Clochard: My mom meets some of the homeless people of Draguigan

booze, bottle, homeless, sdf, Paris, window sill, ledge, window bars (c) Kristin Espinasse,
                                                                                         Bottle on a window sill in Paris.

un clochard (klo shar) noun

    : homeless person

feminine: une clocharde

un mendiant (beggar), S.D.F., or "Sans Domicile Fixe" (homeless person)


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

Sometime in 2003... Mom and I are walking through the town of Draguignan when we catch sight of ourselves in a shop window.

"Look at you," Mom says."You look like a washerwoman!" I look down at my favorite shirt and notice how faded it has become. Mom may have a point. Beneath the shirt, my jeans are even more décoloré and fringed at the hemline. En effet! I really do look like a washerwoman! "But then so do you," I counter, and with that we dissolve into laughter.

Ever since Mom's accident, in which she slipped and broke her hip while washing the floor (back in her apartment in Mexico), her life went from bad to worse. Presently she was living with me in Les Arcs-sur-Argens, dependent on more than my help: she needed to borrow my clothes.... 

Because my own wardrobe was a bit classic (read unimaginitive) for her taste, she took to wearing an eclectic mix of "threads". A little bit from Jean-Marc's garde-robe, a little bit from mine. Even an item or two of Max's and Jackie's (such as a candy bracelet or a feather for her hat). But no matter what she wore, if it had a restrictive neckline, she simply tore out the collar. If there's one thing Mom hates, it is restrictions!

There in front of the reflective storefront window, we faced reality: me in my washed-out ensemble and Mom in baggy pantalons, a pair of beat-up hiking boots, and the torn sweatshirt. Her smart fedora and bronze lipstick added a certain je ne sais quoi to her patched-together outfit.

"Why don't you go and buy yourself a pretty new outfit?" Mom suggested. Unlike Mom, I had a credit card and unlike Mom I had a complex. The only thing we had in common on the clothes front was an aversion to shopping. That said, it didn't take too much convincing before I disappeared into the nearest shop. Looking back, I regret not sending my dear mom into the store for a new outfit of her own. It might have spared her the heckling that she received next....

While I was busy in the shop, rummaging through racks of overpriced clothes, Mom loitered in front of the boutique, where she eventually met a few locals.

"Why do you have that?" a man asked, pointing to Mom's cane. 
"Because I broke my hip," Mom explained. 
"You don't need that!" he insisted. "Just look at me. I don't need mine anymore!"

With that the man began kicking out his legs triumphantly. "Look at me! Look at me!" he sang. Next, he did a little dance, punctuated by more kicks and a few arm flaps for art's sake. The man wore a scraggly beard and mustache from which a line of smoke issued. On closer look, a hand-rolled cigarette rested in a corner of his mouth.

"You can do this! You don't have to be a cripple your whole life," he seemed to be saying.

Mom was amazed. "But how did you do this?"

"In France we take care of our people." 

And, fast as that, the man trotted off, up the street and across the way, leaving Mom bedazzled. Oh, the brave hearts she encountered! She loved each and every one with her own full heart.

With me still kicking around in the dress shop, Mom wandered off in search of Mr. Kicks. She hobbled up the road, where, quelle chance!, she found him roaring with laughter before a group of men and women. 

Mom's face lit up on recognizing her new friend; only, before she could advance one more step, another man in the group began shouting at her. Stunned, she froze in her tracks. She was now the object of a half-dozen glassy stares. That's when she heard her friend speak to his colleague in broken English.

"Stop!" he said, raising the palm of his hand dramatically. "She is a beautiful woman. She is very special!" But the other man only continued his protest, this time in broken English. The scene of two men arguing in broken English was so startling that Mom forgot her hurt feelings.

Mom watched as the group became more and more animated. She noticed that some were drinking from beer bottles while others were patiently waiting for the very same. The group was dressed in a pastiche of patterns, all faded and fringed. Mom looked down at her own person and remembered her reflection in the shop window. That is when it all began to make sense: The man who was yelling at her was only defending his own, albeit transient, turf, lest some eager arriviste from another curb threatens to upset his coins-collecting commerce! 

A little while later, I breezed out of the shop with a new pair of pants and a new top. I met Mom, who was returning from the other end of the street. She wore a smile on her face, the kind that is drawn there by angels.
"Did you find something nice, Honey?" Mom asked. I told her that I did, and assured her that I would no longer be looking like une clocharde!

