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Entries from January 2009


Three things about this photo... share what you see in the comments box, in French or in English.

The snow is melting here in Provence (update: *was* melting...), now if the fingers would thaw too--in time to finish this edition! (The heater in our house has gone awol--or awry? Aië aië aië!)

Today's word:

rebord (reuh-bohr) noun, masculine

    : rim; edge; border; ledge
    : hem (also "un ourlet")

[from the verb "reborder" to put a new border, edge, hem, to something]

Terms & Expressions
  le rebord de la fenêtre (l'appui de fenêtre) = the windowsill
  reborder quelqu'un dans son lit = to tuck someone back into bed

AUDIO FILE: turn up the sound and listen to my son pronounce the French word
"rebord" and the expressions, above: Download Rebord . Download Rebord

~~~~~~~One more place to buy our Domaine Rouge-Bleu wine!~~~~~~
Larchmont Village Wine & Spirits. 223 N. Larchmont Boulevard. Los Angeles CA. Tel : (323) 856 8699. Contact Simon at email :

I learned something new about my eleven-year-old yesterday--now if I can just figure out the French word for "unassuming" which is how, it turns out, my daughter can be, vis-à-vis an after-school treat.

We were in the car, about to head home from school, when Jackie overlooked two individually-wrapped brioches. Even the emballage*--which featured a buttery sweet roll teeming with pépites de chocolat*--didn't faze her!

When her hazel eyes finally locked onto the package, I noticed how my daughter didn't immediately pick it up and rip it open. Instead she fastened her seatbelt and talked about how things went in Histoire-Geo.* I guess she isn't going through pre-adolescence after all...

"Jackie, those are for you!" I said, pointing to the sugary goûter.*
"Ah, bon?"* she replied, perking up.

It's true, I don't usually buy packaged goûters, not when a baguette and peanut butter are just as convenient, not when an apple and a steaming mug of oatmeal and honey are on hand.

But I sometimes make exceptions to the over-processed-snacks rule -- as when I am running late to pick up the kids from school, this, because I've lingered too long in the canned-foods aisle at the grocery store. (It is always good to have conserves* on hand and to try something new, I reason--now, will we really eat those canned "cardons" if I buy them? Isn't there such a thing as "cardoon casserole" and doesn't my mother-in-law have a recipe for one?)

"But there are two..." Jackie said, picking up one of the brioches.
"All for you!" I assured her. "Max took the rest to basketball practice."
"Thanks! Sure you don't want one?" my daughter offered.

Noticing Jackie's excitement over such a small surprise, it occurred to me that I might have even more good news to share:

"I also bought TWO boxes of cereal!" I announced, citing her favorite sugar-laden brands. (This brings me to a grocery store enigma: Why is it that when hurrying to the checkout, we tend to chuck stuff, with abandon, into the cart?)

Realizing we now had friandises* at home, my daughter snapped backed to her old self, in time to complain about the cereal.
"Max ate almost the whole box last time! He says he is no longer on a diet, but "en pleine croissance."* That's just an excuse to drink all of the milk and eat all of the cereal! Not only that, but he always chooses the biggest bowl and fills it to the rim!

I allow my daughter to let off steam from a strict school day. Meantime, I file away yet another new vocabulary word from our French conversation (the term in question: "à rebord à ras bord" or "to the rim"). Next, I return to my daughter's rant, the theme being "unfairness".

"I can relate to such injustice," I sympathize. "For example, how is it that you speak French better than I do--when I've spoken French since before you were born?!"

With that, my daughter hands me the second brioche and, together, we throw our cares to (and over...) the brim.*

Comments...or corrections... welcome in the comments box. Thanks!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
un emballage (m) = packing, wrapping; les pépites (f) de chocolat = chocolate chips; l'histoire-geo = history/geography (class); le goûter (m) = snack, afternoon tea; ah, bon = oh, really; les conserves (f) = canned food; les friandises (f) = goodies; en pleine croissance = in the middle of a growth spurt; over the brim = par-dessus bord

