mauvais perdant

My fourteen-year-old fiston* on the beach in Giens (near Hyérès). He's eating "un sandwich baguette". Learn about another kind of baguette (en bois*), in today's story column. 

mauvais perdant (moh-vay pair-dahn)

    : sore loser

(feminine: une mauvaise perdante [moh-vayz pair-dahnt)

Audio File & Example Sentence:
Listen to my daughter, Jackie, pronounce the following French words:
MP3 or Download Mauvais perdant

Battu, il fut aussi mauvais perdant que ses adversaires étaient de piètres gagnants.
(Help translate this quote? Click here to share your interpretation.)

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


It is half-past seven in the evening. My stomach is rumbling, my head is a basket of butterflies, and I am wondering about what to cook for dinner... when my son walks into the room.

"On joue?"* Max offers.

A fun French mom might respond "Allez, chiche!"*; instead, a famished mom's eyes drop to the  small wooden box in her son's hands. Oh, no. C'est un jeu d'adresse*. I do not feel up to a game of skill, given these pre-dinner jitters and this fluttering brain.

That my son seems to find me a worthy opponent has me re-prioritizing. Hunger will have to hang on.

I look at the rectangular box of sticks and wonder what the rules are and will they be complicated? The name* on the box looks Japanese. So much for instructions! My stomach rumbles and my head spins.

"These colored bands," Max explains, pointing to the painted sticks, or baguettes, "correspond to the Samouraï bâton* and are worth ten points, and this one, un Mandarin, is worth 5...."

Oh no--points!--and more foreign terms... "Okay, okay. J'ai compris. Allons-y!"*

I have never liked games, ever since my Bridge*-busting, card-slinging grandmother-on-the-rocks called me a mauvaise perdante.* "Don't be such a poor sport!" She'd complain, under gin and tonic breath. The satisfaction on her face from winning another round of Go Fish, Slapjack, or, appropriately, Old Maid, was hard to miss. I gave up cards and signed up for a real sport: Little League Baseball. Cleats replaced cards, as I became pitcher for the Yankees, outfield for the A's -- and, oh! -- if those weren't the good ol' winning days!

"So, what do we do next?" I ask Max.  I sit on the floor, facing my opponent, legs tucked into a "pretzel" as I watch my son drop une poignée* of sticks. Dozens of spaghetti-thin batons fall to the floor in one chaotic heap.

Max explains the simple rules: "Tu dois déplacer une de ces baguettes sans déranger les autres."*

I stare at the tangled tas.* Every stick seems "stuck" to another. I am to pick up one of these sticks without disturbing the others?

"But that's impossible!" I point out, and my stomach growls in accord. "It's late. Why don't we eat dinner first?" Seeing the disappointed look on my son's face, it occurs to me that hunger will have to hang on, and on... just like those baguettes -- all three or four dozen of them.

"Just how does one pick up a stick without disturbing another?"

"With patience," Max encourages.

And I, the impatient outfielder am awestruck -- by a young Frenchman who runs circles around me, philosophically, having hit another balle of wisdom out of the ball park. And he didn't even have to change sports, as others have tried, in order to find his stride.


*     *     *

"Oh, I guess that one moved..." I say, sad to have to give up the newly-seized stick in my hand.
"I didn't see anything..." Max assures.
"The sticks didn't move?"
"Like I said, I didn't see a thing...."
"Oh... thanks. Thanks, Max!"

(Like that, I managed to pick-up 18 sticks. Max picked up almost double that, sans déranger le tas.)

