Doggy Bag - How to say "doggy bag" in French? + Happy Anniversary!

la dame (today's word too easy? Read the story-vocab section!)

Click on this photo to view it full size. Here are the ladies at the book club in Marseilles. As Agnès (in black, third from right) said, it is a privilege to have girlfriends like these! After agonizing in today's story (the subject is "becoming une dame... when one still secretly believes she's une fille"), I had a good chuckle reading Agnès's group email, in which she unwittingly addressed the ladies in this photo as grils. "Dear grils," she wrote, after sending us this photo souvenir. We forgive Agnès for the coquille, or typo--and I thank her for the needed synonym for "female". Grils works just fine for me! Read on, in today's story.... (Left-to-right: Baby Stella, Cris, Kristi, Julie, Christiane, Olivia, Anne, Agnès, Cari, Lisa, and Andrea. Thanks, Pierre Casanova, for the photo.)

la dame (dam)

    : lady; married woman


Dame Pipi = the woman in charge of the restrooms (in a restaurant) don't miss the wonderful video at the end of this post!

la dame nature = mother nature
faire la grande dame = to put on airs
le jeu de dames = game of checkers
la dame d'onze heures = star of Bethlehem 

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc Download MP3 or Wav file

Tu connais la dame qui est mariée avec le vigneron?
Do you know the lady who is married to the winemaker? 


A Day in a French Life… by Kristin Espinasse

How Old is Une Dame?

I was sitting in the swivel chair at our local salon when the name-calling began.  To be fair, the so-called insults were unintended—perfectly innocent. The hairdresser was only stating a fact. Mais quand même!

As it was, my hair shot out in all directions, triggered by a couple dozen sheets of aluminum, which held these dishwater blond locks in place during the quarterly balayage. That my hair stood on end had nothing to do with my emotions; it was just a comical coincidence, and not a reaction to what the hairdresser had said.

Specifically she had said, “la dame….” Only, as she said it, she motioned to me! She had been talking to another client about the quick passage of time. “Comme ça passe vite!” she marveled.  “Yes, la dame and I were saying the same earlier.”

La dame? The new label struck like a gavel! Then again, was it so new? Maybe I had not listened before? Surely by now I had been called une dame? I’ve probably been in denial for some time. I looked into the salon mirror….

The only thing worse than a salon mirror is a dressing-room mirror! But trying on a swimsuit is a walk in shallow waters compared to judging one’s reflection in a poorly lighted salon mirror. The light, if there was any, filtered in from the window at the side of the room. The result was similar to the effect one gets when standing in the dark with a bright flashlight held beneath the chin. Enough to scare a 44-year-old girl at heart!

But une dame? Fair enough! I was no longer une fille. That realization came suddenly in my late 20s, when, as if overnight, the French quit calling me mademoiselle.  I’ll never forget the wake-up call as ticket agents, the postal clerk, and the gray-haired woman at the market began referring to me as Madame. (Funnily, the gray-haired men continued calling me Mademoiselle. But I knew the truth, my mademoiselle days were over, from now on I would answer to the call of Madame.)

But la dame? The word was so… hard. Gone was the lightness of la nana or la demoiselle.  As for la dame, it sounded more like la damnation.

It probably just meant “woman”.  I suppose I might have felt the same way, in America, the day strangers quit referring to me as “young lady”, and began saying "here you are, Ma'am." Only, I wouldn’t know, for I never became a woman in America! (I moved to France as a mademoiselle, to later become une madame—a sensitive one at that!)

After the hairdresser washed the chemicals out of my hair, she called over to a new arrival who had snapped up my chair, “Could you please move,” she said to the man, "la dame was sitting there.”

I shivered once again, and not from the cold water trickling down the back of my neck!

Surely my reaction to the dame label has to do with my ignorance? After 20 years in France, I still don’t understand the nuances of the language. Maybe la dame is not so damning after all? To be sure, I would need to look up the word in a good dictionary.

As the hairdresser combed my wet hair, she pointed out that I seemed to be losing a lot of it. “It must be a lack of vitamins,” she guessed. It was odd, she said, usually people lose a bit of hair in the fall or in the spring (but here we were the 5th of July). I was left to the realization that only une dame could experience thinning hair.

