How to say "fixer-upper" in French?



A cat and a potter in Visan (c) Kristin EspinassePhoto taken in Visan, land of a million cats! Whether slightly color-blind, like this black-and-white cat, or completely non-voyant, Louis Braille believed that the gift of literacy belonged to everyone. Read more about this remarkable Frenchman who, as a child, would change the world.

non-voyant (nohn-voy-ahn) noun, masculine*

    :  a blind or visually impaired person

* the feminine is "non-voyante" (nohn-voy-ahnt)

French definition:
  "une personne qui ne voit pas; aveugle"
  (a person who does not see; blind)

AUDIO FILE: My son, Max, offered this example sentence. Click on the link to hear it:
  Les non-voyants utilisent le braille pour lire.
  (The blind use Braille to read.) Download MP3 or Wav file 

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

We were at the breakfast table when the usual "Ça—c'est ma place!" and "Quit hogging the jam!" conversation turned into a thoughtful hymn... on blindness.

"Did you know," I began, "that the person who invented Braille was not much older than you when he created the system that would allow the blind to read?" I said to my son, who balanced a near-empty jar of jam over a slice of brioche—this, while glaring at his soeur cadette.

"What is "braille?" Jackie wanted to know, repeating the word as she had heard her Anglophone mother pronounce it (BREL).

Jean-Marc, who had caught the tail end of the conversation, piped in.
"Brel est un chanteur."
"No! I'm not talking about Jacques Brel!" I felt my feathers ruffling, and only two minutes into an uncharacteristic history lesson.

"She means 'Braille'," Max explained, clearing up any confusion by offering the French pronunciation of "Braille" (which, to my surprise, was "BR-EYE"!). Next, my son popped up, and hurried over to the cupboard to fish out a box of sucre.

"NO MORE SUGAR!" I cried, "and will you please listen! I am trying to..."

Max quickly turned the box of sugar to its side, and pointed out the raised dots. 

"I had never noticed that before!" I said, running my finger down the side of the box, over the "lettered" relief. Are you sure that is Braille—and not some kind of bar code?"

On second thought, why wouldn't it be Braille, and why, by the way, weren't the jam jar and the milk carton sporting raised dots, too? With that, I ran my finger across all of the packages along our table top. That is when I realized that the box of sugar was the only package that could be read or identified by a non-voyant!

A sense of shame washed over me as I experienced another taken-for-granted privilege: that of correctly identifying a pot de confiture or a carton de lait. My guilty conscience automatically reacted, with the clearing of the throat and a swift returning to the former subject.

"As I was saying... it was a child who created this extraordinary system...." I tried to think of what to say next, but my mind was vaguely troubled. Thankfully, my daughter spoke next.

"Sometimes adults create things too," Jackie pointed out.

Le Coin Commentaires

Corrections, feedback, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.

If we were talking about blindness at the breakfast table this morning, it is thanks to Kathi Koegle, who had written me a few weeks ago, inquiring about "off-the-beaten-track villages" that one might visit in France. In the email exchange that ensued, I learned that Kathi, who works for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, had just been in charge of a bicentennial birthday party for Louis Braille.

It occurred to me that she might write an article for us all to enjoy and, when I asked, Kathi kindly obliged. Here, now, is her mini-biography on Louis Braille.

L o u i s  B r a i l l e
January 4, 1809 - January 6, 1852

This year marks the 200th birthday of Louis Braille, the man who invented literacy for blind people.

Braille was born in Coupvray, a tiny village about 25 miles east of Paris. The youngest of four children, he lived with his parents in a modest stone cottage in the village.

Braille's father was the local harness-maker. One day when he was three years old, Louis was at play in his father's workshop. A fateful accident and subsequent infection rendered him totally aveugle.

At the age of 10, Braille earned a scholarship to the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. It was the world's first school for blind children. Louis was an outstanding élève, and he excelled in every subject. He also became a fine pianist and an accomplished organist.

photo from Wikipedia

While attending the Institution and yearning for more books to lire, Braille experimented with ways to create an alphabet that would be facile to read with one's fingertips. The system of raised dots that he devised--at age 15--evolved from the tactile "Ecriture Nocturne" code (invented by Charles Barbier, an artillery captain in the army of Louis XVIII) for sending military messages that could be read on the battle field at night sans light. Two years later, Braille adapted his method to musical notation.

Braille accepted a full-time teaching position at the Royal Institution for Blind Youth when he was 19. He taught grammar, geography, arithmetic, and music.

