me and Heidi (c) Kristin Espinasse
Photo taken in 2004. That's the tattletale, on the left, and my sister, Heidi (The "RuleBreaker"), right. Our mom, Jules, painted the quail and my mother-in-law, Michèle-France, gave me the owl (next to the rosary and the purse). Voilà... just another family photo. Do you sniff homesickness? 

rapporteuse (rah por tuhz) feminine singular of "rapporteur"

    : tattletale, tell-tale, blabbermouth
synonym: informer


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

When The French Break Their Own Rules

I am setting out this morning to write about those rule-breaking Frenchmen... when the absurdity of this story's title strikes me: for why, after all, have the French invented rules if not to break them!

Skipping quickly now to the heart of my story and to the examples I mean to show you (in my borrowed role of tattletale, or rapporteuse), I'll now highlight two rarin'-to-be-trespassed rules, the first leads in to the second so follow closely:

In the tiny town of Richeranges Jean-Marc and I stumble onto a Saturday-morning market. Though the stalls are filled with eye-catching items, Jean-Marc and I are in the market for a W.C. (or water closet or toilet or "powder room" if you like). Only, Richeranges—like most villages and cities in France—is hiding its public restrooms. 

While I search high and low for a loo, Jean-Marc slips into the nearest eatery... intent on breaking rule number 1 and rule number 2:

(French Rule Number One): Restaurants, Cafes, Bistros and the like are not public restrooms.

So much for Rule Number One. Jean-Marc breezes in, past the bartender which, in all honesty, is easy enough to do in a packed room, and heads straight for the W.C., which—cha-ching!—is vacant.

Le diable! I mutter, I who have just sneaked into the bar... creeping quietly in my husband's tracks. I know intuitively that it's now or never: run up and take his place! He'll let you in first.... this may be your last chance. Allez!

Every namby pamby nerve in my body freezes up. No matter how badly I need that "room", I'll not break this French rule! 

I watch as a line of rule-breakers forms outside the bathroom door. Too late now.

As I stand there, going green in the face, a woman walks into the crowded bar, about to break rule number two:

(French Rule Number Two: On entering a public lieu, always begin with Bonjour Monsieur or Bonjour Madame (or Bonjour Monsieurs-Dames)

The newcomer looks around the room impatiently and I'm wondering whether she, too, needs the toilet room?

"Well, no tables!" Says she, looking at me as if I were one in her party and did I have a suggestion on where we might go next?

"C'est plein!" she complains, shaking her immaculately-coiffed head. "Il n'y a pas une place!" She looks at me, expectantly and I'm wondering whether she's taken me for the maitre d'?

"Que faire... que faire..." she seems to be waiting for an answer but all I can lend is a lifting of the shoulders: I dunno.

I am so distracted by her dramatics that I forget my own dire need... instead, I find myself nodding conspiratorially. Next, I watch Madame slip, self-righteously, over to the lavatory; a willing enough customer, it wasn't her fault if the restaurant was out of seats!

Le diable! Why didn't I think of that?


Walnut Wine and Truffle     Groves

Walnut Wine and Truffle Groves is a culinary travel book that navigates the back roads—as well as the menus and markets—of the southwestern region of France with newfound excitement. Through interviews with local home cooks and chefs, visits to local farms, historic sites and wineries, market tours, and serendipitous detours, Lovato provides a glimpse into this unspoiled wonderland. The alluring recipes and stunning photographs let readers discover the true jewels in France’s culinary crown as well as discover the country’s most beautiful and less trod-upon provinces. Order here.



  golden retrievers cuddling
"Tendresse" (and tiredness after breaking more rules!)

golden retrievers antique pavers tile floor france
"Pawtners in Crime" 

wine tasting in Provence France vineyard rhone jean-marc espinasse
More rule-breakers! I meant to tell you about friends Eliane & Alain, who visited us last month with this merry group of  Marseillais. They tasted wine and shared tales of their "trespassings" (or how to break French Rule Number Three). And they left me with gifts, including an apple with a beak mark in it. "It's the best kind," one of the men explained. Always pick the ones the birds have gone for. They're the best!

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Mike Hardcastle

Everyone know that Cafe toilettes are not public rest rooms but does anyone care, probably not even the cafe proprietors?
If you have a conscience accept that you should pay and think of the cheapest drink available, (probably coffee) and ask for, 'Un expresso s'il vous plait et ou sont les toilettes'. The most you will pay in a small town cafe is 1,40€ and possibly only 1,00€. You don't even have to drink it.
I find the prissiness attached to the name of the place we all must use every day amusing, from a 'crapper' from Thomas Crapper the inventor of the water closet, to 'lavatory' (surely a place where one washed), to the 'toilet', to the 'John'???????, to the ultimate U.S. prissiness the 'rest room'. What do you ask for if you are really in need of a room to rest in?

