sauve qui peut

le mot juste

Door beads--and a would-be butterfly--were just part of the charm awaiting us at our vacation rental in Croatia. See another photo, below.


le mot juste (leuh moh zhoost) noun, masculine

    : the exact word or expression

Audio File & Example Sentence: Listen to my son, Max, pronounce the following French words: Download Le mot juste

...on va de nouveau éplucher nos mœurs et nos habitudes pour tenter de trouver le mot juste et surtout le bon sens." --Vive la rentrée, FranceSoir

Help translate today's quote... or add to the "mot juste" definition, in the comments box. Merci d'avance!


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

We arrived in Croatia at 10:30 at night after a 14-hour drive from Ovada. This late in the evening, I could not yet make out the charming maisonnette* that was to be our rental for the next seven days.

The location* was part of a farmhouse, long since divided up like a Kit Kat wafer. If you stood facing the long building, you could easily pick out our unit, with its cheery lavender-colored façade, its little iron fence, geraniums tumbling down the sides. Above the patio a sprawling grapevine provided shade and a visual feast: clusters of sweet fruit. The bright little abode was bookended by the continuations of a grayish building in need of repair.

I looked up at the grapes each night as I sat reading in a cozy, cushioned chair.  Though I had brought a stack of books (ranging from "The Life of a Simple Man" to "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress"), in the evening I took advantage of the serene setting for some scriptural study.

Around the second or the third night,  my feet propped up on a chair, I settled into my cozy routine. That's when I heard the crunching of gravel. My ears tuned in to the driveway, just outside our enclosed patio, as I listened to the sound of Croatian steps approaching.

I soon sensed the presence of a stranger on the other side of the fence, just inches from where I sat. 
"Hello," I said.
"What are you reading?" the stranger nodded his reply.

Caught off guard, I thought about the object of my study, and how prayer isn't something you shout from the rooftops; just like tithing -- where your left hand shouldn't know what your right hand is doing -- worship should be done in private. No need to blab about holy matters, or how much they matter to you -- when actions speak louder than words.

But with the stranger's eyes now gazing intensely right through the bars of the front fence, I had no other option but to reveal my spiritual zeal.

"I... am reading the Bible," I replied.
"Yes, but which book?"

For a moment, I was confused, for I had already told the stranger what book I was reading: the Holy Bible.

I looked up at the man, who waited for my answer. He was tall and thin, with shoulder-length locks. He looked to be about my age, forty-something.

Book... In fact, the stranger had already identified the livre* that I was reading (the gilded pages were a giveaway) and wanted to know which chapter I was reading -- only, he had correctly called the sections "books".

Distracted, I had to look down to the delicate pages to answer his question.
"Romans," I informed him.

The man nodded and there followed a moment of silence, one I was anxious to fill. Only, what to say?

"Do you read the Bible?" I inquired, feeling like a Sunday School teacher's pet. I hoped I didn't sound that way -- but I could think of nothing else to say.

"Sometimes. When I am not working," replied the stranger.

I remembered the other Croatians that I had recently met, all of whom were so busy working to make ends meet that vacation--even homebound R&R and meditation--was an unaffordable luxury.

"Do you live around here?" I asked.
"No, I live in the city."

I thought about all the HLM's* we had passed by, dingy gray façades that were peeling like sunburned giants. The dilapidated units were piled one over the other, sky-high. There were hundreds of humble abodes within one dismal block of concrete. The blocks crowded the graffitified commercial centers, where we went to buy our bread and butter. What a contrast these "homes" were to the charming vacation rentals on the coast....

"My grandmother lived there," the stranger continued, pointing to a house up the dirt lane. "She passed away three years ago. She was ninety-one."

Listening to the grown man talk about his grandmother, I was at a loss for words, but managed a all-purpose reply:
"She had a nice life," I offered, once again petting another's pride.

"Not a nice life," the man corrected, "a long life".

Having said a simple goodbye, the mysterious man walked on, leaving me with the power of words--exact words, not fluffed up, flattering ones. I made a commitment, then and there, to make an effort to practice precise speech, to slow down in time to search for les mots justes,* for exact words--and to have the confidence to deliver them. Even the overworked stranger had made the time, and had had the self-respect, to do as much.