Sighted teachers and officials were slow to accept Braille's new method. It wasn't until 1844, eight years before he died, that the value of the Braille alphabet was officially recognized. Then, one after another, countries around the monde recognized the benefits of braille. Braille has now been adapted to more than 200 languages and dialects around the world.

Louis Braille died of Tuberculosis two days after his 43rd birthday. In 1952, his body was moved from a cemetery in Coupvray to the Pantheon in Paris to lie with other great women and men of France.

The stone house where Braille grew up is now a museum, and the street on which it stands is named Rue Louis Braille.

On the mur of the maison is a plaque that reads:

Dans cette maison est né le 4 janvier 1809 Louis Braille inventeur de l'écriture en points saillants pour les aveugles. Il a ouvert a tous ceux qui ne voient pas les portes du savoir.

In this house on January 4, 1809 was born Louis Braille, the inventor of the system of writing in raised dots for use by the blind. He opened the doors of knowledge to all those who cannot see.

Author bioKathi Koegle is Outreach & Development Manager for the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired. A former French teacher, Kathi and her husband are making plans for their third trip to Provence.

If you enjoyed Kathi's story, please join me in thanking her by letting her know in the comments box.

You may also leave her a personal message, here: kathi [AT] wcblind [DOT] org

Kathi adds: "Enjoy a few pix from the Council's recent Braille Bicentennial Birthday Party. Guests enjoyed baguettes and six different kinds of French cheeses." (View pictures at the end of this post.)

In children's books: "Louis Braille, The Boy Who Invented Books For The Blind" & Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius 


French Vocabulary

ça—c'est ma place! = that is my seat!
la soeur (f) cadette = little sister
Brel est un chanteur = Brel is a singer
le sucre = sugar
le pot de confiture = jar of jam
le carton de lait = carton of milk
non-voyant,e (m/f) = blind
aveugle = blind
l'élève (m/f) = student
lire = to read
facile = easy
Ecriture Nocturne = night writing
sans = without
le monde = world
le mur = wall
la maison = house

Read about Therese-Adele Husson:  a young blind woman and writer from provincial France 

Capture plein écran 17012012 103208

 Reflections: The Life and Writings of a Young Blind Woman in Post-Revolutionary France

In the 1820s, several years before Braille was invented, Therese-Adele Husson, a young blind woman from provincial France, wrote an audacious manifesto about her life, French society, and her hopes for the future. Through extensive research and scholarly detective work, authors Catherine Kudlick and Zina Weygand have rescued this intriguing woman and the remarkable story of her life and tragic death from obscurity, giving readers a rare look into a world recorded by an unlikely historical figure.

Reflections is one of the earliest recorded manifestations of group solidarity among people with the same disability, advocating self-sufficiency and independence on the part of blind people, encouraging education for all blind children, and exploring gender roles for both men and women. Resolutely defying the sense of "otherness" which pervades discourse about the disabled, Husson instead convinces us that that blindness offers a fresh and important perspective on both history and ourselves. Click here to read more about this book.

SmartFrench : learn French from real French people!

In French film: The Double Life of Veronique

French music: Jacques Brel

Bonne Maman Strawberry Preserves

Kathi's photos taken at the celebration: Braille birthday party photos 005 
A cheese close-up!


Thanks, Herm, for suggesting this video:

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Tim Averill

Notre ami, Eric Guerin, et sa femme, Marie Christine, servent comme enseigneurs four les jeunes "chiens guides d"aveugle." Les petits sont très chouettes et le cours pour devenir un chien guide d'aveugle est dur. Le plus récent chien s'appelle Esac (case in reverse) et avant lui le chien s'appellait Velcro.

Gail Pisut

Kristin ~ My gal pal Donna turned me on to your site maybe two years ago. Because I took two years of French in HS and two more in college, and because Donna knew my fiancé was taking me to France in the near future, I began listening to Pimslure tapes and noting words in your column. By the time I got to France [Juan-les-Pins and Paris, each 5 days], I knew enough to get us by quite nicely. Now that the trip is long over and my "need" to speak the language is "ago", I still collect your mot du jour and sometimes take the time to actually read your column. Today re Braille was one of them. I must say, you are a VERY good writer and I do enjoy reading about your life and observations. Thank you. Gail


Hi Kristi - I always love the stories that take place around your kitchen table...if you didn't share these moments I would never have these may not realize that this little scene will now replay in my mind along with all of the rest of your snippits of my grandchildren's daily life.