At home, rushing towards my dictionary, I passed my husband. “La coiffeuse called me a dame. Isn’t that for women of a certain age?”

Jean-Marc snickered, amused at my naïvety (more fuel for which to tease me with!).  “It’s just a general term for une femme,” he explained. His grin widened when he mused, “You mean she didn’t call you une mamie?”

Seeing I was not amused, he changed his tune. “She should have called you la bombe!” With that, he tugged on my renewed bottle-blond locks.

One thing’s for sure. I’m not gray yet. Thanks to la dame at the hairdresser’s!

    Read another age-related essay here.


French Vocabulary

mais quand même!
but even so!

le balayage
hair highlighting (to balai or brush the hair with blond highlights)

une fille

la nana
synonym for girl 

la demoiselle
young lady 

la mademoiselle
young lady

une femme

la mamie 

la bombe
the (blond) bombshell  

 Now for a little comic relief!

 Don't miss this wonderfully funny video "Dame Pipi" -- a commercial for Vittel filmed in the 70s. Anyone who has ever visited a French restroom will appreciate it. (If you are reading this via newsletter, you'll need to click here to see the video, near the end of the post. Trivia: The restaurant in the video reminds me of a famous place in Paris? Can you name it? Click here to share your answer.


  Cris and stella

That's me, the dame on the right, talking about the writing life—including the joys and freedom of self-publishing. (That's Cris and her baby Stella. Cris should write a book! Her tales of moving to France from Texas are priceless!)(Thanks, Agnès, for the photo)

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.

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


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Quite a good business sense!

Patrine Baptist

I just want to say you are all gloriously beautiful; and you Kristi, , inside and out!


Twelve "grils"; eleven names......

Lynn at Southern Fried French

Oh this is too funny! First of all you are SO RIGHT about the lights at the hairdresser! And I feel the same way when someone barely younger than I am calls me 'mam' in the states. To my grandkids, though, I'm 'mamou', which is just fine with me.


Ditto about the lights at the hairdresser. If I happen to catch my reflexion in the mirror, I immediately divert my eyes! In the South, it was the first "Yes, Ma'am" that clued me in to my dame-status. I wonder if my face registered the horror I felt. Now I am "Nana" to my grandchild, and I love the double-entendre.

What a wonderful looking group of young women in the book club. I know they enjoyed having you as a guest.

Julie F in St. Louis, MO

Yes, more and more I get the sense that I'm seen as une femme plus âgée although I don't feel that way (after all, I'm only in my 50's). As for the thinning hair, I had a real problem with that last year. I think it was stress related, so I started taking a B complex vitamin and very soon my hair was back in shape, even thought the stress was still on, what with my surgery and all. And after my trés chic French haircut yesterday my hair is very bouncy and shiny.

Geraldine Chalk

When I was in Paris again in April, for the first time I was mentioned by our waiter to another one as a "bonne femme" - certainly made me feel my age...(early 70s)

Teresa person

Where in Texas did Chris live?... How fun for her to be living in France ... I always tell the younger ones not to call me ma'm... But in the south( I'm from Texas )that is a sign of good manners...thanks for a cute story..

Bruce in northwest Connecticut

What a delightful story — and one we all can relate to it in one way or another! What a wonderful husband — knowing exactly what to say! And what a book group! Can I attend a meeting? Please?

Kathleen from Connecticut

I remember the change from girl to mame. When you go to south they call you Mame, which I personally dislike . It's tough to get older, but I guess it all depends on how young we feel. I know people my same age who seem so much older. I think that having been a teacher has kept me young in heart and soul. It is all a frame of mind, even if our bodies and and looks tell us differently, it's what's inside that counts. Now if I can only remember this myself!

Jeanne of Maumee, OH

I heard recently that the term mademoiselle is not being used any more in stores, etc, and that everyone is madame to keep it all equal. It was bad form I guess to call a younger woman madame and visa versa. Is this true where you live.

Sharon - Montague, Michigan

Not to fret........La Dame is like a fine wine: it only gets better with age.


