se tromper


"Ignorance is Bliss" in the olive capital of Nyons.

TO BE HONEST, I don't know how to spell today's French "word," or gesture, rather. You'll just have to press your lips together tightly, then force a gust of breath through them. If a "pppp" sound didn't come out, then you've been too prude (and ended up with a "ffff"). Try again.

The resulting sound actually has meaning! It translates, specifically, to these French words: "Je ne sais pas." That's right:

Pppp! = Je ne sais pas
. (I don't know.)

Go figure. In my own (American) culture, we don't have to worry about making funny (easily mistaken for somethin' else...) noises. To give in to inquiry, we simply raise our shoulders!

I remember being caught off guard, the first hundred times I heard the French "pppp!" (Especially when a woman ppppd.) All that's changed now, and I welcome the tickle that my lips feel after uttering a sound that once lacked appeal.

"How many calories are in those cookies?" a French friend asks.
"Pppp! (I don't know!)"

"Is it an American specialty?"
"Pppp! (Beats me!)"

Go ahead. Dare someone to ask you a baffling question today. (But don't be surprised if, on hearing your reply... they run the other way.)

I am sitting at the edge of the bed, looking out the window at November's end. Once the pomp and parade of fall colors fade, what is left are the ashes of autumn. The earth turns in on itself and so do those who trod upon it. In the darkness, questions come to light, nagging issues such as, What is important in this life?

I look over to my teenage son, who is busy with the task of grooming. He's got my tattered trousse de toilette* beside him, having fished out the clippers from inside.

"Max," I say. "If you were given the chance to share an important thought with the entire world, what would that message be?"

Next, I brace myself for that flicker of genius to appear... the kind that graces children--and chance be ours when we're focused enough to hear!

I wait patiently for "the message" to be mysteriously channeled through my 13-year-old son with the overgrown toenails. I'm one to believe in the pureness of pint-sized knowledge and hope to be tuned in when Sagesse* speaks, "out of the mouth of babes".

Leaning forward, I put my ear close to the chapped lips of the would-be child savant, and this is what I hear:

"I don't know, Mom."

With that, the messenger resumes his toenail clipping. That'll do, I decide, letting the answer linger a bit.

Doubt creeps in and I double check with the mini messiah. "'I don't know.' Is that it? Is that what you have to share with the world?"

"Mmmhmmm," Max replies, and I watch a few more nail clippings rocket through the air. Some messages come with fireworks, I decide, never mind these aren't sizzling.

Well, I can work with that. And so I do. I think about Max's "I don't know" answer to a meaningful life. The "I don't know" concept is, after all, brillant! For, with knowledge comes power and how many of us make the mistake of tacking pride on to that? Pride then squashes humility and things tend to go
downhill (Pride goeth before the fall...) from there.

And knowledge, or too much of it, sometimes leads to fear. I listen to friends talk about the effect that all those info-packed newspaper headlines had on the economy. Panic sent people zipping up their pocket books. Companies shut down. People lost jobs.

I don't mean to give the big K, "Knowledge," a bad name... no, I'd never argue with my faith-filled mom when she tells me to fill up on The Word! Only, I sometimes wonder about how much I should strive to know when a lot of what I take in only serves to distract. Bits and pieces of this and that and, before I know it, I've gotten off track! There I am, left spinning in the super flu. Dad once said "You think too much!" and, you know, I now think he's right: so busy are we sifting through a magnitude of facts, that the basic ideas get hidden beneath all those "informative" stacks.

Most times I'm guilty of assumption: when I think I know something and, in fact, I've got it all wrong. Such "insights" paint my perceptions and, busy with a wealth of tidbits, I'm circling through a Never Never Land of ideas again.

I once had a Mensa-ish friend, one of those brilliant types, but what amazed me was her humility. I'll never forget her response when asked about her know-it-ness. She abruptly raised both hands... and began hitting her head! "I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING!" she screamed, in all sincerity (none of that false
modesty). Her startling, head tapping show, wonderfully illustrates the concept of "I Don't Know!"

Knowledge isn't all bad, especially when it connects us to another:
Having known pain, one sympathizes with the sufferer,
having known poverty, one understands need,
having known injustice, one argues for the accused,
having known loss, one's heart goes out to the grief-stricken,
having known fear, one comforts the frightened.

                            *    *     *
I'm beginning to think that what is important in life is not how much we know, but what little we can focus on. In my case, the teenage toenail clipper sitting beside me. While I'll never understand the physics behind those "flying toenails," how they self-launch following each clip of the cutters, I can know the fondness I feel for a boy whose "message," in the end, is ever so coy.

Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome, here (in the comments box).

References: la trousse (f) de toilette = make-up (shaving) bag; la Sagesse (f) = Wisdom

Audio File:
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's gesture (if pronouncing a gesture is possible...), in response to my question "Cheri, ou est-ce que tu as mis les clés? (Honey, where've you put the keys?) Download Pppp . Download Pppp

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Just a question... How you keep a language straight in your head when words from other languages get in the way? I know a little French, a little German and a little Spanish, and sometimes they get all mixed together in the same sentence...


