How to say lop-sided in French: de guingois

The scene was so classic that I wondered, as I snuck up to snap the photo, if it wasn't staged! Notice the underwear: one per "hook"... Photo taken in Nyons (just next to a chichi restaurant. Well, that oughta show 'em!).

de guingois (deuh-gehn-gwah) adverbial and adjectival phrase
    : askew, lop-sided

marcher de guingois = to walk lop-sidedly
tout va de guingois = everything's going haywire

Audio File & Example Sentence: listen to the French word "de guingois" and to this expression: "marcher de guingois":Download Wav or MP3

"The Marais, says Jacob Berger, a film director who lives and works in the neighborhood, is de guingois--that is to say, slightly askew."

--from the National Geographic article:
"Bohemian rhapsody: on the right bank of Paris history and hip embrace..."

A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse

Another odd Christmas tree this year. I should have taken Mom's advice: get an artificial one! Apart from being good for the environment, those faux firs come in perfect shapes: full-bodied and symmetrical; especially, they're kilter—and not helter-skelter!

If I weren't such a procrastinator, I'd have gotten the tree I wanted: Super Sapin! (Not a bird, not a plane.... ) Though our tree may not fly or save lives (it certainly won't save the earth), it does look as if it is set for take off, what with its long and HORIZONTAL arc... like a Boeing 747.

"It's lopsided!" I point out to Jean-Marc, after he has placed the tree. "Wait a minute..." I remark, suspiciously. "Didn't it come with a stand?"
"No. It didn't."
"You mean the nursery didn't have stands for sale?"
"They did, but the stands weren't any good."

They never are! He was just trying to get out of buying a stand! Next, I discover his solution: our umbrella stand. He's swiped our umbrella stand to use for a tree brace. Pas vrai!

If it weren't so amusing, to see that tree stuffed, de guingois, into the umbrella stand like a wet parapluie, I'd scream! But I am learning to laugh at these peculiarities. Take, for example, our bathroom light fixture, the one just above the mirror. When the screw fell out, we might have replaced it. Instead, a box of aspirin was set between the light and the mirror (now, when the box of asprin pops out, all we have to do is pick it up off the floor (easier to see than a small screw) and stick it back in its place). Ta-da!

Chez nous, it's always a balancing act... a regular circus we are! From time to time, I find myself lamenting, "Why... why can't we just be normal?" Why do I have to lean to the side in order to see our tree as it "should" be? Why can't we have a tree stand like other normal French families? Why do we have to treat our pine as a parasol? Still grumbling about my husband's eccentricities, I gather the fresh laundry which I have strewn around the house on every free hook, chair back, or table (any freestanding structure will do). Other housewives may have hung out their clothes on the line to dry today, but I don't trust the northern wind: sacré Mistral!

Collecting some dry underwear from the fire stoker rack beside the cheminée,* and reaching for some chaussettes sèches*—slung over the candelabra, I notice the look on my husband's face... but I am quick to put him back in his place; after all, HE is the oddball!

However different, there we stand, united in silence, our heads leaning to the same side as we study our Christmas tree.
"It's lop-sided, you know."
"Yes dear," my husband replies. "Il a pris un sacré coup de Mistral!"

French Vocabulary
le sapin (m) = fir (tree); pas vrai = it can't be true!; de guingois = lop-sided; le parapluie (m) = umbrella; sacré Mistral = blasted Mistral (wind); la cheminée (f) = fireplace; chaussettes (f) sèches = dry socks; il a pris un sacré coup de Mistral = it was hit by a mighty gust of wind

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Ohhh so funny. I guess we are all a little de guingois in some aspects of our life. Our tree is in a proper stand this year and straight as an arrow but Jean-Marc is right. Most years the stands just don't do the job. But I don't think I could tally up the number of lights in our house for which you must jiggle the switch to get the light on, the sink you can't use in our bathroom, etc., all my husband's fault! The list is endless. But then again, you also must watch your head when you open most closets and kitchen cabinets. I am the eternal pack rat.


Joyeux Noel, tout le monde!


A crooked tree is the spirit of Christmas - c'est vrai! And according to David Suzuki (Canada's environmentalist extraordinaire) you are saving the environment with a real tree - - enjoy the idiosyncrasies (is there an analogous word in French?) of your home - after all we all have them - with a clean green-conscious.

Jules Greer

Kristi Darling,

Is that your sweet voice I hear on the audio file? Could you possibly also speak an entire paragraph some time so I can I can totally imerge myself into your French
accent. I wish you would put a seperate sound file of some conversation between you and Max, Jackie, and Jean-Marc. If you don't
think your readers would be interested in this, why can't you send me audio files personally. I would love this for Christmas. I would have loved hearing your conversation with Max on the stairwell.




You are so refreshingly down to earth. Quel plaisir! Thanks again for a great photo and new expression to learn.

Nancy LoBalbo

Ah Kristin, Welcome to the "jerry-rigged" life (is there a French equivelent for the expression "jerry-rigged?). I recently learned a phrase from the blog "L'etrangere American" that describes our household projects to a T. It is l'usine a gaz = A solution to a problem that is more complex than the problem itself. As in...This year we DID finally buy an artificial tree..simple, n'est pas. Well, we had to raise it off the floor to steady it. Could my husband simply purchase a plank of wood of the proper dimensions to fit underneath at the local hardware? Mais non! He'd rather spend 2 hrs. scouring our garage for errant pieces of wood and 'jerry -rig' them together to make a platform. Many choice curse words were exchanged...wish I had saperlipopette in my vocab that day!
Alernatly we have used pennies to steady rattling grates,quarters to hold toilet innards in place and duct tape for just about everything else. Ahlors, I can relate!

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Patti, and good idea: Bonnes fêtes à tous!