Hi Kristi: Wonderful video clip about Madame "Pipi"! Might the grand restaurant to which you 're referring be "La Tour d'Argent"?

Jeanne in Oregon

At 66, I have become accustomed to a term that shocked me when it first happened in my late 50's. A younger female store clerk called me "Dear." Wait ... that couldn't mean me. You call elderly women, those sweet, frail, white-haired ladies with canes "Dear." Alas, I must have suddenly grown a sign across my forehead proclaiming my advanced years as clerks everywhere felt comfortable in addressing me with the dreaded "D" word. Don't they realize I'm just a 16-year-old girl stuck in an aging body? Well, I'm strong, active, very healthy, and young at heart, so go ahead. Call me "Dear."


Yes, your story is very familiar to me. From the (seemingly sudden) use of make (I am glad to understand that I am not the only one who resents this...but I do understand they teach this as manners in the south...also reminds me of an abbreviation for mammary glands! ha!). Also the lighting being filtered in from the side ...and any mirror in such horrid does conjure up great alarm as to the passing of time! (of course, back in the day, it seemed to bring out the pimples as well..ha!). My hair salonist is also one who has alarmed me with this or that I guess I am not alone..but judging by your photo..I am in lovely company.


Edit to above..." (seemingly sudden) use of ma'am" (I need to proof before I post as spell check/typos alter my intended word at times!

Mary Kennedy

I'm so happy I discovered your blog, I'm enjoying the "word a day" and the glimpses into your life in France. Formidable!


Oh, how I love this post!! I think my big awakening came when I was about 35 and I was no longer asked for my ID when ordering a drink!!
Have a wonderful summer day!!

Tina Lovko

I so enjoy your website and "word a day." I returned to college at 50 and even though I think I look younger than my 50 years - the college kids quickly reminded me by referring to me as "ma'am" and "the lady over there." I am a Francophile and hope to visit again soon.


I remember so well the day my priest said,"You, as a woman..." and I quite literally turned around to see who else was in the room with us. I was 35. I still feel like a girl inside most of the time. My 88 year old mom says the hardest part of advancing in years is how others percieve you. Great post today. I'll think back on it as I take my mom and her 90 year old sister on a road trip.


I loved your post this morning and at 68 have experienced most of these terms. But living in the south, I simply think to myself, m'am is only a wonderful term of respect.
But I have a question, you wrote la nana is a young girl. But I called my Parisien grandmother Nana and always assumed that that and
Meme were the same.

Cheryl in STL

I really enjoyed this post! I still vividly rememeber the first time I was called "Madame"! It took me by surprise since I was only 23. But I was with the man I was dating and I assume that the salesman was playing it safe.

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you for sharing your stories! I feel better prepared to face the years ahead. As Jeanne said: *Many of us still feel so young at heart* and, as Janets mom said:  *The hardest part of advancing in years is how others percieve you.*

Claudette, I kept checking the names and everyone seems to be there. Am I missing someone?

Teresa, I am not sure where Cris lived. Hopefully she will see this note and answer.

Bruce, so good to see a man among all the women here! 

Jeanne, I am not sure about madame being the standard (in shops, for all customers). I still hear *mademoiselle*--though it is never directed my way.

Holly, I was thinking it might be Les Deux Magots (spelling?)

Mary, thanks. I enjoyed my visit to your site. 40 novels -- that is inspiring!

Louise, I do not know the answer. Can anyone help us? Are *nana* and *grandmother* the same? How best to translate une nana?

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

Great post Kristin. As a grand mere --- I am used to these feelings. It was an adjustment becoming a grand mere! But now I love it, and I am very proud.

I think it is the passage of time that is sort of scary....for everyone. Even my 10 year old grand daughter said "it's July? Time is moving fast!"

Be well & thanks so much!


An interesting note, in Québec the use of "mademoiselle" is considered old-fashioned. All women are "mesdames" unless you're talking to a child. Calling an adult woman "mademoiselle" might insult some Québécoises...

-patty near Bethesda, MD

Dear Ms. Kristin, (note all the mom's or married women in our somewhat southern neighborhood are called Ms.)