I can't tell you how many times over the past years of enjoying your blog that I have marveled at how your thoughts have mirrored my own (example: Life is like a Looney Tunes cartoon; never get smug over a minor victory because that is when the train comes barreling through the tunnel and runs over you!) But today, you have spoken directly to my heart, toe nail clippings and all. For as I am constantly sweeping my own son's nail clippings off my bathroom counter and into the trash, I am also constantly under the self-imposed oppression of needing to know the TRUTH which will help me save the WORLD (I haven't figured out how I would impart that knowledge to the powers that be once I received it). But just the other night while lugging out the garbage, I,too, came to the realization that my appointed job is to save my family, first, and the rest will fall into place. Keep up the excellent work, Mom. Your son, my son --our children -- will lead the next generation (and with well-manicured feet)!

Jules Greer


I feel like we just had our 10:30 tea break,
listening to you rattle off your beautiful thoughts, and then we say, "Why didn't we
record this." I like how your are using your computer keys as a close friend and finally sharing what is really going on in that beautiful mind of yours. Thanks for the
tea and sunshine Honey - time to go back to studying my Google Maps. Always remember knowledge is power...and as Max relates the power to know you don't know is the doorway to peace. I miss our conversations, thank for todays post.




What?! No sound bite?
Pppp! is just begging to be a sound bite.


ahh! Great minds think alike!

Jules Greer

Hi Honey,

Forgot to tell you how great your photo is and that it would make a great painting, I
think I will use my artist ---? what is that word I'm trying to think of ??? and
paint Coo-Coo in the painting instead of your Nyons star.



The sound file.
I didn't miss it, but, here is my confession. I can hear very clearly the question: "Chéri, où t'as mis les clés?" -- "où t'as mis" being the perfect oral equivalent of -> où est-ce que tu as mis...?". So far, so good!
I have a little problem with the answer. I listened several times to Jean-Marc's so-called "gesture" which is supposed to mean: "I don't know". I was fully prepared for a sort of "pppp" + puff of air...
Unfortunately, my ears could only get a funny sound, loud and short... It reminded me of a big bird, or perhaps a duck, or..., well..., I don't know really.
I'll come back later.

Jules Greer

Kristi Darling - why don't you just call me
right now and I will stop sending posts. I
have a great Christmas present for you which
you will receive when my phone rings.



Derek Hodkin

to quote from todays 'deep thoughts' piece . . . " there pocket books. Companies shut down. People lost jobs". Sorry Kristin . . THEIR is the correct word - I was only an Art teacher but 'once a teacher, always a teacher' apparently!


I loved reading today's post with my morning coffee...you are getting better every day. Be sure to include this one in your new book.

I should never have told you that you think too much because that is the very thing that made you go to France, become a writer, and be a good mother, wife, and daughter. We all love you and appreciate your talents...Dad

PS...The true meaning of life is for every person to be the best he can be at everything he does. Be a good friend and a good citizen and be honest and just with your dealings with all.

Jules Greer

A message to DAD from MOM -

I am sure Kristi is grinding her teeth as
she reads this comment...

What a joy to see you here on the "comment"
page. Now we can all be one big family here
in French-Word-A-Day. Please give your
beautiful wife Marsha a big kiss and hug from me.




Thanks for the photo of the kitten. A friend of mine in France has one who could be a twin. She found the tiny kitten cold and alone in her parking lot and said she just couldn't possibly adopt a kitten, especially a sick one. Michele then
went to visit a friend saying to herself that if the cat were there when she returned, she must be meant to do something about it. The little one was still there and was bundled off to the vet where she was told it would probably not make it through the night. So when asked to give it a name anyway, Michele said "MInette". I guess that's kind of a generic name for a cat in France. Anyway, this kitten must have had some extra will to survive. She not only lived, but thrived, and the name has stuck. The last time I saw her, she was happily watching a tennis ball go back and forth on a televised match, entertaining us all. Her coat was sleek and she was the picture of health. I think Leonardo da Vinci said something like "The smallest feline is a masterpiece" How true...although I doubt he said it in English!


I love today's word as well as your message. In my experience, pppp also has a bit of the "...nor do I much care" element. And with my friends, and others with whom I come in contact, it is ALWAYS accompanied by a shrug of emphasis.

If the dollar would only improve so we could get to Provence! Never a day goes by that I don't long for it. Your pictures, messages and links help. Thank you, Kristin.

Cacique Yatel

LMAO!!.. today's was awesome.. i think i can hear it a thounsand times and still be caught off guard... it's too normal for'em, no matter the age, nothing.. greetings from Argentina!


Kristi - I'm so glad you wrote about "pppp," as Jacques does this SOUVENT! There was a time when it drove me a little crazy, as I didn't realize there was a meaning to it and just thought it was a bad habit. Imagine my surprise one day when I caught myself doing it and thought the bad habit had been passed along! Some new knowledge and perspective is good :)


I wonder if the term 'bof', accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders, still has it's usefulness, as it did long ago when I was in France. It was used for exactly the same reason as your 'pppp'! Also, the answer to your question - what is the most important thing in life? Easy, ..to get to heaven...P.

Fred Caswell

Chere Kristi,

The above caring words from family and some of your followers bring strong feelings and/or thoughts of joy and sadness --your growing ability to charm your readers and elicit empathy and admiration gives me great pleasure while, at the same time, I no longer feel one of fewer people who earnestly wished and tried to encourage and support you -- now there are beaucoup as witnessed by their postings.

You continue to enrich my life and I couldn't wish you more of life's blessings.

Love and best wishes to you and your loved ones, always!


-- “DON'T KNOW” --
There are so many thoughts one could "share with the entire world"..., but to me, the message that takes priority can be resumed in a single word: PEACE!

Kristin, Your message today made me think of how much I appreciate the well-rooted knowledge of a few facts and few ideas happily acquired in my youth, complemented with the knowledge I picked up and developed as I went along through the paths of my adult life. The older I get, the more I realise I know very little! I focus on more restricted fields these days, and on a few people - which is fine - as long as what I “know”, what I feel and what I do, is essential not only for myself but for the people around me too. OK, up to each of us to define what's “essential”.

KNOWLEDGE/EXPERIENCE -> the "having known" list.
I like the way you underline people's personal experience as a valuable first-hand knowledge -> type of knowledge opening eyes, mind and heart to other people experiencing the same difficulties or aspirations in their own life.

THANKS for sharing your thoughts triggered by the poetic vision of the end of Autumn, your philosophical issue on the importance of Life... your question addressed to Max, and his reply while clipping his toenails ( BTW, vivid description of the rocketing, most enjoyable!).

Kim DeMent


Once again your thoughts of the day deliver thoughtfulness and contemplation. It's a special bonus to read comments from your readers and especially from Jules, your Mom. I feel like I am in on a very personal and dear conversation. Merci for your continued labor or love.



Thanks, once again, for a beautifully written and thoughtful post. I look forward to reading the next!

Jennifer in OR

Perfect how your post begins with "To be honest, I don't know..." And amazing how you can come up with such a thoughtful piece on your son's simple "I don't know."

karen mckeon wilson

Hi Kristin,

Patrick and Rebecca enjoyed meeting you in London. I hope the fair was a success for you.
I loved your writing today about ppp it is used all the time around here, and especially with the men we have working in our house at the moment. I will think of you and smile every time I hear it now! Also, I liked the way your son said 'he didn't know' when asked about a message for the world.
Do you know the poet Rumi? He said 'Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment'. There is never is a final answer to our questions, but they say the one you are looking for is the one who is looking. Love and best wishes to you and your family from Karen


Dear Dear Kristi,

It is a joy to join the chorus of your devoted fans to sing your praises and tell you how much your Dad and I are enriched by reading your FWD. We love to begin our day with our personal responses to your "word paintings".

We miss you being so far away from us and it is exciting to see your words in our mind like a video. We see the dear grandchildren, Max and Jackie living their childhood through your enchanting descriptions, flying toe nails and all.

Our love to Jules. She is beautiful in every way. Blessings and lots of love to all of you our cherished Family in France.

Marsha from Palm Springs, California

Jo (Laquet)

The "Pppp!" would have to be accompanied by a shrug/eyebrow lift/palms-up empty hand combination as well though right?!?


Bonjour Kristin,

Comment allez vous?

I wrote you a few years ago with a promise to order your book "Words in a French Life".

I live in Canada and I eventually found your book at a local bookstore. Just to let you know that I bought it, read it, and thoroughly enjoyed it! I lived in France for three years and your memoir brought back many fond "souvenirs".

My boyfriend George is currently studying French and today I sent him the link to your "French-word-a-day" web-site to encourage him with his language studies (and to give him a taste of la belle vie en France).



Jin Xiaobai

Dear Kristin,
I tried to say Pppp! following your instruction, and I did it well! I guess, from its sound, it is probably spelt pff!, after checking my French-Chinese dictionary, which also takes the form of pfft! and pfut!, meaning "Exprime le dédain, l'indifférence", as explained by the Larousse on line. This seems to have been confirmed, when I read it, by the earlier comment of Susie that it "also has a bit of the '...nor do I much care' element".


Here I am six days late in reading this beautiful blog -- a lovely note on which to start the day.

As a mother of sons, I loved your conversation with Max. My boys always bring me back to the reality of the moment and make me smile. And your relationship with your mom sounds so very special...

Bon WE à vous tous --- Ophelia

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