A little while later I would realize the (unintentional) indelicateness of my words when Mom shared with me about her half-hour alone on the streets of Draguignan.



= faded, washed out

En effet! = as a matter of fact!

la garde-robe = wardrobe

le pantalon = pant

je ne sais quoi = (a certain) something


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Video: Listen to Jean-Marc pronoune today's word "clochard". Can you understand what he is saying? Write your interpretation in the comments box.

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A very moving story, Kristin. You and Jules each have your own wisdom's to share.
I can try to translate the last of Jean-Marc's sentence. This is not the hand of a homeless person: this is the hand of someone who works in the vines.

Anne Wirth

I love your Mom. She is her own person and not owned by or oweing to anything or anyone. At her (our)age, she has developed a wisdom of the world. She is a free spirit. I am sorry she broke her hip but it brought the two of you closer(in space, if nothing else). It sounds as though you love your Mom's free spirit. Enjoy and learn.

Jeanne of Maumee, OH

Loved your clochard story! That happened to my son when he was living in NYC as a Jesuit Volunteer. He tried to dress the "part" while working in the Bronx. We ventured into the city to the MOMA and while waiting outside for a friend, he was approached by a guy who wanted some chestnuts! Jim happenend to be standing near one of the street carts and "became" the vendor! Ah, clothes do make the man - and apparently the woman too!


I love, love, LOVE the video pronounciation!

Jean-Marc pronounces clochard, gives a synonym or two and then says something like-these are not the hands of a homeless person these are the hands of a person who workd in the vineyard.........I think.

And I do expect a grade for this translation......

Barbara Andolsek Paintings

We love Jules...

Julie Schorr

Thank you, for this video and word-of-the day. It is a good reminder about not judging people. Looks are often deceptive!
Jean-Marc used the past tense when he said"This is not the hand of a homeless person, but the hand of someone who has made wine!

Jean(ne)  Pierre in MN

I love your tender stories about your beautiful mother with the beautiful soul. Jean Marc's comments made me laugh. Merci a tous.


How do you access the pronunciation? I click all the choices and all I get is his attractive blog?

Pat Cargill

Love the translation, part of which I could understand, about this not being the hand of a homeless person. Sweet story about you and Jules, partly a reminder to engage oneself in the life all around us.


Huh, here in Canada we say "sans abri" for homeless person. I'm glad to know some synonyms.


What an interesting story. I think Jules and Portia would be a pair to be reckoned with in France. I don't know if I am brave enough to put them together!

Your eye and sense of expressing the moment continue to amaze and delight.

Great to have JM on the video. I will have to study it again.

Margaret in Durham enjoying Indian Summer.


I suspect that had you managed to get her inside, they probably would not have had what she was looking for, at the time :)
Funny though, that we learn so many things about our mom's in hind sight. Odd too, that our daughters will learn more about us in often the same ways...

Have a great day, and tell Jules we send our love, when next you visit with her.


Marianne Rankin

I'm wondering if the initial conversation of Kristin's mom and the man who said she didn't need the cane was in English or French. While Jules lived in France, did she learn some French? Interesting that the two men later were speaking some English.

I suspect that the man bounding around to show his movements had had more time to heal than Jules had; such a break can take quite a while to heal, and keeping the cane a bit longer is playing it safe.

It seems to me, being more or less of Jules's generation, that folks look more sloppy in public than they used to, such as when riding the train to work. But at home, I confess to wearing shorts and sneakers as much as possible.

Glad everything worked out in the end.


The literal translation for "homeless person" is or "une personne sans abri" or even "un sans abri." I understood "clochard" to mean something closer to "tramp" or "vagabond" in English; the word "clochard" has an strong element of judgment and disdain to it.

A person who is unlucky enough not to have a place to live, can look like you or like me. While I normally enjoy your posts, I think you have done a disservice to your subscribers by spreading your judgmental attitude through this post.

Sylvia Moody

I enjoyed this post. I could figure out: homeless person; synonym, a beggar (in the sense of a wanderer), a person without _____. Next: This is not the hand of a homeless person but one who makes wine. Please print the text also. Merci bien!
americaine du sud

Stacy, Applegate, Oregon

Smiles!!! I so enjoyed your story and you playing with the beautiful contrasts, and similarities, of you and your mother. What gifts you bring to each other!

