le defi


St Paul Pigeon (c) Kristin Espinasse
We've seen this turkey, er, pigeon, before, and we're bringing him back to illustrate today's fun-to-pronounce French word... read on and/or share your favorite French words in the comments box.

la scoumoune (skoo moon)

    : tough or rotten luck, mischance

Audio File: listen to "scoumoune": Download MP3 or Wav file

Oh là là! Aujourd'hui c'est la scoumoune!
Today we're having bad luck!

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

Outwitting Bad Luck

Yesterday, nearing the end of my final visit to the local nurses' station, les infirmières and I had a good guffaw at la technologie: that ever-advancing entity that allows you to cut out the middleman (in this case, the secretary and the accountant) and to be your own boss! ...that is, when technology isn't the boss of you....

Re technology, the time had come to regler, or to account for, the ten "bandage" visits, so I pulled out my handy dandy Carte Vitale: a plastic card that resembles a credit card and that is sort of used like one... only, instead of paying for groceries or clothing or gasoline or conneries with it... one pays for medicine and doctor visits.

Carte vitale

One of the nurses took my health card and inserted it into a handheld accounting machine, or sabot (similar to the ones you see at French restaurants, when the serveur returns to your table with the dreaded addition). 

I listened as the nurse read the tiny screen on the card machine: "Carte muette...." It seemed that the tiny puce, or digital-information chip (see gold-squared example, above), was illisible. This happens when the card is scratched (i.e., by loose change in the cardholder's porte-monnaie) or when dust has collected in the shallow crevices of the puce.... or when your wife uses the card to scratch ice off her automobile's windshield, in winter.

When the machine refused to comply, the nurse yanked out the card, stared at it, and reinserted it into the thin card slot. "On recommence..." "We'll try again," she explained.

"Carte muette," she repeated. I looked over at the other nurse, who had sat down in the chair beside mine, in time to go over her busy schedule for the day. "Essaie l'autre." "Try the other," this nurse hinted, pointing to her own sabot (each nurse has a portable machine, which is handy for registering information during house calls, for those patients who are treated offsite).

When the second machine balked, the card was retrieved just as abruptly. This time friction was used! Rubbing the card against her jeans I recognized the nurse's resorting to a popular "anti-muette" technique used by doctors and pharmacists and other health-care workers turned temporary accountants. It is always amusing to watch these professionals get down to "The Jeans and Sleeves technique". Only, just as predicted, when the jeans didn't do the trick, the card was slapped against Nurse's shirtsleeve and swiftly refrictioned against the soft cotton there.  

"Ah là là! C'est la scoumoune!" the nurse vented, as we waited for the results of this latest attempt to outwit the card or the card reader. Only, la scoumoune? I may be superstitious, but wasn't that a bit risky to mention "bad luck" whilst we were smack in the middle of it?

Superstition and paranoia aside, I had simply forgotten an important mathematical law: multiply two negatives and you get a positive! My eyes looked over, expectantly, to that petite, persnickety machine when, Shazam!, just like that it engaged (and very unceremoniously so: a few "coughs" and a buzzing sound signaled the connection). And mine was the chance to witness, firsthand, the mystery of universal laws and equations... or, simply, less astoundingly, the hiccups of modern technology.


French Vocabulary

regler = to pay

la carte vitale = French national insurance card

les conneries (f) (! = term is a bit vulgar) = non-essentials, damned stupidities

le sabot = handheld machine, used for swiping a credit card (note: un sabot is a clog or wooden shoe. These little card machines get their name from the fact that they are similar in size to a "sabot", or clog.

le serveur = waiter

l'addition = bill, check (l'addition, s'il vous plaît = check, please!)

carte muette = silent card (note: une carte muette is also a menu without prices (given to dates or guests) 

la puce électronique = microchip

illisible = unreadable

essaie l'autre = try the other

Flower steps

Chief Grape and his briefcase. That's my beautiful husband, left, somewhere in Sicily. Voilà, now that I've got your attention... do you have a minute for another story? Please read "Over The Rainbow, Bluebirds Fly" - about the little swallow that was saved, last spring, on our farm.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety