tel quel

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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

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Let's see Jules paintings!


Is the hazelnut confit like Nutella (which I have been known to eat from a spoon)?


As for French women eating confiture "tel quel," by coincidence we were delighted last night while watching the movie "My Mother's Castle" to see Augustine eating strawberry jam directly out of the jar as her son Marcel Pagnol narrated the story of how her health bloomed while they were in their vacation home in Provence. It is a wonderful movie, along with its precurser, "My Father's Glory." As for "Persepolis," we bought the film version for our daughter this summer and it, too, is a wonderful experience. So, Kristin, grab a spoon, sit down with a good film, and dig into the hazelnut confit!

Catherine Stock

Your belle-soeur is an inspiration


Cécile sounds like someone i would love.... and your mother? in africa?! what does she do there? where abouts is she? I am making my own voyage to west africa shortly, and as a woman traveling alone, i would love to meet up with a lovely person while there... too forward, perhaps? I've been reading your site for years now, ever since I took up french.... though my practice of the language has faltered some, I am hoping to regain a bit while in West Africa....

Debbie Chavers

Big summer time sigh, as I say "Pass the spoons,please." Hurray for those who chose their path and stay true to their uniqueness.

Painting in Tennessee,


So enjoy reading/learning from your postings. Thank you for taking the time to do them. Already love your mom for cutting the cord...it's hard to jump out of the pot when we don't even realize we are boiling.


Right on, Cécile!

And I would love to hear more about Jules, too. I just returned from three weeks in France to see if I want to live there for awhile after retirement, which was going to be this year. But with the cost of living in France and retirement looking farther away because of the economy, I may completely redefine my life and chuck it all. So more info on Jules decision and her new life would be most appreciated. I am single and see the future as one full of opportunities yet to be discovered.

Love your posts, Kristen. I have been reading them for years, and also Jean-Marc's blog.


Personally, I prefer eating crunchy peanut butter out of the jar with a big spoon . . .


So well written Kristi!! Love reading your inspirations and how you can take a jar of hazelnut butter and turn it into a masterpiece!

Larry Mason

Ah, my dear lady, what a lovely story. Thanks once again for letting us peep in on your marvelous family, both immediate and extended. Happy New Year.

Gail Lannum

Kudos for both Jules and Cecile!!!!

Jules @ Lovely Las Vegas

What a sweet narrative. You family sounds tres cool!

Jules @ www.lovelylasvegas.blogspot.com

Anna Spencer

Bravo for your 'blog' Kristin and for your 'French Word-A-Day' program! It certainly makes for both interesting and entertaining reading!

I, for one, would like to hear more about your Mum, Jules. Is she also a francophile? I wish you all 'la Bonne Annee' and much success with your endeavours.

Fred Caswell

Larry Mason sums up your unique skill. I can only add what no doubt others feel -- you have not only gently and delightfully won the hearts of most, if not all of your readers, we have come to love you and your down to earth and wonderful, beautiful family. Nous vous aimons!


Hey Kristi, Ce Ci is my hero already...I'm having the toos on the knees and elsewhere done this winter.....Jules, ditch the bra and go sans and a pink hair job for next harvest and we'll all rock in the grapes next year......


I picked up your book over Christmas and then, of course, I found your blog. (Bravo! What a great job!)Yesterday I began French lessons with the Alliance Francaise here in Melbourne (after a break of some 30 years since my French O Level!). I was so proud when the woman beside me said she was an 'avocate' and I knew what it meant. I was even able to impress my Parisian teacher with a joke about an avocado! I will be a frequent visitor to your blog from now on for my winsome, vicarious French fix plus more help impressing my handsome young professeur :-)


yes, we should all be more carefree. Will be selling my Louis Vuitton on eBay and scaling down to a Longchamp. A girl still has to have a French bag. Really, the simple life is underrated. My new year's resolution is to live a simpler, more enriched life. Thanks, Cecile, for your inspiration, and Kristen, thanks for bringing the message.


to clarify (i am new to the blog and want to be sure I have all the players in the right place...) is Cecile your husband's sister?