Mom: yeah, that was me: very nervous to record today as my native French speakers were not home to help!


Kristin: Can we get a picture of your poor Mistral-whipped tree? Happy Holidays from Nolensville, Tennessee!

Susan James

Actually live Christmas trees are good for the environment. Small trees produce more oxygen so Christmas tree farms are good for the environment plus they offer farmers another income in the off months. Afterwards, Christmas trees can be mulched and used in the garden. So celebrate your beautiful and natural tree! It smells much better than plastic which someday would be thrown away to occupy a landfill.


Can you recommend a French language school in France? I would like to travel to France sometime this year specifically to study the language. Thank you.

Jules Greer

LeAnna, in response to your question to Kristi about French language study - I spent quite a bit of time surfing through one of Kristi's 'SPONSORS' websites called
LA GUINQUETTE this morning and loved what I
found there. Actually I am hoping Santa Kristi might send me the "Beginners French Course" - what an easy way to send a Christmas present - CAN YOU HEAR ME SANTA???




LeAnna - back in the day, I studied in France for a year in Strasbourg. It was a program specifically for foreigners coming to learn French. Here's the link:


Merci pour un autre "post" marveilleuse! I used "sapin" (thanks for the word)speaking about the red flocked trees that are all around the Marais. In front of restaurants, in shop windows, and even in the patio of George restaurant at the top of Centre Pompidou. None appear to be de guingois.


Kristi...I love reading the comments from Jules! She is too funny. It was great to read the one from your dad as well. I agree with would be fun to hear your whole family at once having a conversation. Or here's an could all sing a chorus of something Christmas-y. Merry Christmas to you all!


Thank you for information!

Fred Caswell

If anyone wants to study le francais in France, and is interested in the lifestyles of the French, home study programs are the way to go. 5 enrollments in 5 different home intensive study programs resulted in 4 very enriching experiences.

My present (much younger) wife of 22 years is the most visually fussy and particular person I have known. Selecting our Christmas trees began as a cooperative venture but after a number of trips involving endless rejections of my suggestions and all too long times for my Cherie to select un sapin that met her criteria, my cooperation was drasticaly reduced to putting up the tree where Nancy wanted it and turned (not once -- more like 5 0r 6 times) to satisfaction. It is not only fair but superbly deserved to add that when Nancy finishes decorating the tree plus doors, windows, tables. and furniture she has created an absolutely beautiful Christmas home. I have one more job -- rigging wires etc. to enable one switch to turn on the tree lights and as many window candle lights as possible, also putting candle lights in every window in the other rooms of house, fortunately a one story building.

Jennifer in OR

What a fantastic picture!

de guingois is such a funny word--just saying it sounds awkward.


Great post! At the risk of being pedantic, wouldn't a "sèche chausettes" really be a sock dryer? Dry socks would translate as "chausettes sèches", n'est-ce pas?


Susan: thanks for the info on live Christmas trees!

dkahane: I appreciate the correction. Merci! On my way to fix that one now....


"Pauvre Sapin"!... long and horizontal like a Boeing 747! set for take off!? "Drôle de Sapin"!
Hit by a “coup de mistral”? ... feels a bit painful!
"Brave petit sapin"!

We've had that problem before, and here is our solution: fill up a bucket of sand -- “sharp” sand (coarse sand) from local builders merchant is the best. Fix the tree roughly in the middle of it, at a pleasing angle (!), use bits of bricks, stone, or whatever you've got to reinforce the base. Make sure it's firm all the way around it. Do anything you fancy to disguise the bucket, cover the top with pine cones or anything "local". At the bottom, we always have plenty of pine cones of all sizes... and we put the presents in between them (whether the tree is “de guingois” or not!)

What a lovely opportunity to introduce “de guingois”... more musical to my ears that the simple “de travers”, and as picturesque as "de traviole"! I was wondering whether you learned the expression when you started to restore your very old farm house. (you must surely have a few charming walls “out of square”, haven't you?..)

I know a very dear old French lady (dead now) who would have said your tree was “assis sur le quart d'onze heures!” Imagine the short hand on 11 and the long hand on 3. Got it?

I think your Xmas tree seems to belong to the nursery rhyme where a crooked man used to live in a little crooked house! It is, I am sure, a "Sapin Merveilleux", whatever its shape, worth to be celebrated as King of the Forest.
"Mon beau sapin, roi des forêts,
que j'aime ta verdure"...........


Kristin -- I love this story.... Our trees are always de quingois, inexpensive, and occasionally kept upright by a string attached to a doorknob. Unfortunately, this year my husband has volunteered me for an event chez nous for some people I don't know very well and who I imagine all have fancy trees. I wish you could see our tree -- three strings of lights accumulated through the years, all different. The decorations are mostly handmade by our "boys," now young men, or old friends and many are falling apart. But I can't bring myself to part with any of them -- especially the ones with a photo or a name and date. As I am writing this, I realize that I really don't care if our tree is not fancy. Perfect trees are really boring, don't you think?

Joyeux Noel to all the Espinasse.

Christie in San Diego


Thank you so much for your posts. I have your site tied to google so as soon as I click on my Internet Explorer icon, up pops a new word. I'm giving my children (ages 4 & 2) the gift of French as best I can for a gal who has had only highschool and college French so your site has definately come in handy. I was reading Fred's post above and it gave me the idea to ask for or advertise for bringing a little more French to San Diego. It is always great to have someone come stay with us for a while to share culture and speak French. This is something we normally reserve for the summer months for the EF program, but would you keep me in mind if you know of anyone or run into anyone (of high character of course) who would like to live with us for a few months, free room and board, in exchange for sharing of languages? If you can see my private e-mail, please e-mail me when you get a chance.

Thanks, Christie

P.S. I second the request in your Mother's post! :)

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