Thank you "Newforest" and Odile, for your help with these terms and for the corrections. See their helpful comments in the comments box. And thanks again, Newforest, for these extra translations:

filled to the brim = (plein) jusqu'au bord or (plein) à ras bord, or (rempli) à ras bord

Faux Ami Alert!
Regarding the word conserve, now's a good time to point out a certain faux ami... One mistake we Anglophones often make, when talking about preservatives with the French, is in thinking that "preservative" means the same thing in their language. Not so! A préservatif is something one buys at the pharmacy or, here in France, on many a street corner (by putting coins into an automatic distributor).

A préservatif is not added to food during mass production, but envelopped in foil and sold to amorous types. Get out your dictionaries and look this word up... before waxing poetic about it to le garçon who is taking your order at the local bistro.

*Thanks to Dick Kahane for suggesting today's "Faux Ami Alert" and for the following info: the translation for preservative, in French, is un (agent) conservateur.

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French Demystified: A self-teaching guide "simple enough for a beginner but challenging enough for a more advanced student"

Pronounce It Perfectly in French: presents exercises in sound discrimination and accurate sound creation

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tel quel

Corey st victoire 039
Photo taken at Chateau de la Begude, in Rousset (near Aix-en-Provence).

tel quel, telle quelle (tel kel) expression

    : just as it is

Sound file: hear the French words "tel quel": Download Wav or MP3 

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

"Telle Quelle" (Just As She Is)

I am reading the label on a jar of hazelnut confit. The instructions say to spread the smooth mixture on toast or, and here's the fun part, simply to enjoy it "tel quel" or "as is"—no toasted accoutrements necessary. I immediately picture a French woman plunging a soup-sized spoon into the jar. It is a gesture that some would find impensable, truly unthinkable, after all: French women don't eat beurre by the biteful!

But my break-all-the-rules sister-in-law would. She's the one who gave me the jar of hazelnut butter. I told you about Cécile in an earlier letter and I've written about her exploits in the past: taking books to children in Africa, traveling with a circus (as a mime, or as a circus-tent engineer), chauffeuring a punk rock band through eastern Europe, making moonshine, or setting up shop as a serigraphist in an abandoned tannery—along with her amies. Indeed, commune living is part of her lifestyle, has been for over twenty years. Thanks to Cécile (& company), we have plenty of wine harvesters each year--and their giant tattoos, pink hair, home-sewn halter-tops, and humming hearts fuel an otherwise grueling grape season. (More than that, they're efficient!)

DSC_0128 (photo of Cécile and my mom, Jules's paintings. The one to the left is being prepped...)

Cécile's the one who rigged a gas tank to the back seat of her bagnole* in order to make it home for Christmas: to our home, that is, where she showered us with homemade gifts (an industrial steel nightstand for Jackie, a throw-rug for Max (and even one for Braise-the-Dog!), a bottle of moonshine for Jean-Marc, and a signature serigraph for me (the subject: a Kung fu fighter fille!). She also gave me a cheeky checkered apron (cheeky for the imposing HATCHET seriographed to the giant front pocket). When I put on that "alternative" apron, as I love to do, more than rock star—I feel like Calamity Jane: just reckless enough to reheat the leftovers.

It's recklessness that others sometimes see, when looking at my itinerant in-law. But it only takes a closer look to see the softness inside Cécile. I do not know a less judgmental person. And talk about generosity: apart from the presents, she also gave our family a small box of conserves, including local olive oil, miel, and homemade quince jam. As for the honey, I smile each time I see the handwritten label on the jar: "Miel Delicieux", it reads, and none of that chichi "Five Flower Feng Shui" marketing, just your down-to-earth (oh-so tongue in-cheek) "Delicious Honey". "What kind of honey is it?" a guest asks. It's "Delicious Honey!" I answer, admiring my sister-in-law's anti-the-establishment humor.

