siege auto

Menerbes Window (c) Kristin Espinasse
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siège-auto (see ezh oh toh) noun, masculine

    : car seat

Audio File: Listen to 13-year-old Jackie pronounce the words, below 
Download MP3 or WAV

Le siège-auto est obligatoire pour un enfant qui voyage en voiture.
The car seat is obligatory for a child who travels in a car.


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

Mama Bear

I couldn't tell you what the weather was like, whether the sky was black or blue or bursting with sunlight. If the muguet vendors were out, standing on every floral curb and corner, I didn't see them, and yet it was the season. The only thing I could perceive was the fragile being in front of me.

The newborn in my arms was not yet a week old and it was time to take him home. "Home" was a former one-room cottage in the perched "village" of le Rocas Blanc (otherwise known as Marseilles' 7th arrondissement). With the new room extension—Jean-Marc had had the cellier converted—we were ready to live as a family of three!

Now if only we could get from la maternité to our little nest for three. Currently, we were faced with one big problem: no car seat for our newborn. We had thought of everything else, having ticked off the lengthy list that the maternity ward furnished. But nobody said anything about a siège-auto!

"But we can't leave!" 
"Pourquoi pas?" the nurses questioned.
"How are we going to transport the baby?"

The nurses pointed out what was to them the obvious: that my husband was here to drive us home

"But we don't have a car seat!"
"You will hold your baby in your arms!" one of the nurses instructed.

When I disagreed, the nurses looked at each other, suspiciously.
"Perhaps you are not ready to go home yet?" they suggested. 

I stared at the newborn in my arms, the helpless being that they were sending out into the world, without a seatbelt; if only he had his say! 

I overheard the nurses whispering to my husband.
"Il s'agit de 'baby blues'. Votre femme est dépressive. Il vaut mieux la garder ici...."

"Je vais bien!" I corrected them. A creepy feeling came over me: what was next... a visit from the psy?
"You just need some rest," one of the nurses decided.
"I just need a car seat!" I insisted.

"She is not ready to go home," the nurses concluded, looking past me to my "guardian".

Jean-Marc reacted quickly, with a solution.
"May we borrow this bed?" he asked, pointing to the tiny crib that our newborn son had slept in. The upper unit was detachable...
I shook my head. The bed didn't have a seatbelt!"
Jean-Marc promised to secure it, not to worry.  


I made Jean-Marc drive at a snail's pace, which only accentuated the terrifying traffic around us. We might have been in a war zone, ditching snares and sniper fire all the way home. Everything outside of our little car was greatly threatening... to a mother and her offspring. Every intersection insinuated injury. How would we ever make it home safe and soundly?

I sat shaking in the back seat, the landau beside me. Jean-Marc had rigged us in, baby and maternity ward escapée, safely. 

"Don't worry. We are almost home," he assured me. "Everything will be okay." And, after all, it was.

Postnote: Our son Max was born on May 17, 1995. Today's missive was a nostalgic "looking back". 

:: Le Coin Commentaires ::
Corrections, comments, or stories of your own are welcome in the comments box

More stories about adjusting to France and French life in my book "Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language". Makes a great gift! Excerpt:

When I was in college, I sold lingerie at Dillard's department store in Phoenix, Arizona. It was a summer job and I was saving for an upcoming exchange program in Lille, France... order the book, here.

French Vocabulary

le muguet = lily of the valley flower

le Roucas Blanc
= "The White Rock"

= district

le cellier
= storeroom 

la maternité
= maternity clinic or hospital 

pourquoi pas?
= why not?

le siège-auto
= car seat 

Il s'agit de 'baby blues'. Votre femme est dépressive. Il vaut mieux la garder ici... = It's called "the baby blues". Your wife is depressed. It is best to keep her here...

le psy (pronounced "see") = short (slang) for psychiatrist

je vais bien
= I am fine 

le landau
= pram, baby carriage 


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Smokey-Doo, might this be you? (or one of your five sisters?)

With Mama Bear Braise, summer 2009.

With dogs
Braise, left, with friends Dean and Kathleen. Mr Smokey Bear is on the right.