I closed my "books," as the stranger had correctly called them, and relished the unexpected lesson (on truth) that I had learned from the other side of the fence. 

Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--are always welcome and enjoyed. Please use the comments box to respond to this story.


Note: I will be joining two authors at the American Library in Paris, to talk about "fish-out-of-water experiences" living in la belle France. If, by chance, you are in Paris on Oct. 7th, we would love to see you at this meet-up.

~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
la maisonnette
 = small house; la location = rental; le livre = book; HLM = (habitation à loyer modéré) = rent-controlled housing subsidized by the government; le mot juste = the precise, exact word

Map of Paris 12 File Folders with Vintage Designs

Magazine: Printed in French, Chatelaine features articles on practical home advice, health, beauty, family, and fashion issues, practical home advice, and a wide variety of recipes.

Free your inner Gallic cook! Larousse Gastronomique

In children's books: Oxford First French Words


Max-biento14 080
A Croatian hummingbird Hummingbird Hawk-Moth for Newforest, who shares and teaches us so much about French language and culture, via the comments box. Newforest will be back with us in October. Bon courage and hugs. Our thoughts are with you.

Just like Newforest's comments, hummingbirds are one thing I miss already. I have yet to see a hummingbird in France, but stared at them endlessly as they drank from our bottlebrush tree back in Arizona.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


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No hummingbirds in Croatia - beautiful picture anyway!


Kristin, thank you for this lovely post. It is the unexpected encounters in life that mean so much, short and sweet, leaving us with all sorts of thoughts to savor. Being caught off guard by a stranger revealing such intimate information, begs for a response and the generosity of your spirit shone through in your answer.

Along a similar line, there have been way too many times I have looked back and thought "why did I say THAT?" because I had been too quick with comments that were unecesssary or inappropriate. My biggest and most demanding lesson is in practicing restraint. I need more practice...

Words from the heart find their mark, despite their inexactness!


"Les mots du coeur trouvent leur marque en dépit de leur inexactitude"...hum, would this be a correct translation? Anyone?


It's not a hummingbird--it's a Moro Sphinx, aka Hummingbird Hawk-Moth. I saw my first one shortly after moving to France, in
Haute-Loire, drinking the nectar from my tiny lavender plant on my window sill. I thought it was the world's smallest hummingbird, but a French friend explained what it was. There are many of them in Ardèche, and since moving to Brittany I've also seen a few. They are amazing to watch--their bodies look like they're covered in feathers, but they're not. They are beautiful creatures.


We live in the Limousin and see hummingbird hawk moths every day - they are beautiful and sound wonderful hovering around me while I deadhead. Sandie


Thank you for your post, Kristin. You seem to be a rarity on the internet: someone who has learned to reveal true glimpses of themselves, the ones that matter and that have the capacity to change other people, without the narcissistic flaunting of intimate details that don't matter and don't accomplish anything. I am a relatively new reader, but have been very pleasantly surprised--and delighted--by your glimpses. Please continue.


What a delightful story, Kristin. Did this man speak to you in French or English, or do you also know how to speak Croatian (or one of the several other languages spoken in Croatia)? Your story underscores how incredibly out-of-touch the U.S. is with the rest of the world regarding living standards. I marvel almost daily at the abundance in this country and cringe at the waste.

Eileen deCamp

We have hummingbird moths here too in Charlottesville, VA. They flit all around my geraniums.


LE MOT JUSTE... we're going to unwrap our morals and habits and try to find the exact word and above all, the right meaning.

Linda R.

Good morning, Kristen. I love today's story of an unexpected encounter and one of life's lessons learned/reinforced along the way. The power of words and le mot juste is conveyed very simply and eloquently by the gentleman who stopped to speak and by you in the telling.

Your photos are beautiful as always.


Claudette, Mia, Sandie & Eileen: thanks for identifying the Hummingbird Hawk-Moth. I had wondered about that (it didn't look like the hummingbirds back home, but oh, those high-speed wings!

Ashley, Diane, and Pat : thanks for such positive feeback. Diane: I think the stranger and I spoke English, if I remember correctly. Most of the locals spoke either Croatian or Italian. This man was an exception.