I think about "the establishment" or, the establishments which have laid off my friends, as of late. Over the weekend, we had news that two more of our friends have been let go, or "licencié" as they say here in France. As we watch fall what my husband refers to as a fragile "château de cartes"*--an economy based on credit (baseless all along, as revealed by the one "card" being pulled and the "house" comes tumbling down)--and as we watch our friends lose their jobs, I notice how my sister-in-law's lifestyle is looking less and less "alternative" and more and more suggestive, suggestive of what the future might hold: community, helping one another, and fending for ourselves on the food front. And forget fancy labels, whether on a T-shirt or on a jar of honey. It's what inside that counts.

As I plunge my soup spoon into the jar for another serving, I think about some of the flak that my fend-for-herself sister-in-law has received over the years: "How can she live this way?" (...out of her truck... [but *what* a truck!]) "Just how long will this lifestyle suit her?" (She'll turn 40 this year...)
"And, to think, she used to be so "classic"... and she was THIS CLOSE to getting her travel agent certificate!" (That's probably 'round about the time she "took off"!)

I have never known my belle-soeur* to be "classic," if classic means fitting in with the middle-, upper-, or any other class. She is content to fit in only with herself, pink hair and all. I'd say "herself" suits her just fine.

As the house of cards continues to fall, across America, over the pond to France and beyond, more and more of us (I imagine...) will join my own hell-raising rebel mom, Jules (who jumped ship for the jungle years ago... leaving a six-figure job, the back-stabbing business world, and "busyness" behind); yes, I imagine more of us will join Jules, who, though she's left corporate America... still secretly wishes to run away to the "circus" with Cécile, to where life is further peeled back, to the core, enough to see each other "tel quel": simply as we are... with hearts that hum and pink hair, if we so fancy.

*     *     *
Comments, corrections, and stories of your own... always welcome in the comments box.

Do you want to hear more of my mom's story? Why not shout out to her in the comments box. She reads each and every note that you send--and she clicks on all your links, too! 

PS: here is a book that Cécile recommends (nothing to do with France...) Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~
le confit (m) = a garnish made from fruits, vegetables... or nuts!; impensable = unthinkable; le beurre (m) = butter; un ami (une amie) = friend; la bagnole (f) = (slang for) car ; la fille (f) = girl; le miel (m) = honey; le château (m) de cartes = house of cards; la belle-soeur (f) = sister-in-law
Do you know of any idioms or expressions that include "tel quel"? Would you like to offer an example sentence? Thank you for using the comments box.

Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language...

In French music: Samedi Soir sur la Terre by Francis Cabrel

In film: My Father's Glory

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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How much is that doggy oie in the window? Photo © Kristin Espinasse taken in or near Buisson (Vaucluse)...

Which do you find more charming in the photo above: those curvy curtainettes, those bucolic beads, the patched up window pane, or that oisive oie--or gazing goose--in the window upstairs? Or maybe it's the whimsical frieze above the door? Or simply, shutters? Share your thoughts in the comments box.

Word of the Day:

oie (wah) noun, feminine

    : goose

[from the Latin avica, from avis -- bird]

une oie sauvage = a wild goose
une oie des neiges = a snow goose
faire l'oie
= to act silly
une oie blanche
= a white goose (also "a naïve, silly girl")
le jeu de l'oie = game of snakes and ladders
le pas de l'oie = goose-step
  avancer au pas de l'oie = to goose-step along

... and this, from the comments box (remerciements to "Dkahane"):
A road intersection in the shape of an X (as opposed to a +) is known as a patte-d'oie. And once we reach a certain age, les pattes-d'oie (crow's feet) start appearing in the corners of our eyes.

Reverse dictionary (English term / French equivalent):
goose pimples / goose bumps = la chair de poule (chicken skin)
silly little goose! = petite dinde! (little turkey)
to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs = tuer la poule aux oeufs d'or