*     *     *

Le Coin Commentaires 

Comment, send a correction--or share your own story here. Merci beaucoup!

~~~~~~~~~~~~French Vocabulary & References~~~~~~~~

le fiston (m) = son; en bois = in wood; on joue? = shall we play; allez, chiche! = Alright (Let's go), I'm game!; c'est un jeu d'adresse = it's a game of skill; name (of game) = (Max and I were playing "Mikado"); le bâton (m) = stick; J'ai compris. Allons-y = I've understood. Let's get going!; Bridge = the card game (also called "Bridge" in French => jouer au bridge = to play bridge); une mauvaise perdante = a sore loser; une poignée (f) = a fistful; Tu dois déplacer une de ces baguettes sans déranger les autres = you must move one of these sticks without upsetting the others; un tas (m) = heap, pile; la balle (f) = ball; sans déranger le tas = without upsetting the heap

Quote reference: Le Bulletin Des Recherches Historiques
 By Société des études historiques (Québec, Québec), Archives du Québec


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Pick-up-sticks was one of my favorite childhood games and now I play it with my granddaughters. I will have to tell them that French children play it too!! Thanks for the nice memory jogger.

Betty Gleason

Maybe it's generational or regional, but we played "pick-up-sticks" in the 50's in New York. Does take lots of patience. Butterflies in the noggin and grumbles in the tummy make it hard to concentrate. So as a novice in "Mikado" you did remarkably well. However, it is equally obvious that you are not a novice at being a loving "maman."

7:14 am Hobe Sound, FL 74 & cloudy

Bill in St. Paul

We played pick-up-sticks in the 50's in Minnesota, too. My sisters and I had many an argument about whether another stick moved or not. Le sandwich baguette is one of the cheapest and fastest yet, I think, most filling lunches you can get when you're in any French city - a great way to economize.

Ruth Hallett

hi, kristin,
thanks for the memories! i used to play pick-up-stix when i was a little girl. there used to be one black stick that was used to lift the others.
and good for you for putting dinner on hold! bravo. i'm sure you turned out something delicious in less time.

Karen (in Towson, Md) Whitcome

I remember this post and the discussion of the use of the word "baguette". Do I remember correctly that the French call chop-sticks "baquettes" also?


I played that game as a child and I still have the sticks. My game was called "La Chasse Joyeuse" and the sticks were all named for animals, with more points for picking up a deer than a hare. A couple of years ago, I tried it and had nowhere near the success that I had as a steady-handed child.

Marianne Rankin

Cherish these days when a 14-year-old wants to play with you. They become fewer and farther between as children grow up.

I played the game, too - it seemed a staple of childhood back then, before electronic options were available.

I think one way to keep from "aging" is to occasionally do things that youngsters do. I still read kids' books now and then, for example, and am working on picking up stamina by jumping rope and similar activities.


Pick up sticks! I played it as a child, but not well. Still, it was lots of fun. I will have to look for a game to play with my granddaughters. Just maybe I have more patience than I did as a child :-)


Who's that cute fluffy puppy?

Jeanne Robinson

I enjoyed playing with pick up sticks as a child, and bought them for my children and for my grandchildren. Surprised you never played before. Have you played Jacks (or Jax)? How about marbles? I remember these as rainy day or evening activities on the living room floor with my brother. You are a wonderful maman. Thanks for sharing this sweet story.

John Lee

Karen in Towson - Yes, indeed. And English seems to be the only Western language blessed with a dedicated word, "chopstick", for that versatile Asian eating utensil.

Does anyone know of any other Western language where the word for chopstick isn't simply "stick"?


Oh, it's pick-up-stix. Such a fun game and not too much brain power required. I'm going to go looking for some to play with my grandsons. Thanks for reminding me--this is uch better than a video game. Have a great week-end.

Janine Cortell

I used to play pickup sticks as a child and recently bought a set for my grandson. Your daily entry brought back years of fun and patience. Janine Cortell


My sisters and I played pick up sticks quite often. I do remember one stick being the "picker-upper" which makes it easier than having to use your fingers! Now getting my nephews to play seems a laughable pursuit—they'd rather run around than sit still!

Sion @ paris (im)perfect

I'm like you - not really one for games. But this one sounds like a winner. I remember playing pick-up-stix as a kid. Your son is precious. Yes, a very wise one, indeed!


Amazing how many of us remember that game, which I thought had mostly disappeared. There was a pizza place called Pete's at the beach where we took our boys every summer. Every table had a container of pick up sticks. Even if we arrived hungry and im-patient, the pick up sticks kept everyone happy until dinner arrived. Am not sure which part of the experience, dinner or game, our boys liked most.

Thanks from me, too, for the nice memory.

Jules Greer

I love your posts and memories. For your information Grandma Audrey used to drink vodka about that time in her life. Later on it was wine. I'll never forget the day I was visiting her, she was in her 70's and
as always an avid bridge player. I was fixing her hair before she drove off to play cards with her pals when I noticed she had wine in her tea cup. I just about fainted when I picked up on her morning routine...actually it was about 11:00 a.m.
What can I say - she lived life to it's fullest til she was 89 years old.




Thanks to you, with your blog I improve my English everyday. I noticed a little mistake in French Vocalubary & References : Tu dois deplacer UNE de ces baguettes sans deranger les autres...I think it's a typo.

Fred Caswell

In grammar and high school I tried all the sports possible for a skinny kid with pietres physical capacities. Always wanted to be a baseball pitcher! Some skill was discovered as an amateur swimmer. But in the third or fourth grade I borrowed 5 or six agates, paid off the loan the same day, winnings increased with a newly found skill, and by the seventh grade it was difficult to find a challenger -- except one guy in the eighth grade with similar accuracy with his "shooters".

Your son has the looks, skills, and tact like son pere.

Jennifer in OR

Loved pick-up sticks as a child! A similar game of not displacing other pieces is Jenga, a game I play with my kids often. It's the game with wooden blocks that begins as a tower, and you carefully remove a piece at a time without tumbling the tower. Fun!

Kristin Espinasse

Myriam, thanks for une baguette.
Mom, thanks for the vodka. (But oh, no! That means that I could not smell Grandmas boozy breath. May have to fix a few parts of that story.)

Fred Caswell: Happy May 29th birthday!!! Hope you had a wonderful fête. Love, Kristi

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Roseann,

The cute fluffy puppy lives near Hyérès, on the peninsula of Giens :-)

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Jeanne,

I did love Jacks -- thanks for the memory!

Salut from the WINDY Vaucluse,


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