Jerry: thank you for the translation!


Kristin -
I love it here! Thank you. You have sparked a desire to learn this language and for that I am grateful.I have thought many times that I wish I could just call you and have french conversation so I can learn and be like a sponge and also to learn about your families vineyard. I find it all fascinating no matter the hard work that I know you all go through daily concerning the business! I read your posts whenever they come through with excitement and thankfulness. You seem to have a sweet family. Thank you for being real throughout your blog and just sharing your french words and sayings of the day. You spell your name just like I do. I have not ever met another soul that spelled her name like I do. Yea to us!

Have a beautiful day!

Kind regards,


Hello Kristin,

Thank you so much!

I'll switch off my laptop tomorrow. In the 6 following weeks, not “nice” but “long” (this is precisely how they will feel for me) I'm sure I will often visualise your Hummingbird Hawk-Moth hovering in front of these beautiful “geranium lierre” (ivy geranium)...

Your thoughts & words of support so kindly offered today under the lovely photo will take, in the weeks ahead, the shape and colour of this 'Nature's little wonder'!... I'm sure that, at times, the ivy geranium will be cascading and cascading... and there will be lots of hummingbirds to make me smile.

Christine Jackson


Where are you going!?!?!!? We will miss your thoughtful comments and explanations.

Take Care!


You are always learning something from people around you, Kristin, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant the interaction may be. You are humble and very receptive to other ways of thinking -- a great trait in a writer.


Dear Kristin,
With today’s post you make me think about this phrase I heard about 10 years ago and since then it is engraved in my heart, mind and mouth: “Hay que sentir profundamente, saber lo que se siente y decir lo que se sabe.”

“You have to feel deeply, know what you feel and say what you know.” Maybe no the best of translations but more or less I guess you get the meaning.

I think to feel deeply you have to be in the present, here and now, conscious and alert, in peace... then to really know what you feel sometimes can be the tricky part! To be able to define what you feel, so then you can say what you know picking the right words.

As some already comment today, I feel that when you speak from the heart, the right words just flow easier and have a deeper meaning and impact to your listener (which, by the way, it should be one the main reasons why someone decides to open their mouth! LOL ).

Love the pictures and your story... remind me of always be more aware on how we always “touch” people with everything we do and say and also everything we don’t. (by action and omission)

Newforest: we’ll miss you! Hope everything is ok.



Delightful story as always, and how observant and sensitive you are! I could not agree with you any more Kristin. No fluffing up others' egos, no niceties that are not sincere, just trying to find the one sincere thing we like in another and to express it should be my goal.
You are wonderful, and I mean this. And finally, I love the expression, 'le mot juste'...even my husband uses this once in a while. I think it sounds very french.


Maria Cochrane

Bonjour Kristen - good for you for taking nourishment from your Bible. The gentleman WAS correct. The Bible is 66 different books. So you were meditating on the BOOK of Romans. How gratifying to you (and to us!) that you & he had God's Word in common.
I, too, enjoy and savor your reflections and little French lessons. I'm a French teacher and enjoying learning new words.
Maria in
Newport News, VA


Kristin, this little story "hit the spot" for me! This man seemed to know how to intrude without intruding. It's nice that you can document these subtle exchanges in such a vivid way. I could see this man and was wondering if he looked like Jesus, but then I realized this wasn't what you were saying. Once I forgot about that image I imagined only what his grandmother might of looked like and what he might have been through with her. Such nice writing. Thank you.


I was born in Croatia, after 35 years I have finnally statred to come back every year. I'm happy to say, I'm enjoying this enchanted land and it's most beautiful Adriatic Coast. I so enjoyed reading your story of the working man. Yes, and Yes, there are many like him here.... I too have learned a lot from the Croatians. Thank you for sharing.

Cynthia in the French Alps

Firstly, I'm so glad you had a chance to take such a wonderful vacation. Croatia is definitely on my list (and that of my Frenchman's), and we may even do it on our new motorcycle. Secondly, your gentle words and sensitive insight are, as always, a pleasure to read and they bring to mind so many memories about similar encounters I had traveling alone (which I did for many years to several countries). Thanks again for sharing your experiences in such a meaningful way. Cynthia


This morning I overslept and missed my appointment with my maker (I hope He equally missed the time with me). I'm grateful to be aware of His workings all day, but later I'll catch up with some quiet intentional attention.

