le frisson
How to say "it's a no-no" in French?


Just a goofy tale at the beach (in Bandol!) for you today... and a little rush, which happens while trying to write on a deadline! Thanks for overlooking some of the "missing things" in this edition, not the least of which my husband's pants!!! 

impudeur (im-poo-der)

    : immodesty

(Sound file and example sentence will return on Wednesday. Sorry!)

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

Lying face down on the beach, on top of my raincoat, I am wearing jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, sunglasses, a hat, and a thick layer of sunscreen for protection. The woman down the way may be sporting a bikini, but that is no reason, I decide, for me to feel awkward or self-conscious. Après tout, it is mid April and most of the people on the beach are fully dressed, enjoying a midday picnic.

Because I can no longer tolerate the sun, I decide to enjoy the pebbly view in front of me, beneath my shadow. In addition to the smooth cailloux, the beach is host to a zillion other fascinating sea remnants including little "brushy" bits (one could make a darling broom for a doll), beer caps (not so darling), pearly-bottomed shells, dried seaweed, tiny crab claws, sea glass, and driftwood, or bois flotté

My eyes lock on a small piece of bleached bois, one that is smooth and shapely. A collection of the wooden sticks would look neat in a tall glass vase, wouldn't it? I begin hunting for another baton de bois, using the first one as a model. It turns out that this particular size (smaller than a french fry, with a nob here or there) is rare... and it becomes a challenge to locate another. I give up, returning two sticks to the ground.

Next, I see a beautiful green pebble with spots! The color seems rare... I begin hunting for another, to test the theory. It takes some searching, but soon my efforts pay off and there, in the palm of my hand is a modest collection of 7 jade-colored pebbles ranging in size from "split-pea" to "no bigger than a dried navy bean". I picture that tall glass vase, only this time it is filled with the precious pebbles. It will take many trips to the beach to fill it!

As I stare admiringly into my green palm, a moral dilemma presents itself. I begin to wonder: what if everyone on the beach has the same inkling... to gather bits of pretty things? Suddenly, in my mind's eye, there are no more shapely sticks of driftwood, no more verre de mer, or jade-colored cailloux...

Would my 7-pebbled pillage disrupt this natural setting?  

Before I can feel any more criminal—or any more suspicious (no wonder I couldn't find any more of those lovely sticks—someone else beat me to it!) my husband appears, putting an end to the current philosophical conundrum.... and in so doing, introducing another one

How, I wonder, did Jean-Marc manage to change into his bathing suit? Last I knew he was fully dressed (his swim trunks were in the sack beside me).... Because we were sitting on coats (no towels to use for the "wrap-and-switch", in which one can manage to pull on one's swimsuit whilst wearing a "modesty towel" around the waist), there was no explanation.

The mystery quickly solves itself when, oblivious to the crowd, my husband begins to change out of his swim trunks en plein air!  (Actually, he is doing this seated, as if altitude has anything to do with discretion!)

"Jean-Marc! You can't do that here! Oh-my-gosh. Oh-my-gosh!"

"Oh my gauche? or oh my droit?" my husband laughs. I almost miss his joke, so busy am I dying of embarrassment. 

I don't dare look left or right, for fear that all eyes are on us! When there is nothing left to do but laisser faire, I squeeze my own eyes shut and endure the "cultural" moment. Yes, that is all it is after all, isn't it? A matter of culture

Regarding the feared or imagined gawkers (was the beach crowd watching?), The Paris Metro Rule swiftly came to mind. The Paris Metro Rule that states Thou shalt not stare at a fellow passenger!

Granted, these were not passengers, but beach bums... who were hopefully more rule-abiding than you or I when riding the subway—hopefully they weren't peeking!


Le Coin Commentaires
Comments, corrections, and stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box. You might also share your observations of those "immodest French moments"... or answer the question: how many treasure can one take home from the beach (are 7 pebbles too many? Your thoughts here, in the comments box.


