pièces jaunes


Jean-Marc, Kristin, and Jackie in 2009
Photo of Embarrassing Parents.... or "Embracing Parents" depending on your point de vue. (Pictured: Jean-Marc, Kristin, and Jackie)

malentendu (ma-lahn-tahn-dew) noun, masculine
1. misunderstanding

faire cesser un malentendu = to clear up a misunderstanding

L'oreille distraite est l'organe du malentendu.
The distracted ear is the organ of misunderstanding.
 --Albert Brie

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

Recently, the kids and I were invited to my husband's office for a "Welcome the New Employee" apéritif. The three of us Q-tipped our ears and shined our shoes in hopes of looking our best before heading over to Jean-Marc's new office to hear him speak.

After the apéro, a few of the employees, along with the director and company's founder, decided to dine at a nearby eatery. When we were invited to join them, I signaled sharply to the kids, reminding us all to keep our act together. 

At the reception desk, we waited patiently for our table. To pass the time, the men smoked clopes, the children  played a game of pool, and I maintained my new role of Delightful Wife. 

Our act was running smoothly when one of us began rocking from foot to foot. No matter how hard I tried I could not hold it any longer and so tottered over to the reception desk to ask a pertinent question:

"Where is the 'vaysay' please?" I posed my question in French, trying hard to prounounce the unusual word for "restroom".

"Vaysay?" the receptionist questioned. Confused, she turned to her colleague, who tried to translate.

"I think she's asking for un whiskey." 

Shocked as much by the misunderstanding, as by the indelicate manner in which the women spoke about me (as if I was invisible!), I shot a casual look over my shoulder, to assess any damage to our family's carefully put together first impression. What a relief to find the director and the boss carrying on as if they hadn't heard a thing.

I returned my attention to the women behind the desk. 
"No! Vay-say. I would like....un toilet!" I whispered, hoping to shush them up, but it was too late. 

"Madame wants a whiskey!" the receptionist shouted, this time to the maître d, who stood across he room at the bar.

It took a few flailing arms to get the point across, at which point the maître d personally escorted me to the restroom. So much for slipping out unnoticed. I hadn't meant to make a scene but isn't that what happens when you put on an act?

French Vocabulary
une clope
= a cigarette
Où sont les 'vay say,' s'il vous plait? = Where are the toilets? ('vay say' is from "doo-ble-vay-say"--the pronunciation for "W.C." [water-closet])
un apéro  = short for "aperitif," or drink. Apéritif also refers to a cocktail party
maître d = le maître d'hôtel = headwaiter 


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(last Christmas, 2009) Me and my dad

DSC_0072 Joyeux Anniversaire!... to my dear dad, who encouraged me to follow my heart to France. And happy birthday to Marsha, left, his beautiful bride of 16 years. 
And happy happy b-day to my littlest sister, or soeur cadette Kelley. I stole this picture from her:

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Diane H.

Love it! I accidentally told a woman from our village she looked very "jaune" (yellow) when I meant to tell her that she looked "jeune" (young). Oops!

Angela Sargent

lovely photos of the family Kristin - you do look like your Dad!



Today I ordered 1 kilo of clams from the poisonnier and he started to weigh out 1 kilo of crab. I have no idea how he heard "tourteau" when I thought I said "coques." !!!

Lynn McBride

Great story, been there. Well, it's a far cry from whisky to toilets. But maybe being a whiskey-swilling femme will make you a more interesting Delightful Wife to the guests!

By the way, no fair you got all the writing talent AND the blonde supermodel-good-looks too. Great photos of a lovely family.

Mike Hardcastle

Once again you have made me smile with you anecdote bringing back memories of my own pronunciation faux pas. The photograph is charming and why should we worry if we occasionally embarrass our children, they do the same to us often enough. My own son is no longer embarrassed by his dad nor I by him which is good because only 15 months after the death of my wife (too soon some have intimated) I have found a new love, I can't believe my luck, I'm 16 again and I want to tell the world.

Bonne fête to you and your family and never stop giving me and your other lecteurs a daily lift of our spirits.

Very best regards,


Suzanne, Monroe Township, NJ

Kristin, "Malentendu" reminds me of the time we were trying to order a "young chicken" poussin (sp?) at a butcher/rotisserie shop on rue St. Dominique in Paris and from the startled look on the young man's face we could only surmise that we had ordered a prostitute for 7:30 that evening. The madame in charge cleared it all up and did enjoy a beautifully roasted chicken that evening!

The photos of the family are great to see and I especially like the one with Jackie embarrassed.

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Salut Kristin,

Wow! Seeing the picture of your Dad today and Jules’ picture the other day, it’s obvious you did a good job of choosing your parents. Max and Jackie have continued the tradition.

À bientôt

Sion @ paris (im)perfect

Kristin, I *really* don't understand how WC could be mistaken for whisky! Ah well. These photos of you and your family are amazing - such beautiful people! Thanks so much for doing the interview on my blog. Happy holidays!

Ophelia in Nashville

Kristin -- Love the photos of everyone! When our boys used to complain about our embarrassing them, my husband always replied, "It's my job."

Joyeuses fêtes to you and yours. Hope you are taking a week or two off.

Tom from Detroit

Once when helping a friend move from one village to another in Bretagne, we needed to tie-off some furniture that we had already loaded into the truck. Not having a knife to cut the rope, he said he would run back into the house and grab a kitchen knife. Wanting to tell him there was no need since I had a pen knife in my pocket (un canif), I told him instead I had a poodle (un caniche) in my pocket. He laughed til' he cried.

Debbie from Baltimore

Hi Kristin -- I loved that you included pictures of your dad's side of the family. And I see a striking resemblance between your little sister and your daughter! Very lovely young women, BTW!

jan greene

Your father and I share a birthday! How I wish I looked as youthful! So sending thanks for your wonderful observations and writing which feeds the soul! Your photos inspire too.

Julie F

Thanks so much for the wonderful photos of all your family. But you also paint their pictures so well with your words. As for your "malentendu," I'm thinking that she heard your American-tinged French accent and misunderstood on purpose. I know my French is not great, but so often I feel like if I don't get my French perfect many shopkeepers, waiters, etc. refuse to try to understand me, even if the context makes it clear what I'm trying to say. Friends or people I have a more familiar relationship with seem to understand me. Sometimes I think they take pride in their language a little too far. That being said, this spring before I return to France I'm going to take a short course to see if I can improve my tenuous hold on the language -- and especially pronunciation.


On my first trip into a Paris barbershop, I asked to have my horses cut. To Prosper Merimee's "A slight misunderstanding" I would add Albert Camus' wrenching "Le Malentendu."

Marianne Rankin

You learn something new every day: I didn't know you had another sister.

There was a time when my son didn't want me to talk AT ALL in public, not even about the weather- he was so afraid I'd make him look weird. This after years when I accompanied him, at his request, on field trips, etc. Now that he is 19, a lot of that has worn off.

Ann, watch out for the "poisonnier." I think you mean "poissonnier." I don't understand about "torteau": isn't "crab" "crabe" in French?

I don't recall making serious mispronunciations in French, but years ago when in France, I was struck by the man who, I thought, was saying "Bonsoir" to every passerby. Turns out he was selling newspapers and saying "France-Soir"!

Jules Greer

Hi Honey, I love this story, makes me laugh and laugh and always brings back memories of similiar experiences in the past.

Happy Birthday to my Beautiful Kip! What a georgeous man you are, and rich and funny too. I'm always so happy that Marsha was the one 'THE ONE' that ended up with you, she's the one who truly completed you and your life. You are a great father to Kristi and we are all so thankful for your genes.
I hope you are celebrating with 'Rouge-Bleu'.




It's great to see photos of yourself and your family! Thanks for sharing your life in France. I almost married and French man, and sometimes I wonder what life would have been like.

Barry doughty

In 1962 I worked the wine harvest in Burgundy travelling with a British couple who claimed they could speak French words ...enough to be understood. I was equiped with 5 years of high school french(Canadian education) and vocabulary but I was poor in my gramatical construction. They needed their rashers of bacon (we were camping; to the harvest and back)so a trip to the boucherie in a small town was a request from the Brit was as follows..."couchon" to which the butcher was getting ready to throw him out (he kept repeating the word) until I remembered the word he needed was "cochon" but that did not solve his request for bacon.he didn't get what he wanted and the comedy continued all the way to Meursault for four days with words like confiture instead of couverture (blanket)and too many more to mention here. I had quite a few laughs and gave him my dictionary in utter frustration. I returned to the harvest many times and today after 48 years we still visit annually. (never heard from the Brit ever again)

Joan Linneman

I'm reminded of the line from "My Fair Lady" when Professor Higgins says, "The French don't care what they do actually as long as they pronounce it properly."( Of course I don't think Rex Harrison much cared about what HE did as long as he pronounced it properly!)
Joan L. Joyeux Noel a tout le monde!


Language malentendus are always great learning experiences, if nothing else! Here are three of my favorites:

When I studied in France, a family invited me over for the evening. Their little boy asked me what I was knitting. He was quite surprised when he learned I was knitting a chicken! (I was, too! "poule" = chicken; "pull" = sweater)

A fellow student was at a restaurant. He did not know what to think when the waiter brought him a piece of meat when he had asked for another coke. Eventually they sorted out the malentendu: "une autre coke" (instead of "une autre coca") sounded like "une entrecote"!

Finally, an acquaintance of mine once referred to "Mercredi des cendriers." Ashtray Wednesday definitely has a different tone than Ash Wednesday!


After living in France for about a year and a half, I volunteered at the local Salvation Army after school session helping children with their homework. Not having learned very much French at that time, I was mostly helping the older kids with their English homework. When one child asked me if she could go to the "vay say" I had no idea what she was asking, so I just said "Oui". After several more days with this same child asking the same thing, I looked in my dictionary under "V" and couldn't find anything that looked like "vay say". I finally asked a friend and she enlightened me.

Christine Dashper

Ha! I love this Kristin! I wish you all a Happy Christmas and a wonderful 2011. Looking forward to more instalments!

Warm wishes

Anne Daigle

My husband, the FRench professor says it is "dublevay cay"

Ron Cann

I got quite a laugh in our local boulangerie in Paris when I ordered a tarte of lawyers instead of apricots.
That time it was my fault, but I love Mark Twain's (The Innocents Abroad) comment about: "In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in French; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their language."

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin!
Loved the story and the photos of your beautiful family. I see a resemblance between Kelley and Jackie also.
I think I always said, "Ou sont les toilettes" or something like that.
Thanks for the laugh today!


Very off topic, but I was just reading about Marseilles in the current Washington Post, and wondered whether to send the link to you and Jean Marc, when voila! In the next paragraph, THERE IS JEAN-MARC! So I'm sure you know about the article, but I wonder if all your fans do? Here's the link:


My embarrassing moment came when I was donating blood in Germany in the morning and the doctor asked me if I had had anything to drink today and being the person that I am I wanted to try to respond in German and said "Nin" - thinking that this ment none, but he said "You've had nine beers today!!!"No, no none - I said.


Thank you for your stories of embarrassing moments -- and for the laughter and lightness they bring this morning! We'll have to do this again real soon!

Libbie, merci beaucoup for sharing the link to Robert Camuto's article. I had tears in my eyes reading it. (Not that there is anything sad in the article!) I'll post the link again in today's post.

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