This story today is "the good stuff", truly observant, relatable & funny! We all deal with it--like a frozen moment in time, shocking at first, isn't it... This could be your first story in your new book as I am sure every person (note-neutral in gender) experiences it at some time or 'nother... I thought you should know this short story made me laugh out loud here in my little cubicle... Thank you for a funny on a Friday! -patty near Bethesda, MD

Cassie Alexandrou in Dallas, TX

Dear Kristin,

Today's post reminded me of something I saw in the subway years ago, while living in NY. As I would wait for the train on my way to work, I would often read some of the graffiti. One day I noticed that someone had scribbled, "I love grils" on the wall. A few days later, someone had written beneath that, " That's girls, stupid." The third scribble was the one that made me chuckle: "Yeah, but what about us GRILS?!"

Having just celebrated my 60th, I am no longer (by any stretch of the imagination) a girl...or a gril. Where does the time go?


Kristin, interesting post today. As usual. My grandchildren call me Mamie and it wasn't because I love the French language. The first one came along and as he began to talk, he couldn't say 'grammy' but could say mamie. Mamie it was and mamie it is. I love it, especially because of its French-ness!

Speaking of age-related times, I'll never forget the first time a grocery store clerk asked me if I was elegible for the senior discount. I went home and studied my face in the mirror to see if I looked 55. I was several years older than that at the time, but I still didn't want to look 55. And I STILL don't want to, but now I'm waaaaay beyond it!!

Cynthia Lewis in Salisbury, Eastern Shore of Maryland

Kristin, thanks for an amusing post today. It made me chuckle out loud! I have missed a lifetime of hairdresser experiences since I snip on my curly hair when it gets too unruly. At age seventy-five, I am long accustomed to the English equivalents of madame. In the French classes I take at a nearby university, the students call each other by first names but I am always "madame'. That's as it should be since I am probably older than some of their grandmothers! Bon weekend, Cynthia

Mim   (Richmond, VA)

I must say that I did have a startled moment the first time someone "ma'am"ed me when we moved south. I was only 27 years old at that time, lots younger than I am now. I'm used to it after all these years, but somehow being referred to as Madame when in France has a different ring than Ma'am (which I know is about being polite.)

Mary Keates

My neck...all I can see when in the hairdresser,is my neck.That's the first thing to go for women in our Irish/English heritaged family! To make it worse her chair is right next to the very large window in the salon.
Now I know why American hair dressers now serve wine..
You are beautiful Kristin,even if you were une mamie,like moi!


I burst out laughing when reading today's post. I certainly can relate to you, dear Kristin. When I was in my 30's, people still called me "Mademoiselle" pendant mon court séjour en France. So I got a shock of my life when a teenage boy selling gadgets in the street of Paris addressed me as..."Madame". Although I was already married with children, I felt so ...young (at heart) that I wondered if I looked that old for this foreign boy noticing it. LOL And JM was so funny for teasing you as "mamie". :-0


Hi dear Kristin,
What a (what another!) wonderful post that brought smiles to my day!
You are gorgeous and at 44 are in one of the happiest periods of life (and there are many!) Best part(!!!)-- you are enjoying it!
My sweet mom always used to say that age really a state of mind;as I journey through my troisieme age,I choose to believe and agree.
Bon journee!!!!!!!(always!)
Love, Natalia XO

Andrea Hughes

My 22-month-old Granddaughter Simone calls me "Mom" because she hears my daughter call me that! It thrills me no end to hear her say it and transports me back to the days when I was the young Mom of a 22-month-old! But being a grandmother is a precious gift that brings me so much joy whenever I spend time with her. It's been rejuvenating!! It's something to look forward to!! Really!!


Hi kristi.
Do not think the salon mirror applies only to you dames. We guys see ourselves after the haircut when the cutter sugguests a little rograine for the thinning hair on top or at least some volume gel. Salon mirrors make our faces, thin,old,droopy (guick some botox or emergency nip n' tuck) Ask Jean-Marc what he is thinking after his haircut. Cover all large mirrors.

Hilary Lange

Est ce possible d'avoir une liste des livres que vous lisez à votre club? Merci. À bientôt, Hilary

Mara in Wisconsin where it had been way too hot all week!