May I offer my thanks to Kathi - your story and photo's are just perfect - I wish you could have been my French teacher when I was young. Thank you for being a part of our life here at FWAD.




Very interesting, thanks Kathi. I was, however amused by the absence of Braille on the cheese descriptions!


I know the L'Occitane products are all packaged with Braille type. Can't think of many others. Great story and thank you for the pronunciation leçon!

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin and Kathi!

Thanks so much for the story Kathi! Very interesting. We carry L'Occitane products in the shop where I work and the sides of the boxes are in braille. It would be interesting to find a book and learn how to read braille.

Kristin....your mornings sound alot like how our mornings would go when the kids were here!

Have a great day!

Pat, Roanoke, Va

Thank you, Kathi, for your bio de Braille, which is quite an amazing story. What a neat idea for the celebration and to see your photos. Kristin, I remember a former column about Braille, and am glad to be reminded of this extraordinary man and his contribution to the world. Now everytime I ride an elevator, I will avail myself of the opportunity to brush my fingertips across the braille there, and send up a"grand merci" for his contribution to the world. This is the kind of history lesson so well worth remembering. If only the History Channel would get off of their incessant WW II programs and give us more widespread topics!

And to all WW II history buffs, the importance of remembering the wars where so many--way too many--gave their lives (as well as in recent wars), your sacrifice and service are appreciated: mille mercis and blessed remembrance a tous.


How coincidental that you should write about Braille, since I am right now in the middle of revamping my skills in that area! Many years ago, in a year of unemployment, I qualified as a Braille transcriber and did volunteer transcribing for a couple of years. When I moved to Washington D.C., I couldn't easily find volunteer opportunities (ironic since the certifying body is the Library of Congress here in Washington!), got a job, let the transcribing lapse, and finally donated my braille writer.

I am now retired and a month ago, I pulled out my braille manuals, bought a braille writer, and have just started to give myself a crash revision course. Although much brailling is now computerized, there's still a call for people to braille as a one-off (prescription instructions for individuals, restaurant menus, articles for college students, etc.), and the Internet makes it easier to find people needing Braille help.

Perhaps some of my fellow readers of Kristin's blog would be interested in this very fulfilling volunteer activity. It takes about 6 - 12 months to get certified depending on how much time you can devote to learning. The information is at

Allen Laskin

privilege, not priviledge (toward the end of your post)

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Thank you, Kathi, for information on Braille. Je n'avais aucune idée (I had no idea). Willie Nelson, the country western singer, likes to tell the story about playing cards with blind entertainer Ray Charles. It seems that after Willie kept winning, Ray demanded they turn the lights out! À bientôt

Kristin Espinasse

Am I the only one that noticed that Mom lost her CAPS. MOM, ARE YOU FEELING OK? :-)

Allen, thanks for the correction--on my way to fix it now.

Amy Sheppard

I love this - you bring France to my breakfast nook in Montana every day.

And thanks for the life history of Louis Braille. I work at a science center where we are opening a new exhibit on sight: Oh Eye See: VisionWorks. I will tell Louis Braille's story at our staff meeting this morning.

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

I was emotionally moved by this powerful video!!!!

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Herm. That is a beautiful video! I will add it to the post, as it is so thought-provoking.

P.S. Some of the comments to this post ended up at the original post (published two years ago). If you cannot find your comment, this is why. I am trying to move those comments forward, so we dont miss any (like this video that Herm suggested)

Allen Laskin

In the description of "Reflections: The Life and...", I assume that you mean "in obscurity" and not "from obscurity".

Cynthia Lewis

Thanks for a most interesting post today with your family nicely woven in it. Please, Jules, continue to write in caps....I always look for your comments!! from Eastern Shore of Maryland-USA


At least it is your family correcting your English. My French speaking students in Cameroon would always correct my French when I was there to teach English. They were so cute as they would sit there in the front row and quietly whisper a corrected pronounciation to me during class.

Elaine Wilson

Kathi, Thanks for your article on Louis Braille. My Mother was "legally blind" from the effects of diabetes and attended the Braille Institute in Los Angeles where she attended classes, painted, and created wonderful sculpture. Viva Braille!!! (a bit of Spanish!!)

Susan A.