Marianne  Rankin

Although we must be careful not to overzealously proselytize, we can go too far the other way. Once in an adult Sunday School class, someone commented, "Religion is very personal." And it is. But if it can't be shared, even in a general way such as by commenting on a book of the Bible, its value is diminished.

I think it's good that a stranger was willing to talk to you about anything. And books can be catalysts for discussion. Years ago I was reading Le Petit Prince in a park in Washington, D.C. A young man passed me, noticed the book, and said, "Ah, vous etes Francaise?" I replied in French that I wasn't, but was keeping up the language. One thing led to another, and as I recall, he was Austrian, so I also talked with him in German. It was enjoyable. My mother remarked later that maybe I had given him a good impression of the USA. At least he would know that some Americans read, and speak other languages.

So often people feel alone, and probably more so in a country other than their own. The conversation with the Croatian bridged the loneliness gap, and went past the conventional topics such as the weather.

I don't know what is happening with Newforest, but will pray for him (I believe N. is a man, but if I'm mistaken, sorry.)

What is nice about the F.W.A.D. is that it catches moments that might be lost in a larger context. I still hope there will someday be a Volume II of the Words in a French Life book.


Dear Marianne,

Ah! "Le Petit Prince"!...

To give you a clue, Marianne, "la forêt" is a feminine word in French...

To you, to Christine & Andrea, all my thanks. The next six weeks will not be pleasant, but I'll be fine when I come back.


This is how I translated today's phrase:
“…we are again going to sift through our manners (mores, morals) and our habits in order to try to find the exact word and above all the right meaning.”
I hope I am fairly correct.


Newforest, Bonne chance, mon ami! Votre ordinateur vous attendra a la fin de six semaines.

Nous, tous, vous attendrons avec impatience aussi.

Jules Greer




Fred Caswell

Newforest, I am so jealous of you! Your intellect and memory timely offered from a rather mysterious "Phantom of the French Word-A-Day" surrounds you with admiration and love by so many of Kristin's readers.

For our beloved Kristi -- today's post is just what I love to receive from you. You give me so much!

Comme toujours -- Fred


Kristin...inspiring post for today! My best wishes are also sent to the lovely lady Newforest...I think Kristin's image of a hummingbird is "le mot juste" for Newforest!!

Mary Weatherley

Balzac et la Petite Tailleuse is a gripping little book. For somemone with conversational French who would like to read a novel written in French, this book would be an excellent read.


To Jules, Fred, Gretel,
Mille mercis for your prayers, kind words & friendly thoughts.


Newforest, Wishing you the very best and we will look forward to your return in 6 weeks. You always add so much here--may the hours fly until you return! Toujours dans nos coeurs...

Jennifer in OR

A beautiful and fortifying post, thank you! The Croatian stranger -- may God bless him today!

Stacy, Applegate, Oregon

Wonderful photos and story! Imagine my delight to see moths that are very similar to moths I see here in the mountains of south-western Oregon! I had not heard of the hummingbird moth until moving here. I at first mistook it for a night-flying hummingbird. Now, it is one of the delights of June and July, to watch them at night-fall.

I loved, and whole-heartedly agree with Ashley’s description of your writing. By the way...I have a new puppy sleeping at my feet. Nothing like a puppy to remind us to live in the moment!


The Bible... one of the best books (or set of books) ever written, and yet I have not read it from beginning to end. It's fits well with your post about finding the right words to say to someone instead of the simple chit-chat we usually throw out there upon first meeting.

The Bible - so full of just the right words and so many of them. Every story recounted so beautifully and every word seems to have been chosen so thoughtfully. To top it off, the underlying lessons are and have been profoundly applicable to each one of our lives for centuries. Isn't that amazing?

My prayers go out to you, Newforest, for the strength you have within to pull you through. We will anxiously await your return.

Kristin, the beads in your photo are almost like prayer beads, I think that is so fitting too!

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