In 1970-71, when I was studying at U. of Strasbourg, I had a once-a-month babysitting job, filling in for an English au pair who deserved a day off. If I went to the épicerie with the kids, M'sieu who knew darn good and well I was single would call me "madame," I assume to avoid giving any other customers the impression I was an unwed mother!


Can't resist telling this oldie:
Graffito on subway wall: I like grils.
Below it: That's girls, stupid.
Below that: Whatabout us grils?

I seem to remember this was the basis of a science fiction story back then.


My most irritating and deflating moments (here in the States) are when I am addressed as "honey", or "sweetie" by young employees. I guess the only revenge is that they will know this feeling soon enough when they reach my physical age--67. I don't mind saying how old I am (even though it is somewhat startling, even to me)I just hate being treated like a doddering old lady. It all seems so disrespectful and demeaning. At least "Madame" doesn't seem respectful. Am I wrong? Do the youth of France have terms of "endearment" that are used with older people that are as demeaning as we encounter here? I've always been envious of the European view of the older woman. It doesn't seem so heavily influenced by the Hollywood culture of youth.

I enjoy your posts and love reading about cultural differences.

Judi Boeye Miller, Lake Balboa, CA

A number of years ago, my husband and I went to the movies. I went up to buy the tickets and the ticket salesperson asked me if I wanted to get the Senior Ticket! I was so surprised, thinking I looked as young as I felt -- but, that was inside -- on the outside, reality hit me 'upside the head' as they say! I didn't go up and buy the tickets for quite a while! It takes some getting used to how others see you in the ageing process, especially when you feel so young! I loved your story. I think everyone can relate to hearing those 'madame-type'labels - and sometimes, it's just wonderful, and other times it's just surprising - depending on time and circumstance! I liked all the different phrases you gave us that use 'dame'-very informative, and, also a funny story! You hit it again!

Pat - Roanoke, VA

Speaking of great ladies, here is a remembrance of Nora Ephron, who recently died, all too early, and who had plenty to say on the topic of women aging. The link to the interview at end of the New Yorker article is a must-see.

Cheers to all of us great ladies, no matter the age!, as we continue this adventure of life.

Pat - Roanoke, VA

p.s. Love your leading photo, a lovely gathering of les belles dames!


Hi, here is the dame in black from the Book Group in Marseilles.

For Hilary,this year, we read and discussed:
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Love Virtually by Daniel Glattauer
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Angela’s ashes by Frank McCourt
and finally...
Words in a French life by Kristin Espinasse!

I loved your story which reminded me how I hated and still hate being called Madame in Marseilles after living 21 years abroad. It makes me feel soooo old... and I feel so young inside!

Take care,

Jennifer in OR

le balayage--just had this done myself and feel younger overnight! haha. I am about the same age as you and truly relate to this experience of "La Dame"!! Really, I am that?

A fun and hopeful post, though, despite the reality of aging...blessings to you and your family today! love Jen


Yes, it is exactly the same being ma'am(ed) here. You get used it. I have a worse story. This year I let my dye grow out. J'aurai cinquante ans en novembre. It's very different. I moved to a new house last month and my neighbor (early 40s) dropped by with her 22 year old. She pointed out a portrait of me with long brown hair and said, "Look here's a picture of her when she was young" The photo was July 2008!


I'm swimming against the stream here, but I really appreciate being called "ma'am" and "Madame." To me each is a way of being polite, respectful.

Ronnie (Collierville, TN)

J'ai lu votre deux livres -- interessant et amusant. My little bit of French. I also enjoy your web site. Keep it going.

Nancy L.Painter

Fun and funny! I came to Aix-en-Provence, France to study in 1971 as a newlywed 19yr.old. My husband had another year to serve in Vietnam, so I thought why not continue my studies? An ever open endeavor, learning languages:). My husband's mom was called Nana, and my mother was called Grandmother. Think the kids just differentiated them that way. Now, for my own grand kids, they all call me Mimi...not because I'm the great grandmother...or that old, but because Mommy and Mami came out sounding too much alike.

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