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How well I remember the ride home with our first born, in our little Renault Clio, from the hospital in Cannes to our little apartment in Mandelieu. Me too, in the backseat staring at the little baby (in the car seat :), thinking howstrange that life just went from 2 to 3.

Bill in St. Paul

Ah, yes, how well I remember the ride home, too, and, as Meredith said, your life just went from 2 to 3, never to be the same again, but never any regrets.


Kristin, I was wondering whether that story was included in your book "Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language" - If it is, my memory isn't doing a very good job today. My step-mother who is 86 would strongly advise me to do one 'Sudoku' per day ... (excellent for her grey cells, she thinks). Oh well...

I certainly remember how cold it was when our first baby was born. I think I was more concerned about the problem of heat (or lack of it, and its consequences) than about strapping my son to a car seat on our way back home. In fact, as soon as my husband told me our old central heating system had just broken down (we moved to that bungalow in mid Summer and didn't know the central heating was at the end of its life!) I felt very worried. The doctor and nurses were extremely kind. I was offered to stay at the Maternity for a full extra week. I did!...

The 'lovely-baby-boy-with-long-limbs' (as described by the nurses) travelled back home in a Moses basket put on the back seat, next to me. The house was warm and there was plenty of hot water! Mother and first baby son were fine! father overjoyed (and so helpful!)

We quickly used a safe and nicely padded baby carrier, with the baby facing me. Later on, we acquired a proper 'carrycot '... and then a car seat... (and finally a second "siège auto"!...)

Ophelia in Nashville

Kristin -- What memories you have evoked.... Though I strangely have no memory at all of driving our first son home (it was only a mile or two at most), I do remember vividly the first night at home, sitting up in our bed, staring at the crib I had slept in , too, across the narrow hallway of our bungalow, and telling my husband, "I have never felt so vulnerable in my life. If anything happened to him, I do not think I could bear it." Yes, I do remember those enormously protective feelings!

By the way, is someone in your house celebrating a birthday? Hence this story?

Shannon, Alexandria, VA


I loved this post!! If words have ever expressed emotion, yours did today. You're a very creative, thoughtful writer. Keep it up.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!!!!

Suzanne in Nebraska USA

Kristin-Happy Thanksgiving to your family. Each time I have a new "French Word-A-Day" email in my in box, it brightens my day. Your words have a way of waking up the feelings that are common to us humans. Today's FWAD took me back to the day I brought my first baby home from the hospital some 45 years ago. (I was a child bride (big grin). Who had ever heard of car seats back then much less even considered wearing a seat belt!! How things have changed.

Your life in France sounds so wonderful and after waiting most of a lifetime I finally made it to Paris this past September. It met every expectation I could have had and more. I'm so in love especially with the friendly, beautiful people. On my list to "do over" very soon. I believe your writings encouraged me to take the leap and "just do it". Thank you so much.


Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family and of course, Braise and Smokey.
We found a store in Paris called "Thanksgiving" in the area of Place de Vosges. They will have all things for sale for an American Thanksgiving - including the pan for roasting the turkey. They also have Bisquick. I'll see if I can find the address.


Newforest, I wrote the story yesterday and today, after reading a wonderfully creepy story, "The Yellow Wallpaper" (a must read: )

Ophelia, you said it best: "I have never felt so vulnerable in my life. If anything happened to him, I do not think I could bear it"

Shannon, mille mercis! your words enbraven me (can that be a word? just for today? :-)

Suzanne, Yes! so happy to hear this. à la prochaine...

Kathleen, your note reminds me that I have a photo of that very shop! I'll try to post it... along with a timely turkey term that my mother-in-law taught me... Good to know they have Bisquick. The first bag you brought us is gone and we've dug into the second!

Karen from Phoenix, AZ

Kristin, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Ahh the memories. It feels like yesterday I was bringing home my first born (now 25 and 6' 1"), car seat was required or you couldn't leave the hospital. So nervous, so happy, so now what do we do state of mind.
Ahh the memories.

xoxo Karen

Norma PLowman

It's amazing so many of us are still on this planet having not any seatbelts OR carseats, as they do now. We all made it.Gawd, I turn 60 tomorrow!


Chere Kristin, Another wonderful post and one which especially touches my heart.
Happy Thanksgiving (tomorrow!) Your words have given us reflection on all the many blessings we have been graced with.
Bon journee!

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
I remember thinking how small and vulnerable both my children looked my they were strapped into the car seat on the way home from the hospital.
I have read The Yellow Wallpaper and it was really "creepy." I had a very uncomfortable feeling reading it.
Do you celebrate Thanksgiving with your family?
I am in the middle of preparations for a gathering of 14 family members.

Julie F

Happy Thanksgiving, Kristin, from a cold and rainy St. Louis. With this weather I guess I'll be making turkey soup with the leftovers. I suspect you can't do a proper Thanksgiving for your family based on my own experience of trying to find something larger than a skinless, boneless turkey cutlet to roast when I was in France during the season.

And, yes, those nurses were straight out of the 19th c. and The Wallpaper world. You didn't say, though, if it is your son's birthday this week. Is that what inspired this story?

Pat Cargill

Happy Thanksgiving dear Kristin and family.

I remember so well bringing Sam home from the hospital - 1985. I was scared to death...had no idea how I would manage to care for this baby! We were so goofy, we did not even know the buckle on the car seat snapped open/shut. We just stuffed little Sammie's legs in as gently as we could and a few days later a light went on and WA-LA!!! pauvre bebe, we ah-ha'd that the buckle opened. New parents are a "trip." We all survive somehow, ah resilient ones that we are. Plus beaucoups de angels must be watching over us!

Blessings to all from Pat in beautiful Roanore, but today in Charlotte where it was 60's, cloudless skies - gorgeous.


I love your stories of family and adventure--there is no bigger adventure than bring your first born home from the hospital. Wishing all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving--even tho France is a bit distant.

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Aujourd'hui, Thanksgiving aux Etats-Unis, merci à tous pour les postes intéressants et informaive.

Today, Thanksgiving day in the united states, thanks to everyone for the interesting and informaive posts.

À bientôt


Happy 60th Norma!!! And Happy Thanksgiving to you all (all who are celebrating! To answer Eileen's question, we did not celebrate this year... but the T-Day cheers here put me in the spirit along with you. Merci beaucoup!)

Marianne Rankin

Something is the matter with the audio files. I tried both WAV and MP3, and neither would work.

Our son rode home from the hospital in a carseat, designed to be detachable from a base. The base could be left in the car, and the seat, with a handle, could be carried anywhere, which was convenient. I recall one morning when it was raining, and having to carry the carseat, commuter bag for work, purse, etc. and thinking, "What do I do when it rains?" The answer, of course, was "get wet." After our son reached 20 pounds, he graduated to a larger carseat, then eventually to a booster seat. None of this existed when I was a child, so until we were teenagers, our mother had us ride in the back of the car, saying it was safer in the event of an accident.

I was in an accident once in a borrowed car (mine was in the shop) that was too old to have seatbelts. I'll skip the details, but soffice it to say, I crashed into a tree, and also the steering wheel, windshield, etc. I survived with relatively minor injuries, but it could have been much worse. To all the adults out there, YOU ARE NEVER TOO OLD TO WEAR A SEAT BELT!

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving.

We (2 American couples) altogether 17 of us (Dutch, English, and French) to a wonderful meal - with lots of reminders of being thankful of being so welcomed here in France and becoming friends with some wonderful people. So, we have experienced and committed even more thankfulness and gratfulness while living here... We are so lucky.

But, then there is the case of the car seat in France. As far as I can see, there is no rule!? I so often see Mom's driving in our village with their little ones on their laps or standing up inbetween the front seats! ONe of our friends here in the village is even a nurse and did the same things with her little one!? We took the French driver's license test and found nothing there about rules for that. I really wonder why? They have very strict rules for seat belts - but not for little ones... Crazy, huh?


What memories you brought back for me of bringing our newborn sons home from the hospital for the first time! Seems like yesterday that I was a young mother. Jean-Marc sounds an awful lot like my husband, someone you can depend on.


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