French Vocabulary 

après tout = after all

le caillou = stone, pebble

le bois flotté = driftwood

le bâton de bois = stick of wood

le verre de mer = sea glass

en plein air = outside (in nature)

le gauche = left

le droit = right

laisser faire = to let be


Chief Grape. The only one to swim in the sea yesterday... at a calanque in Bandol. 

Forward this edition to a friend who might enjoy these photos and stories....

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I feel refreshed just looking at the picture. Hope to get to Bandol in September.


From way off in Stow Massachusetts, I thank you for starting my day off right. I just love reading your posts.

Bill in St. Paul

I like the striped socks. The water looks so refreshing with Jean-Marc swimming in it. Heading back to winter in St. Paul with snow possible today.


Ah, Kristin! You're married to a French man after all. Vous devez connaître leur nature, non? ; )


Good morning,

Thank you for a view of that beautiful blue mediterranean water this morning. It sounds like you are enjoying the visit to the beach despite staying covered. With the son finally off to school despite protest(he injured his hip last week), I am off to go finish building my patio in the backyard. I think I do more work at home than I do at work. Have a wonderful week!


That is one of the things I love about France - that the human body is beautiful and doesn't always need to be sexualized. The Puritans continue to have their effect on we Americans and it is in many ways sad. The relaxed French attitude (even with regard to topless sunbathing) is so refreshing!






jan Greene

What a lovely start of the day. We are packing for our little Paris trip, um, warm, cold, at least no bathing suits! Lovely picture of your dear husband. We will just look the other way if a " moment" arrives! Boston marathon today and it maybe 80' there!


If only the rest of humanity would have our sensitivity Kristin - such as your concern that taking 7 tiny stones from a beach might upset a natural balance.

Nancy MacDonald

I can't stop smiling after reading your post today. Looking for all those "treasures of the sea" can be fun, yet frustrating. I can attest to that when looking for shark teeth and all my little grandchildren find them so easily, and I, nary a one!

It is Jean-Marc's comment to your "oh my gosh" that has made my day! And, I bet it will keep me smiling throughout the day!


I am sitting here in concrete-y Manhattan and so wishing I were in Bandol! Thanks for the glorious pictures, which make me want to listen to Trenet singing La Mer and hop on the next plane.

Jens from Copehagen

Hi Kristin,

I thought you had got used to the 'culture' after so many years in France. I can assure you, this Dane (and most Danes) would have done exactly the same as Jean-Marc on the beach :-).

I have been on Google Maps to watch Calanque du Port d'Alon, where the pictures were taken, and I wonder how you got down there? How far can you drive before you have to park?

Russ Guibord

In preparation for a long-awaited trip to France, I have thoroughly enjoyed your site.
I must smile at your reference to collecting pebbles, stones and driftwood. Many of the beaches here in Maine now have signs strongly suggesting that collecting of "beach treasures" is discouraged. Perhaps one or two in ones pocket----??
Off to France tomorrow and, yes, I will pilfer "un ou deux caillou" at Mont St. Michel and Omaha Beach.



Your story this morning is now going into my 'TOP 100 POSTS' from your precious FRENCH-WORD-A-DAY!

Your gift of storytelling is elevated into the wonderful world of pure joy with your pure heart. I know you so well - I must say that today your musings returned me to all of the wonderful stories you used to share with me as a 10 year old...waking up one morning to find you had filled my bed with tiny frogs you had found in your journey up and down the desert wash behind our house.

I am so taken with your gift - mostly because you so generously share so deeply with each story. I see a lot of your beautiful Dad in you - and the more I watch you the more I understand all of the wonderful gifts he has passed on to make you the woman you are today.

As I read your words I immediately thought of Kip's beautiful mother Annette, and how proud she would be of you if she were here today to see you continuiously blooming all over Provence. I was probably one of the greatest shocks she suffered when her precious Kip brought me home for her blessing. Poor woman. But now she can see from Heaven that 'All things work together for good to those that love God.' Oh how I love all the stories of our past - our lives have been so full of surprises and looking back is one of my favorite pasttimes in this winter of my life. I always find myself thinking you are just 21 years behind me....and God knows the last 21 years of my life have been full of numerous twists and turns - as yours will be - the good news is that you have the gift of 'rose colored glasses' with which you will pass through this life perched on your lovely nose.

I hope you have more photo's of lovely Bandol to share. Of course I went to GOOGLE EARTH to check out the beaches - I love Bandol. I imagine you were at the Calenque just up the coast from Bandol towards Marseille.

I'm going back to GOOLE EARTH now to check out the village of Bandol, you know with their little 'yellow man' I can walk up and down all of the streets of this beautiful village. I do remember when Jean-Marc took me to visit a vineyard there years ago - the fresh air and pine trees remain with me to this day.

Jean-Marc looks so happy in the sea....I must also make a copy of these two photo's, your feet on the beach and his head above water.
The photo's alone in a double frame will return me to your story in an instant. Thank you Honey for your lovely story today. I am so blessed to have you share your life with me.



Cheryl in STL

Kristin, I love this post and your two different approaches to beach time! I am also one who enjoys the small little treasures the beach can hide and also share. And I just don't understand the contortions that the French seem to manage so easily that get them from normal clothes to swim suits!! It never ceases to amaze me. Thanks for sharing!

Geraldine Ventura

Kristin, Your story of Jean Marc's swim suit change reminds me of when our French friends visited us, and we took them to see the dunes and Lake Michigan. Before we knew it, the father was taking off his jeans and jumping into the water in his underwear....no problem. But when he came out of the water dripping wet with no towel, our friend decided to remove his wet underwear and slip into his jeans. All I could think of was, "We are going to be arrested for indecent exposure." Among the Americans with us was a priest and a judge who quickly wandered away. My husband and I have laughed about this story many times. The French would think nothing strange about this story.

Bruce Taylor

the part of your lovely story about JM's bathing suit reminds me of a day (night, actually) many years ago when several friends and I came up out of the Med near Antibes absolutely starkers to find two policemen waiting and demanding 'identification please'! They were not amused!

Eileen deCamp, Charlottesville, VA

Hello Kristin,
Funny post! I love Jean-Marc's comment "Oh my gauche" and the chaussettes rayées are too funny!
How was the water? I bet it was refreshing!

Julie F in St. Louis, MO

So much to love in this post, especially the photo of your feet. I have learned to sigh and move on when I walk into a unisex restroom and encounter a man peeing in the pissoir (is that the right word?) they put next to the door. I just hurry to the stall (grateful they've at least succumbed to that small bit of modern modesty). When I'm at a beach or public pool, however, I'm the odd woman out because I'm wearing a tank suit. But then I'm also odd woman out because I'm the only one actually swimming.

As for treasures, I take nothing from National or State Parks when I hike, but on Sanibel Island, Fl the shells are so abundant that they encourage you to hunt for the best (but no live starfish or sand dollars, please).


OMGosh, I love this post; it tickled me so much------aaahhhh, we have so much in common! HA! and your maman is super special! xoxo

L. M. Davies

First, congratulations to Chief Grape on landing another distributor!