Written with loads of affection for all of my U.S. friends to whom I send heartfelt seasonal greetings.

Loved the pictures of the dogs, as usual.


Christine Dashper

Hi Kristin, aah I remember only too clearly how well hidden the WC's are in France!! There were some anxious moments on the search...

all the best
Chris :)



One of the first lessons I learned decades ago (after acquiring my first French phrase "n'quittez pas"), was to properly announce "Bonjour Monsieur or Bonjour Madame." However, periodically I have read to NEVER say Bonjour Monsieur-Dame. But NEVER has there been an explanation attached to this prohibition. Edification?

I too am homesick, for confit d'canard, une demi 1664, les marche ouvert, et al. And so I will repair to my second planetary choice, NOLA. Lassaiz les bon temps rouler...


Bill in St. Paul

Like Chris, my wife and I also know how well hidden the WCs can be in those small French towns. In one town we searched all over, we even had some signs indicating a general direction, but finally had to ask. The WC was almost under the town, at the base of the hill that the town sat on.

Great pictures of Mom and son!

Ophelia in Nashville

I cannot tell you how many times I have ordered a coffee so that I could go to the toilettes.... The article on Marseille is great! Am forwarding the link to a friend who is there right now. Merci!


I loved Madame's performance, and Kristin's recounting of it. I thought I'd chip in with translations of the lines:
Madame: C'est plain - It's full; Il n'y a pas une place - there is not one place; Que faire, que faire - what to do, what to do
Kristin: Le diable - darn!

Suzie Stegic

Hello Kristin! Happy holidays to you! My strongest memory of France is this exact situation! My mother took me for my 16th birthday. We really had to find a place to 'go', and in a small village, the WC was two boards over a hole. My mother refused, and marched into a bar. I followed, knowing this was not a good move. The woman who owned the bar chased my mother with a raised broom! I swear, she raised it over my mom's head and was ready to smack her. I ordered two hot dogs at the bar, and saved my mother from being whooped. I love the idea of just ordering a coffee! Genius. I ate a lot of hot dogs in France. Suzie


Mike, at 3 euros for an espresso, "relief" is pricey in "Par-ee". And I'm with you - amused by all the ways one can say "WC".

Richard, here, down south, I hear "Bonjour Monsieur-Dame" from time to time.

Chris and Bill and Ophelia (and Suzie... just saw your funny story), good to be able to sympathize here!

Leslie, thank you for the vocab section. I need to add it... :-)

Bill in St. Paul

Kristin, are you being affected by the cold weather and snow that has been affecting most of Europe? It must be terrible if they've even closed the Eiffel Tower!

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Salut Kristin

If you’ve traveled in rural France, you probably have a “W.C.” story.

I recall that men have an advantage in that the roadside is available at any convenient spot to pull off the road.

In one small rural town, I recall finding a toilet. The amenities consisted of a hole in the floor and two footprints in the concrete for proper positioning. It was not a W.C.; “c’était sans l`eau.”

Enjoyed Jean-Marc’s tour of Marseilles. The bouillabaisse at the restaurant Le Peron would be a super treat!

À bientôt

Jules Greer

Kristi Darling, I loved your slice of French life this morning, you are so good to your friends and readers as I know you were contemplating a re-run of one of my embarassing escapades when I lived in your village of Les Arcs. Instead I can see you in my 'minds eye' sitting at your cold computer at 6:00 a.m. as you do each morning, a steaming cup of coffee, perhaps even wearing those old fingerless gloves one of your readers gave you a few years ago when you were wining (sp? wineing?) about the icy cold in the Rhone Valley. Instead you have honed the gift of opening your heart each morning and letting your soul pour out into each new story. This is why I love your posts - each one is so fresh and new and inspiring us to do a little mischief each day.

The sun is just coming up here in Puerto Vallarta. It's a crisp 58 degrees outside my window, not a cloud in the sky and promises of another 85 degree day on the beach.

I am filled with energy and the electricity of hope is coursing throughout my body - - I have a feeling I am going to receive one of the greatest Christmas gifts ever this year. The present may be a little late (a week or so) but the belief of receiving has transformed my entire life, Kristi who was my wonderful Christmas gift almost 43 years ago may be coming back into my life for a wonderful reunion of love.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if Heidi flew in to complete us as we always were one together.



Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Here are a couple more names for Mike’s list; latrine (an army term), head (used on ships) and library (slang).


Wonderful story and comments. Have a blessed Christmas week full of love and adventure.

Sandra Vann

Bonjour Kristin,

As always your witty, fun accounts amuse and delight and make my own morning entry that much sweeter! Ah yes, so many similar experiences in France, Croatia...well anywhere one is lucky enough to travel to!
The expresso idea works well as your reader commented bien sur. I too have snuck in from time to time in a real emergency. Tend to plan our coffee breaks when traveling through France with this other objective in mind now.

I must say, being homesick for France...though we have no snow in Boulder, CO we do in our mountains -- tons in fact...that I so hope you can rejoin your dear mother around the holidays. It is always a stretch to be abroad (even if that is your home), especially during the Christmas season. We dream of spending time in the marches, cafes, villages, the churches and with our friends there.
I loved Jules note and wish you and your entire family every joy and blessing of this special season, wherever you are.
By the way, loving Peura Vallarta too, that sounds like a fine destination to us!
Cheers and hugs.


Coucou Kristin... un petit bonjour en passant!
Catching up with FWAD...
I noticed that last time, on the photos of your dad and of your little sister, the colours were reduced to blackish grey and white, and this time, you and your older sister are presented in sepia...

Kristin, I associate the noun "rapporteur" / "rapporteuse", with young children at school, who love telling the teacher everything bad done by someone else... and stir things up for trouble.
Ahaah! you are defining yourself as "une rapporteuse"!
Ok, let's learn what's bad about French rules - or the way to follow and specially not to follow them.
By the way:
The UK word for 'tattletale' is a 'tell-tale'

French noun -> "un rapporteur" / "une rapporteuse" can also be an adjective:
être "rapporteur" / être "rapporteuse"

I haven't read your story yet, but I noticed there was no French vocab list, so, I picked up the French words in italics.
-> C'est plein = It's full
-> Il n'y a pas une place -> pas "DE" place = There is no room (because the place is full), nowhere to sit down, no seat available.
To emphasise the fact, one could say (with frustration): Il n'y a PAS UNE SEULE PLACE de libre!

Bye for now


Oh, I forgot the devil!

No definite article needed with interjections
- le diable (noun) = the devil
but -> Diable! (interjection) = "Zut alors!"

Same applies to "Merde"! "Punaise"! "Putain"! "Purée"! "Flûte"!
-> drop the article when you use these words as interjections, followed by an exclamation mark.

When you are surprised, angry, frustrated, just shout your exclamation (Hmmm, no time to add an article in front of it, n'est-ce pas?)

Jan in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada)

Here in Canada, the most common word for the little room containing a toilet and sink is "bathroom," which really makes no sense. Canadians stopping for gas at a service station in the States get a perplexed look when they say, "Excuse me, where is your bathroom?"

The attendant usually replies, "You want a BATH???"


Bill, we had a mild day today. It snowed a few weeks ago - ever so briefly!

Herm, enjoying the terms. Thanks!

Mom, I think as I type this part of your present is happening. Listen for the telephone ring...

Sandra, Thanks for your thoughtful wishes. We're working on this... which brings me to Newforest's question (one that I forgot to answer: no, haven't made it to Mexico yet...)

Also, Newforest, many thanks for the translations and for the interjection info. Will practice this week :-) Come to think of it "Le Zut" just doesn't have the same effect! So I'll try to remember for "Diable!"

Jan, in Arizona we say "bathroom",(for toilet room) too (or at least we did when I lived there).


Newforest and Leslie, re "le diable" - I just realized that I meant "The little devil"... in reference to my crafty husband -- who was sharp enough to see an opportunity and to take it! I wonder if I should put the term in English then?...

Julie Schorr

I really like how Jean-Marc breaks the rules in order to meet his needs and I think it is wise. Remember the sandwiches in the Canary Islands? Having lived in France myself, I was always looking for opportunities to find "les toilettes" and learned quickly that cafés were the easiest places to go. If I needed to sit down and pause with a drink, well then, so be it!

Judy Bell

Kristin, you and your sister are two good-looking women! You look a little like a cross between Catherine Deneuve and Grace Kelly. Your sister reminds me a little of Hillary Swank. Good going! That was an awfully nice write-up of Jean-Marc in the Washington Post. Lucky for Robert Camuto to have an insider show him the ins and outs of Marseilles and point out some history.