Thanks for such an informative and interesting piece. I knew a little about Louis Braille but not the fascinating details of his life and work. It's great to have this knowledge expandec.

mhwebb in NM, USA

I am impressed that Passant learned to transcribe Braille with a mechanical Brailler! When I worked with students with various disabilities at a community college, I had a student whose first language was not English. He took English classes in the morning for which he had a notetaker (an employee that took written notes in class for him). I read her notes to him in the afternoon while he used a mechanical Brailler to transcribe them with his one good hand! I tried to learn Braille at that time but found it challenging. Although I had health problems at that time, including severe pain, I learned not to complain because I saw severely disabled students at school every day. I also learned that the complete absence of vision is quite rare. Most "blind" people have some bit of vision, such as being able to see tall, fuzzy images walking toward them, or being able to see out of a portion of their eyes. That is why I adopted the habit of wearing bright colors on my top half so that people can see me coming. Among professionals here, the term "blind" is discouraged while "visually impaired" is preferred (or was while I worked in that field). Thank you, Kristin and Kathi, for the refresher course on Braille. Thank you, Max, for your alertness about the sugar box. Every time I see Braille near elevator buttons or below signs, I wonder how the totally blind know where to "look" for them. Since I used to have a visual impairment that was corrected by surgery, I want to thank Jules for not writing in all caps. It is actually easier for me to read the mixture of caps and lower case, although I am not sure why. I enjoy her comments and appreciate being able to read them. Thank you.


I happened to have seen, before, the video sent in by Herm. It is so beautiful and touching. Kristin, you also have a wonderful choix des mots that keeps pulling me back to read your funny anecdotes. I like to read about your daily life which you describe with humor. I burst out laughing, reading about Jean-Marc thinking of Jacques Brel because of the way you pronounced the word “Braille”. For this reminds me of my husband misunderstanding (English). He was complimenting a beautiful white cat being stroked by our US friend. The latter then made a remark "The problem (with her beautiful cat) is she sheds too much, all over the house". Mon pauvre mari a mal compris. He asks “you mean she is not “potty trained”!
I learned about Louis Braille à l'école when I was growing up. Thank you, Kathi, for the wonderful piece to remind me of such a great man.


Wonderful morning story and thank you Kathi for the history lesson and Herm for the very powerful video. I have passed it on to others.

Kate S

Love the story regarding the Braille. I once helped a blind student down the escalator.. i got in trouble with the teacher. I did not know they were learning to fend for themselves in the mall.. so i grab her arm and said" here we go" and took her down the short flight. As we rode along she said"I'm in trouble now.. but Thanks!!As we stepped off.. the teacher glared at me and took her away. I least she was not still stuck at the top.. scared to death. Think how scary that must be. ktee:)) I did notice the small dots on a number of items. It makes you think and appreciate your vision. Thanks for the story. Your children really pay attention.

Jens from Copenhagen

I think Jacques Brel was from Belgium and thus not French.

Lori Di Betta

I too, look for the ALL CAPS that signify Jules' comments! Jules, I hope all is well with you! I really enjoyed both articles, thank you both!

Marianne Rankin

I helped a blind person dial a phone number once, and realized how much we take for granted being able to see such things. I keep telling myself I should learn Braille while I can still see the arrangements of the dots, in case I need it in the future.

Years ago, when I taught second grade, the children had a book club, through which they could buy books very inexpensively. I used to read book-club books to the class after lunch, and one of them was the story of Louis Braille written at an easy reading level. Amazingly, after I had read the entire book to them, the next classroom order had many requests for the Braille biography - the children wanted it for themselves. It had some illustrations, and on the back was the alphabet in Braille.


Our dear Kristin,
Today's post is not only wonderful(as always!) but just an inspitational reminder to be ever grateful for the gift of our sight.
Thank you for bringing this grace to our attention.I am so guilty of taking it for granted!
Blessings to you and your dear family.
Love, Natalia XO


Kristin, soooo funny you mention that because I noticed specifically that your mother capped the important parts!!!





Love your words! Also must agree again with your amazing mom, your family scenes play in my head too, though of course i don't actually know you! and the ones around the kitchen table are especially memorable. your power with words is so gentle and so strong, merci mille fois!

Debbie Ambrous

I'm glad to see there's no shortage of comments on this educational and enjoyable story. Thank you! Coconut Grove, Florida Friday night Pizza and a movie for me.


Love it! Especially when Max breaks out the sugar.
I speak French to my 7 year old, but she hates it. She demands I speak English and it embarrasses her. I really just want to give her an edge but she always answers in English.
I'm starting to forget French. It makes me sad.
I want to go back to France, and meet someone like Chief Grape. :)


Herm, thanks for the video.....wonderful. We do take too many things for granted.

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