Second, your story put me in mind of the first time I visited France at age 12. My folks had driven all night and so we arrived at Nice well before we could check into our hotel. My mother spread our sweaters on the rocks and my exhausted sister and I promptly fell asleep. My parents must have fallen asleep as well because the next thing I remember is our mother frantically waking all of us up and trying to hustle us off the beach as quickly as possible. We were surrounded by knots of people in various stages of undress - men, women and children calming stripping off. Some were sitting down for their quick change operation - something that amazed me since the beach rocks (and they were ROCKS, not pebbles) were so uncomfortable and uneven - while many were just stripping off and slipping into their swim gear as if they were inside an invisible private dressing room. Of course, my American mother was acutely embarrassed while my sister and I were intensely curious about the whole procedure! Which, in turn, prompted an entire series of questions from both of us about the different bodies we had glimpsed. Up until that moment our entire experience of nudes had been of statues in museums and gardens. The memory of my flustered, exasperated mom can still make me smile.
Now that I have grown children of my own, I realize I am much more comfortable on European beaches because of that unselfconsciousness everyone seems to display. Nobody cares that I have a middle aged body and I am released from my own ideas of how I'm *supposed* to look in a bathing suit. It's an odd and welcome side benefit of the French point of view!

Carolyn  Dahm,  Sharon, MA


Thank you for the funny and sweet story today. I love it that Jules couldn't stop laughing and had to write back later! Her second message was beautiful though and as usual, she's has taken me back to my own childhood and all the beautiful moments I shared with my own family.
I love collecting things on the beach as well. I have my Mom's old shell collection and I continue to add to that each time I visit a beach.
I love the pictures of your feet and Jean Marc. I also want to dive into those refreshing waters. He looks so happy! What a treat after all his hard work and travels in the U.S. Congrats to you JM for gaining a new distributor in the Netherlands! Keep up the great work!
I hope all of you have a lovely day. Thank you for bringing joy to my morning before I head off to work.
Much love to you from Massachusetts where it will be quite hot today. Let's pray those runners in the Boston Marathon are okay.



I really love the stories you tell on here. It reminded me of a time I went to Keys in Florida. I saw several European people walking nude. I consider myself a very modest person, however, on that day I decided to be less modest. The weird thing is that I didn't look around to see if anyone was watching. I enjoyed my swim in the ocean. When I got out of the water my husband was waiting on shore to stretch my shirt as far as he could. He was so...embarrassed. A woman up the beach slapped her husband for watching me. I decided then that I probably shouldn't do that anymore but it was a freeing moment for me.
On another note I ran across this article today on Yahoo. I thought you would find it interesting since you are winemakers. BTW, I love that you and your husband want to stick to the traditional wine vines and not sell out to big corporations. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/14/marijuana-laced-wine-grows-more-fashionable-in-california-wine-country.html

mhwebb in NM, USA

Now I remember a previous story (was it from your first book, Words in a French Life?) when you addressed the issue of French women going topless at the beach. In light of your recent brush with cancer, it is a good thing that you never followed suit or you might have had cancerous spots in some very unpleasant places!


Our dear Kristin,
What a gift you have!! You elevate even picking up sticks on the beach into something so special that it just fills us with smiles (and pleasure!) at being fortunate to share life with you.What a wonderful way start to Monday morning--and the week!
THANK YOU!!!!!!!!
Love, Natalia XO

Holly K


I, too, must avoid the sun due to an illness that makes me photosensitive. Check out Physician's Formula makeup for a tinted moisturizer with SPF 50 protection. They also make clothing that has built in sunscreen. I always wear a beach coverup and big floppy hat when at the beach, so you are not alone!

Lin Powell Victoria B,C. Canada

I read an interesting novel called SEA GLASS by Anita Shreve that uses a womans collection of sea glass comparing it to her life. How sea glass "suggests stories of previous lives. Sea glass is essentially trash - bits of glass from ships that have gone down or garbage that has been tossed overboard. The glass breaks and then is weathered by the sea and washes up onto shore. The shards take on a lovely patina and come in many subdued colors. Sea glass will not break." ..."what is the history of the glass. Who used it! Was it a medicine bottle? A bit of a ship's lantern? is that bubbled piece of glass with the charred bits inside it from a fire?". Collecting sea glass can be fun, and set your imagination soaring.

Kathryn in BC, Canada

A thoughtful and amusing post so full of life and love and laughter. And reading the comments from your mom and your large group of readers fills me with appreciation for what we all are able to share because of you! Thank you!

Lisa A.,Los Angeles, CA

What a wonderful story! I can't stop smiling...and I absolutely LOVE the response story of Geraldine Ventura...hahaha Fantastique!!!! :)
Thank you both for making me smile and laugh this morning!!


Cynthia Lewis in Salisbury, Eastern Shore of Maryland

Dear Kristin, Thanks for your delightful,as always, post today. I loved Jean-Marc's joke which mixed French and English in order to tease you! Congratulations on the new market for your wines in the Netherlands. We plan to go to Washington, D.C., soon in search of some "Domaine Rouge-Bleu"!

.....not to worry about collecting a few bits of sea glass and such. The tides twice a day will supply new treasures for the next day's foragers. Now if you were in Arizona visiting The Petrified Forest National Park, it would be another matter. I'm sure that you visited there as a youngster (which you still are from my perspective)...Bises, Cynthia


Tres drole!
Too funny!

Dana Jones

Beautiful pictures! This story made my day! Too funny! :)

Thank you for sharing!

Leslie Sorensen-Jolink

Beautiful photo of Jean-Marc in the sea. Did the water feel as gorgeous as it looks? Would you like the web addresses of some purveyors of sun-protective swimwear, Kristin?


Charmant. Absolument charmant.
Quel plaisir d'imaginer la mer et la plage du sud de la france. Merci. Nous sommes au nouveau mexique, très loin de la plage et de la douce France.

Merci encore d.'avoir allumer le sourire!
Bernadette HINDS

Stacy ~ Sweet Life Farm ~ Applegate, Oregon

Love this little treasure from the sea! I, too, am a tad bit rushed today but just had to say you are so sweetly and smartly funny!!! Oh, dear, how alike are you and me…and our beloveds!

janet smajstrla

Oh Kristin, This one brings back some humorous memories of a rafting trip we took on the Rio Grande some years back. I was the only woman on the three day float trip with 8-10 men, two of whom were German. They had no sensitivity for my privacy and so I resorted to having my husband escort me into the bushes to take care of personal needs. It was a little unnerving at the time, but it didn't spoil an amazing trip in the wilderness, taught me something about another culture, and became somewhat of a bonding experience between me and my husband.
I loved JM's play on language. Smiles all around!

Susan Carter, Westminster, CA

I love everything about today's post - it's a great story and your mother's response is priceless.

Michael Perlman PhD

Keep up the good feelings. As some of us old jocks say: you can win, you can lose, but don't ever quit.

ACEMAN, ne michael jay perlman PhD

joie/carmel-by-the-sea, ca.

Cute story. And, truth be told, you will most likely never see any of those people on the beach ever again, and surely they would not recognize you all covered in jeans, striped socks, hat, glasses, et. al.
So cast your fate to the wind....or Jean-Marc's and go au natural s'il vous plait.


What a sweet charming story. I love how you described your part of the incident.
Once looked out into the ocean near Bordeaux to see a young couple making love in the crashing surf.....that was a shock! and an oops let's not look there.......


Here I am writing this comment, when I'd rather be tasting your wine. Next week I hope is still good:)

Jean-Marc is brave for going into the cold water. We always think that the early swimmers must be from Norway or Sweden. Now, I'll think of him.


Kristen, Years ago I had quite a collection of beach glass (and other stuff, too). I thought your description of green pebbles and small pieces of driftwood in a clear glass container quite a perfect decorators touch. What good sense you have. You are so good to see Jean Marc has a relaxing, fun day as he is deserving. I know it is hard to keep covered from head to toe at the beach. Yet you shared. Shirley


Wonderful Kristin, YOUR WRITING JUST GETS BETTER AND BETTER!!! OH YOUR SISTER AND FAMILLE, you look quite a bit alike. Yours, Winn oh oh we are going to try to meet Jean Paul in I.C., Minneapolis or Portland, OR.

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