Rod Crislip

Besoin de WC? Allez au McDo!


First, I was unable to get into Fridays blog and just want to say that you look much like your father. (a very handsome man.) I loved all the different chairs everyone from Marseille were sitting on. I now understand why you are always seeking them out....Joyeux Noel and I hope you and your sister do get to visit your mother soon.

Bill Facker

Excellent as always Kristin. I got "stuck" on the apple with one beak mark .. why didn't the feathered feaster eat more? Possibly half eaten fruits are the true gems. Do you suppose birds "make a face" when food tastes disagreeable .. and how do they spit it out in disgust? An important footnote from Kauai .. beware of any bird that can eat a coconut. Aloha! :)

Sally in WA

OMG! I thought for a moment that Jackie had grown up and transformed! Heidi and Jackie look SO much alike - to me. Both beautiful, of course and both "French-looking" whatever that is. LOL

Merry Christmas, Kristin to you and your family.


I will have to remember the café maneuver when I need the WC - great idea. The WCs on the street in Paris which cost euros to enter and then then clean themselves are rather scary.
Love athe photos of the dogs - Mom and son get along so well!

Joyeux Noel Kristin, Jean-Marc, Max and Jackie and Jules ( Braise and Smokey)


Chere Kristin- I just want to tell you that although I don't often post a comment, I thoroughly enjoy your blog and anxiously await its arrival every MWF. I am crazy about your dogs and their stories and pictures. Today's photo with them entangled is the best! I wish all of the Espinasse clan the most perfect holiday season ever.

As for the lack of potties en France--I have been desperate on so many occasions! It took me years to get up the nerve to walk into a brasserie, bar, bistro or whatever with my head held high and just act like I own the place and use the facilities. I've probably only "stolen" a potty trip twice. The biggest problem for moi is that I definitely do not want to buy a drink!!! After all, that's why I'm there and desperate!! I need to get rid of the last drink I had! It's a vicious circle! On the rare occasions that I just go boldly in and use the facilities (however bleak they may be!) I've always been "paid back" by the fact that there is virtually NEVER any toilet tissue in the place. Never go to France without lots of Kleenex in your pockets! (moral of the day)

alicia brown

joyeux noel a vous et votre famille!

Since you know the area, we are considering possibly renting in either Cairanne at a place that was on your site: Bello Visto or in Sablet. We want to be in a quiet setting and venture out by car from there to Orange, Avignon, etc. Any suggestions would be most helpful.


When I am in Biarritz, I go to "Le Casino municipal". It is a fabulous building! You just get in, it's free. I learned my way round to their tea rooms, bar and... to their lovely loos. I also go to the loos at the Department store called "Nouvelles Galeries". Otherwise, when in France, specially in a small town or village, I do the same as Julie! Thank goodness for the bars and coffee shops!

Kristin, if you were referring to your 'crafty' husband , then yes, the English expression could be left (in English). BTW, "un petit diable" is "un diablotin", but wouldn't be right in this context.
A few suggestions:
In the story, Jean-Marc shows he is very "astucieux"/"malin". You stated he headed straight for the W.C. The next sentence could start with:
- "Très astucieux"! I mutter.....
- "Il est malin"! I mutter...
- "rusé comme un renard"! I mutter...

As for the woman, I think we can honestly say she has "du culot"!
-> "culot" = cheek (colloquial)
-> "avoir un sacré culot" / "avoir un culot monstre" (colloquial)
= to have a hell of a nerve
-> "Quel culot"! = What a cheek!

If, "en principe", we ought to 'do this' and should rather 'say that', "en réalité", a lot of people ignore rules that don't suit them.
That French lady did ignore the basic French rules. No "Bonjour" ? well, too much noise I suppose, so, "A quoi bon?" (= what's the point?). "Pas de table libre"? (= No table available?) Fair enough, off she goes to ... the toilets!? Everything makes us believe this is the very reason why she came in. To ignore the rules/ to break them, what you need is:

-> "ne pas avoir froid aux yeux" (= to be fearless and not to ask yourself too many questions),
-> "ne pas perdre le Nord" (= to keep focused)
and of course,
-> not to be obsessed with the idea of 'rules'.

PS: No idea about what French Rule Number Three is. Have I missed something?
Very amused by the idea about apples with a beak mark in them as being 'the best apples'! (sounds like "une bonne histoire marseillaise")

Joyeuses fêtes de fin d'année à toute la famille Espinasse et meilleurs voeux pour 2011!

