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
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.
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
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