? - I didn't know they had those in France! This was a single-wide model. Perfect for four--could sleep six... but don't tell JM or he'll have one delivered and installed, here at Domaine Rouge-Bleu, for you and the other harvesters--and then you might really hope for that Holiday Inn. See you soon.... mwah ha ha ha!

Kerry Ann: here's the IMDB info for the movie "Camping" (2006):

Bernard Dolivet

Le Bec ( the beak)has lots of uses in French. It can be used to describe somebody who likes exquisite food "A Gourmet"...Il/elle a le bec fin ( one of the most expensive French restaurants in Philadelphia is called "Le Bec Fin".It can also to translate "face stuffing"...A mother tired of her child asking for food could be heard saying while giving him/her food...Tiens...Colles toi ca dans le bec et donnes nous la paix!
Another funny expression meaning " To shut someone up"...Ex: Ce que je lui repondu lui a cloué le bec ( Nailed his bec shut).
A verb has also been created with bec for eating...ex: A quelle heure es-ce qu'on va becter?

Jules Greer

My head is full of trailer-park stories now.
How about the time I was stranded on Grandpa's ranch in the trailer Grandpa had convinced Kip to buy over a bottle of Scotch
so he could control me while your Dad was off to fight the war in Viet Nam. Kip's orders were changed to the Phillipines so that plan fell through. Kip shipped the trailer to Arizona to Grandpa's winter paradise. Grandpa's dream came true, after
I spent 18 months in the Phillipines your
Dad was then shipped off to Thialand for another tour. I came home to "The Trailer" and life (or WAR) began again with my Dad. About three months into the conflict, I calmly called a trailer mover to inquire about costs to move this damn trailer to California. Too much money, how about Phoenix. A few days later the mover showed up at dawn for my get-away, I wish I had a photo of my poor parents shocked faces. Five hours later as I was cruisin into Phoenix with the top down on the corvett the mover signeled for me to pull over. "Where is the trailer-park?" Oh Hell, I forgot to plan that part of my escape. I was twenty years old, Heidi was four and you were about 9 months old.


My idea of the perfect camping vacation is a suite at the Plaza with a great view of Central Park!


We camp every year, sometimes several times. Having grown up where my parents idea of camping was to throw everything in a riverboat, go several hours upstream and pitch our tents on a gravel bar so they could flyfish, I have decided that I have paid my dues and no longer need to sleep on the ground in my sleeping bag. My formerly French husband is a man who loves his gadgets, so we have almost everything you could conceivably need for tent camping, including a portable kitchen with counters and shelves and a sink, a tent just for us (the kids each have their own) that could sleep twelve easily, and my favorite of all--a queen size air mattress that inflates to almost 2&1/2 feet thick in minutes. That, with my thick flannel lined sleeping bag makes bedtime a delight to look forward to, not dreaded. One of our yearly camping episodes is with a large group of friends and there is quite the competition to see who has the best gadgets and equipment every year. The first year we got our big tent it took us hours to figure out how to set it up, and then we realized it wasn't going to fit in the campsite, so Jean-Paul scouted out a better one. We did not want to take the tent apart, so we persuaded a bunch of our friends to help us carry this HUGE tent on their shoulders clear accross a very large campground. All the children in the campground followed them as they wound around the CG as if they were following the Pied Piper!


Dad built our family camper from scratch, it was quite an amazing feat. He measured it so well that when it was placed on the truck (by five county sheriffs wrangled into helping)there was about 2 in. clearance. We went on lots of camping trips around the Western U.S. Mom, Dad and I all wore matching black cowboy hats-it was the thing to do in the 60s. I still get nostalgic when I hear or see a Coleman lantern in use or see an old Folger's coffee can. For some reason it was always a Folger's can that was used as the toilette. I still have the Coleman lantern and the portable stove and they are still used occasionally.


That movie 'Camping' is hysterical. I love to see 'real' French people with quirks and ideosyncracies.

Christine Dashper

Hi Kristin, Oh, thanks for the camping story. It was so familiar, we had a good laugh. My husband is on Jean-Marc's side of course, many times he has 'sold' me on the camping idea. Several times I have said "what was I thinking??" To be fair, we usually have a great time.

I imagine the camping grounds in France in Summer are packed like they are in Australia. Yes, sometimes it is very entertaining to hear/see the dramas that unfold.

I don't know that you could call it tranlating into another language, (although sometimes Australian english is another language), but sometimes a 'prise du bec' is known here as a 'blue'. The expression is to 'have a blue'. The best 'blues' on the campsite usually happen on arrival when the one partner is directing the other into how to park the caravan (camper) on the site. Such fun!! All the best Chris


My observations don't have to do with camping, but rather with the nature of arguments. I read this post immediately after a Friday evening argument about dinner. That's my husband's one night to provide dinner for me (he's retired, I still work). He promised me eggplant, which I looked forward to all day. I didn't realize that it was take out,and that it was actually lasagna because he forgot his glasses and couldn't read the package. He thought it was eggplant. As a weight watchers person who has maintained a 50 pound weight loss for a year and a half, there is a big difference between the two.
I'm sure that tomorrow this argument will seem silly, but right now I can't understand how someone who doesn't work can't manage to read a take out label correctly.


I am NEVER a happy camper. Though perhaps even I could manage a trailer, with or without bed linens.


It is heart warming to find so many other reluctant campers. Deborah beat me to the expression "My idea of camping out is the Holiday Inn." Then H I started to build campgrounds here in FL, so I had to abandon that line. Bet I'm older than Deborah, so I'm claiming ownership of it!

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