A tous et à toutes:
Joyeux Noel et Bonne année!

A l'année prochaine!


Kristin, I won't be around my laptop on the 22nd of December,
so, here is a 'Happy Birthday' to you,
with the words of a popular tune:

Bon anniversaire
Nos voeux les plus sincères,
Que ces quelques fleurs
vous apportent le bonheur!
Que l'année entière
vous soit douce et légère
et que l'an fini
nous soyons tous réunis,
pour chanter en choeur:
Bon anniversai-ai-re!"

by André Claveau (1911-2003)
chorus from his 1951 "Bon anniversaire" song.

Marianne Rankin

The Post article mentioning Jean-Marc was interesting. It mentioned Palm Sunday, although it appeared on Dec. 17. Hope I can try the bouillabaisse someday.

In regard to French "facilities," as best I recall, finding them wasn't the problem. Paying was. Every time I wanted to use one, I had to pay, sometimes more than once. You pay for the stall, the water, the paper, the towel to dry your hands. At the top of the Arc de Triomphe, a woman gave me paper in advance - I couldn't just take what I needed. It was even worse in Germany, when I had to pay before I could even enter the bathroom. I had to go back and get German money first.

Newforest, I learn a lot from your posts. Why is it "Pas de place DE libre" instead of "Pas de place libre?"

Kristin, I hope you have a wonderful birthday on the 22nd.


Newforest, thank you for the excellent-as-always insight into the French language (the wonderful expressions and argot and more!) and thank you for the song by André Claveau and for the wonderful wishes!

I am busy enjoying one of my presents now: all of these supportive comments. I am tempted to list all your names, but I would risk leaving someone out! I read every word and know each one of you better every day. Often times I can guess who the commenter is before even reading the name - this always brings a smile of gratefulness.

Please know just how much I learn here, and just how much I grow here.

Je vous remercie!



there isn't any xxx/there is no xxx
= il N'y a PAS DE / D' xxx

there isn't anybody/there is nobody
= il N'y a PERSONNE

there isn't anything/there is nothing
= il N'y a RIEN

***(il N'y a) PAS DE place
=> (there is) no room, no space,
can also mean, according to context: (there is) no seat

if definitely talking about "no seat", no chair...
***il N'y a PAS UNE SEULE PLACE libre => not a single seat available

slightly more emphatic:
***il n'y a pas une seule place 'de libre'
= pas une seule place 'qui soit libre'

Hope it helps.
Bye for now.

Mike Hardcastle

Remember if there are two of you needing 'the facilities' you can ask for just, 'un espresso et une picher de l'eau'. You may just get away with it even with a Paris barman, and that's 3€ for two.
More slang alternatives: throne, jacques, bog, there must be hundreds in every language.
Outside the touristy areas it should be possible to find cheap cafes in Paris. I could have told you where 50 years ago but when I visit now I one more yokel from the provinces.
Best wishes,


Candy in SW KS

By the time I need a potty break, I usually need a break for my feet and something to quench my thirst. But I think I've trained myself to do that over the many years I've traveled in Europe! Even at McDo these days, you must purchase something to have access to the bathrooms. On your receipt there is a code to get you in. Oh those clever French! They think of everything. Of course, I've been known to wait by the door until it is opened by someone else and then I do a "Jean-Marc" and just slip in slyly! Merci to Newforest for expanding my French "potty mouth" vocabulary! :) And merci to you, Kristin, for more photos of the delightful doggies as well as your wonderful anecdote and photos of your beautiful family. Joyeux Noel! I know JULES is thrilled at the prospect of spending time with you. I pray for a safe journey. Bises!

Cheryl in STL

I love this post and the great "style" of the French woman in the café! I don't think I could ever pull that off, but bravo for her! I usually end up with an espresso.

Joyeux Noël et bonne année à toute la famille--et bon séjour avec Jules!

nadine goodban

Marianne et Newforest: if I may add to your question/answer about "DE", as il n'y a pas de place ...
"de" vient après "pas", personne et quelqu'un.
EX: c'est quelqu'un de bien
c'est une personne de grande qualité.
Aussi, Kristin, on dit Messieurs-dames seulement au pluriel.

Voilà, amusez-vous bien tous, chers francophiles!

Franca Bollo

Oh my god! I agree with Sally from Washington. Your sister and Jackie do look alike! Such beauties.

Merry Christmas!


Quelle élégance!

Full mark for thinking of it.

I am one of the surreptitious sort.


you and your sister are tremendously alike!
you look sweeter.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)