Jules Greer

Hi Renee,

It's Jules, Kristi's mom - just noticed that you are thinking of selling your Louie Vuitton on eBay. I might be interested, I need to have some saddle bags for my CHARRO
HORSE here in Puerto Vallarta. I could have
them remade into the the bags. What sizes do you have, I am really excited about this idea !!!! Please e-mail me at [email protected] thanks and welcome to all of us happy "commenters" here on Kristi's FWAD.




I second Anna in wanting to hear more about Jules' story. Unconventionally faith-filled and artistic are what I've gathered so far - Jules - please tell us your story!


Wonderful homemade presents, Cécile! They speak quite openly about your creative abilities!
Is the hazelnut confit a sort of “Almond Hazelnut Butter” ?
or is it a “Chocolate Hazelnut Spread” like Nutella? …
or a splendid concoction of Hazelnut purée mixed with honey and heated together “au bain-marie”? (my favourite guess)

By the way, I am pretty sure “le miel délicieux ” can also be tasted “tel quel”... and easily be eaten “à la p'tite cuillère”! The Espinasse family will be bouncing with renewed energy!

Kristin, I love the way you led us through your brilliant piece of writing, from the label on the jar to the unconventional background of the person who produced the wonderful home-made presents... and to the anti-establishment idea, perfect way to link unconventional & friendly Cécile with your “hell-raising rebel mom” we all love.

Hello Jules! Kristin suggested we gave you a good shout! So, from these “back-stabbing” busy years to what she calls your “jungle years”, is there a next step? What happened to the "jungle"? Have you further plans for “running away”?... (not sure at all my questions sound like a good shout). I can feel your strong appeal for the Gypsy Caravan type of life! (I did some catching up and read about your exciting visions of such a caravan in “l'oie” Newsletter...)
I think Kristin is conscientiouly (and unconscientiously) compiling chapters of what will, one day, be published as A BOOK about you.
In spite of my trying to shout out, I'd rather admit I wouldn't mind NOT to know everything right now. I would happily read bits here and there and wait for a book beautifully constructed and written by Kristin (with a nice selection of photos, and paintings if that's possible). OK, this is just one point of view, maybe not shared by everyone, so after all, I'd better shout out to be heard (?)

Cécile, bless you for being you, just as you are, fitting in with yourself. I think “tu es une femme très nature”, in both ways.
-> être nature = to be spontaneous, open, direct, not trying to appear for what you aren't … just “telle quelle”!... and also
-> être nature = to like nature.

All the best to you all!


Hi again, Kristin!

About your question concerning idioms or expressions that include "tel quel" → I don't know a lot, but here are a few examples

-> You may eat something “tel quel” = as you find it, without any preparation or cooking.
-> You may cook something and eat it “tel quel” = just as it is once it's been cooked, without adding any seasoning, sauce or embellishment.
-> You should “rendre un objet” (return / give back something) “tel quel” = rendre (l'objet) dans le même état → to give (the object) back exactly as it was when borrowed.
-> être tel quel / être nature (see previous post)
-> When you find a place “tel(le) quel(le)”, you find it exactly as it used to be when you left it, everything at the same place, nothing moved or changed.
-> Yesterday, 5th January, David from the Winery in London said: “We are sold out of Mistral”, so I'm afraid their stock of Domaine Rouge-Bleu is no longer “tel quel”! (this is true, Jean-Marc)


Kristin, your mom appears to be an interesting person and I would like to read more about her. She sounds like a scream LOL


I find myself coming to your blog more and more often to the point where my visits are almost daily now!


Jules, I would love to know your story...will you write it? Or will you ask Kristin to do it once she has finished this project?

P.S. I love the pictures of both of you. You look alike and are both just beautiful.

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