lavoir (laah-vwar)noun, masculine
wash house, washing place
Audio File & Example Sentence
Listen to my daughter's dear friend, Sonia, pronounce these French words:
Download MP3 sound file
On lave son linge sale au lavoir.
We wash our clothes at the (community) wash basin.
Improve your French pronunciation with the Exercises in French phonetics book. Click here.
A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse
At the old stone lavoir* in Saint-Maurice-sur-Eygues a man is doing the washing. There is a plastic bucket beside him and box of sugar in his hand. He is sprinkling the white powder over the linge sale,* which drips from the centuries-old stone below. When the laundry begins to froth at the surface, I realize that not sugar--but laundry detergent--is responsible for this sudsy chemical reaction. Turns out our washer man has recycled the plastic box of sugar into a soap recipient, so as not to carry a much bigger box to the launderette each time.
I study the ancient wash room from across the street, where I have finished a photographic journey around the Provençal village. I am headed back to my car, content with the images I have captured, only, the man at the lavoir is the most precious picture of all! As a rule, I do not point my lens at the locals. It seems intrusive--if not exploitative. However, just as with French grammar, there is an exception to every rule and, in this case friends are that exception.
After all, the man and I had established some sort of rapport* (you might say we were des connaissances*) back at the fountain when first I arrived to the village. Seated on some steps, he had been feeding the birds... and I had been setting out, from the municipal parking lot, to discover the village.
Locking my car door, I had paused to witness the scene across the way: the joy on a stranger's face, the happiness that only a dance with Dame Nature* can bring. The dance, in this instance, was no more than the doting relationship between man and wild animal: Monsieur was feeding the pigeons.
How his face lit up with delight, bite after bite, on feeding the feathered friends to his right! When one of the pigeons flew up--to land at the top of the fountain--a friendship was born: that's when I pointed my lens at the pigeon and snapped the photo. Monsieur smiled at me, as if I had photographed a member of his very own family. He pointed to his bag of bird feed (a small sack of rice, premier prix*). I nodded in affirmation. Hunger is hunger, black, white, or feathered, and he who gives to the poor is priceless.
...Priceless as the scene before me of a lone man washing a lone shirt in a lonely French town. Of the many remarkable scenes I had viewed from the other end of a camera lens, none were so picturesque as this. But how to proceed? It occurred to me that I might simply ask Monsieur's permission for his photo.
Permission granted, I watched as Monsieur thoughtfully rearranged the bucket and the box of soap before returning to his chore. I could now see his working hands, as they kneaded and scrubbed, and I now had a better view of the soapy subject:
"Ma chemise,"* Monsieur explained, and his accent was as foreign as my own.
"Je suis marocain,"* the washer man offered.
"And I am American," I offered back.
But what to say next--apart from "do you come here often?" And so it was that I asked the clumsy question:
"Do people actually use these old washbasins?"
"Vous savez,"* Monsieur said simply, unassumingly, "on n'est pas tous les riches."*
I set my costly camera aside... and wanted to crawl under the stone lavoir and hide. I had an urge to become small, petit as the pigeon back at the fountain--and with an appetite as all-consuming as its own: an appetite for amour* and approval from the man sans machine.
* * *
Thank you for your comments & feedback.
le lavoir (m) = wash basin; le linge (m) sale = dirty laundry; le rapport (m) = connection, relationship; la connaissance (f) = acquaintance; la Dame Nature (f) = Mother Nature; le premier prix (m) = first (bargain) price; ma chemise (f) = my shirt; je suis marocain = I am Moroccan; vous savez = you know; on n'est pas tous les riches = we are not (all of us) rich; l'amour (m) = love
Book (photo above): Lavoirs: Washhouses of Rural France
Postnote: Monsieur, sensing my malaise, offered a kind conclusion to our conversation:
"Besides," he said, "Je n'ai pas de femme," I don't have a wife... and not alot of clothes to wash.... Je n'ai pas besoin d'une machine à laver.
Ongoing support from readers like you helps me to continue doing what I love most: sharing vocabulary and cultural insights via these personal stories from France. Your contribution makes a difference. A donation by check or via PayPal is vivement appréciée! Merci infiniment! Kristi
♥ Give $10
♥ Give $25
♥ Give the amount of your choice
Has a friend forwarded you this post? Receive your own FREE subscription to French Word-A-Day. Click here