I loved seeing the term "washerwoman" as I hadn't heard it since The Wind in the Willows. Love and hugs to Jules, Kristi and Jackie!


Thank you for the wonderful notes to and about Jules. I will be sure Mom gets your messages when I call her tomorrow.

Canadienne, I think you have misunderstood my story. But it is more likely that I have miscommunicated it. May I simply say that I hope never to judge. After all, how can we know anyone unless we have walked in their shoes? And besides, who am I to judge? Finally, it is too easy to judge others; harder, is to esteem oneself at one's proper place: no better than anyone else and, often, much worse.


Kristen, how fortunate we are to share in your life! This is just a wonderfully touching post!
Bon journee!

Linda Meier

Bonjour Kristin:
For a fun shopping experience, check out the clothes at the market in Uzes or even better San Remy. I found amazing and chic things for less than 20 euros and wonderful scarves which are soooo French and can dress up anything for 10 euros.
Thanks again for our special visit. Look forward to seeing a story with you on your bike!!

Sharon Auckerman

I am just catching up on your posts and I am delighted to read the stories of your family. Cherish the time you have with your children, because soon they will not be children. And how sad that is! You do so many things with your children that we did with ours and I love reading "my life story" through you. Love Jules too! Hope she is well.

Canadienne seems to be much too serious in her interpretation and understanding of the story. I am happy that she has a good understanding of French and English so that she can enlighten us to the correct usage. I personally have never read anything judgmental in your posts, at least nothing that wasn't done thong in check or laughing at yourself. Keep up the good work and thanks again for making my sunshine a little brighter.

Sharon Auckerman

I love spell check! I just noticed that it corrected my word "tongue" with thong. Maybe that works just as well. Ha. ha!!!!!

alicia brown

This is not the hand of a clocharde, but one of someone who makes wine.

thank you for the post!


Beautiful post! My French teacher was explaining the other day how the clochards got their name and I loved the story eh oui! and so today it is lovely to read your story of another aspect~ protecting their turf.

Mary in Mebane, NC

Thank you for your wonderful post. I did not get all of Jean Marc's post but it was wonderful to listen to anyway. Every day my "french ear" evolves a bit!

Bruce T. Paddock


Definition: A person who lives by begging

Synonyms: gueux; mendiant; puyeux (??)

This is not the hand of a [homeless person/beggar]; instead it belongs to someone who has made wine.

apartments London

" A Day in a French Life"...
A day in the Romance! :)
Great on!
I nobly nevy you :)

Debbie W. - Portland, OR

I remember in "Notre Dame de Paris", one of the songs used the words "sans-papier" for the homeless people. It seems like it must be a colloquialism, but do you know the origin of the term?


I also thought this post was insensitive.

Alberta Boileau

I am Canadienne also and took exception to the comments by my compatriot. She should have thought out her comments before submitting them. When speaking in English we often hear the expression "I look like a tramp in these rags". I would translate that to be "Je ressemble a un vagabond (ou un clochard) dans ces guenilles." Not all persons sans abri are dressed in guenilles. Many homeless people are clean and dress as well as they can with what they can afford or receive from the shelters. The only time you used the expression clocharde was in your phrase "I will no longer look like a washerwoman of a tramp (or vagabond) which righfully would translate to "clochard".
I see no judgment in your article. You certainly did not use the word in reference to anyone else but in your own self-image.

judith dunn

Kristin... I loved JeanMarc's 'wine-making video'... tres interessant avec beaucoup de trop information! As for clochards, while we lived in Paris for 3 years,, there were three 'resident clodos' in our neighborhood. I always passed by them twice on the way to G20 ( small supermarket) and the various vendors. I shopped in the AM and PM, like the Parisiens do! They always said hello between swigs of their preferred libations, nd I woukd 'bonjour' back. Once a month a bus would come and gather them and all their belongings and drive away.... about a week plus later they would return to the 'voisin' and take up their usual spots. they would be in 'new old clothes, have a new 'bedroll' and be very bald! I was glad to learn that this was a service to the 'sans abri' by the French Government! I was so impressed with this atitude toward those less fortunate than ourselves. The USA has a lot to learn from the French! Bonne semaine, Judi from Tallahassee

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