Did you know that the male goose is le jars and the young birds are les oisons. Do you know any other "oie" expressions? Would you like to talk about one that you've seen here or fill us in on a further meaning? Thanks for sharing in the comments box.

I can't remember which of our holiday dinner guests had suggested goose
(was it Alicia or Misha, who had driven up from Les Arcs-sur-Argens via London? Or was it Florence or Olivier, who'd arrived from Collioures via Brussels?). Or maybe the tipster was my do-it-yourself sister-in-law, Cécile, who'd rigged a faulty gas tank to her car's back seat in order to make it here for Christmas... the voyage took forever (driving at 80 km/hour so as not to splash too much...) and, as for a Frenchwoman's fragrance, hers was authentically essence.* Talk about splashed on!

Never mind, it doesn't matter who brought it up, goose that is--goose, not as a main course, rather goose as a force: one for hen-hungry thieves to reckon with! (Did you know some people steal chickens? My neighbor, down the way, tells me it's the gypsies. Toujours les gitans!*)

But back to the dinner table where I, under my husband's influence, was talking about why it would be futile to have chickens what with hen-hungry hounds in the environs... That's when my guest came to the rescue: offering suggestions (including "get a goose!") regarding poule* posterity--this, to my husband's chagrin....

You see, I have been pestering Jean-Marc about chickens ever since he promised them to me, just as soon as we wrapped up the 2007 grape harvest. For the record, we got plenty of fruit from that harvest--but not one friggin' feather! The 2008 harvest flew past, still no chickens.

Nowadays, there's an ongoing joke around my house and anything to do with eggs, feathers, or potential chicken coops triggers it. It goes like this:

(Me) "Oh look! An over-sized wine-barrel. Think that would make a good chicken hut?"
" Jean-Marc and the kids respond, in thick American accents. "PEWL, elle veuh lay pewel."*

Yes, I still want chickens. Only I haven't yet figured out how to build a simple PEWL EYE YAY* (part of our agreement was that I would have to come up with chicken digs, hence, every playhouse, garden shed, u-haul trailer--anything roughly chicken-hut sized gets me calculating "Would a chicken fit comfortably in there?" I ought to ask my self-sufficient sister-in-law for help, and just build one!)

But all that is beside the point. The point being the cute goose in today's photo and how she might just be the antidote to all this feather fever that I've suffered.

For, while chickens are delightful (see them strutting through the grapevines, en masse) and practical (eggs ever on hand!), they don't, as I am told, throw their wings up in a fury, honking obscenities, when trespassers approach--nor do they frighten gypsies (those known hen heisters).  But take a goose, oh a goose, a silly goose and she'll stand her ground--and stand yours while she's at it. Yes, that's what I need around here: more than a chicken, I need a championner.

*     *     *

French Vocabulary: l'essence (f) = gasoline; toujours les Gitans = It's always the gypsies; une poule (f) = hen; PEWL, elle veuh lay pewel = (Jean-Marc's imitation of American wife pronouncing the French words "Poule, elle veut les poules"; PEWL EYE YAY (pronunciation for poulailler (m) = henhouse

The Snow Goose (my dad sent me this book and I loved it!)

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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livre d'or

"Some of My Favorite (French) Things" (c) Kristin Espinasse
Our colorful, wine-making village of Sainte Cécile-Les-Vignes: a scenic place to ride your bike, with no-hassle parking.

livre d'or (leev-ruh-door) noun, masculine

    : "golden book", guestbook, visitors' book

I hope you'll sign my livre d'or -- this would make me so happy! You might include your name, location, a few--or many--things about yourself, and how you happened upon this word-of-the-day website.... and why not sign off with your own mot-du-jour? I love learning (or relearning... because I often don't "get it" the first time around) French words. Merci beaucoup!

Sound File:
Listen to my son, Max, pronounce the French word livre d'or and the following example sentence:
Veuillez signer le livre d'or de ma mère s'il vous plaît.
Please sign my mom's guestbook.

Download Livre d'or

Download Livre d'or

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.