How to say "endangered species" in French? Plus a cultural snafu?
"a sa guise" - a wonderful expression, but what does it mean?

How to say kleptomaniac in French?

La Grotte restaurant in Marseilles (c) Kristin Espinasse
La Grotte - the restaurant at the end of Marseilles located dans les Calanques de Callelongue (les Goudes)

un kleptomane (klepto-man)

    : kleptomaniac

Audio File: Listen to the sentence below: Download MP3 or Wav file

Un kleptomane ne peut se retenir de dérober des objets, la plupart du temps sans aucune valeur. A kleptomaniac cannot help himself from lifting objects that are, for the most part, worthless.

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

After an emotional visit to the American Consulate, we swung by my mother-in-law's, buckled her into the car, and drove to the end of Marseilles where the coastline rumbles out to sea, the huge limestone rocks meeting a turquoise eternity.

We arrived at the last port, "Callelongue", where a couple handfuls of fishing boats rested along the tiny bay. Facing the boats, there was our longtime favorite restaurant, La Grotte.

Ça fait du bien. Ah, ça fait du bien! My mother-in-law and I agreed: getting out, with family, did wonders for the morale! But our spirits were about to be stirred up once again....

It happened when Jean-Marc shared an update about a certain someone. The news was innocent enough but my focus automatically shifted to my mother-in-law, who I knew would self-detonate in a matter of seconds.

One.... two... three! I listened as my normally lovable mother-in-law made a cutting and unsavory remark, before staring off in the opposite direction of her son. (Leading me to speculate that older people don't roll their eyes, they dignifiably remove them from the annoyance).

Ha! My eyes hurried over to Jean-Marc to witness his predictable reaction: "Maman, is it really necessary to make such a remark each time? Why don't you just keep it to yourself?!"

Michele-France mumbled something loud enough to solicit another peeved response from her firstborn. Well, if he didn't want to hear such a remark, he needn't have brought up a touchy subject, my mother-in-law insinuated. Things were heating up now!

As my eyes traveled eagerly back-n-forth I caught myself enjoying some guilty entertainment. But it was a relief, for once, not to be on the receiving end in the word-slinging arena! Besides, I might learn a tip or two from my mother-in-law--on how to dish it back!!

Guilt won out and I quickly jumped in to defend my belle-mère. This time Max and Jackie's eyes jumped in too as we followed the grumpy dialogue. Wishing to avoid a commotion (the tables all around were beginning to take notice) I begged everyone to calm down and try to be normal like the rest of the French families, who were enjoying their public outing in a good-mannered, typically reserved way.

Why couldn't we be normal like everyone else? (The previous meltdown happened when one of our teens would not stop saying the "b"--or "bouton" (pimple) word, thus breaking a rule enstated by the weak-stomached member of our family (no potty talk at the table, either, I'm always reminding everyone!). Allez. ça suffit. ARRET! Quit it!

Soon we were all on our best behaviors again, letting go of the worries and irritations of the week in time to enjoy plates of deep fried supions and even a round of ice cream sundaes! What a lovely lunch, I thought, standing up to stretch as Jean-Marc paid the bill. Only the newfound peace was short won....

I watched in disbelief as my mother-in-law picked up the table's ashtray. "Do you think I could take this?" she asked her son. My eyes were glued to the cendrier which hovered dangerously close to my mother-in-law's wide open purse.

I thought about what a dupe I'd been to sit there defending my rascal of a mother-in-law... when, in the end, she was about to pull one on us--"one" of those social don'ts that no longer seems to faze people like her. People like her who have already been labelled or judged or misunderstood or sadly shunned to the point where no matter what they do they're damned.  

I knew I needed to be understanding but despite all my efforts I had not yet, in my 45 year experience, evolved that far spiritually. It was still very important to my well-being to control all outcomes or, at times like this--as a desperate last resort--to keep up appearances!

"No! No she can't take that! " I implored my husband. "Tell your mom she can't steal the ashtray!"

Jean-Marc, caught in the middle, spoke firmly. "Laisse-le, Maman." Leave it, Mom.

But wasn't that, after all, a little hypocritical to judge my mother-in-law for wanting to swipe restaurant property? Hadn't I done the same at some point in the past? What about that time when, after a couple or 5 glasses of wine, I slipped a wonderful clay cendrier into my purse on leaving a historic restaurant in our old neighborhood? Who was I to be so shocked by my mother-in-law's simple desire? At least she had the politesse to ask if she could steal it!

"I should have just slipped it in my purse," Michèle-France explained, "and not bothered you about it."

Or was it pride that had me wanting to control the situation? We weren't going to risk our reputations, were we, over a cheap cigarette dump! Frustrated, I looked at the pitiful ashtray. It was only a standard glass cendrier. Rather than cause a scene, we could stop by the dollar store, on the way back--or any local quincaillerie--and buy her one! Or I could send her the pretty ashtray that we inherited from Maggie and Michael when we moved to our new house. If my mother-in-law wanted an ashtray, she could at least have a beautiful one. It certainly wasn't worth the risk of condemnation to steal this lousy thing! 

Michele-France spoke innocently to her son. "Do you think you could ask the waiter if I can have it?"

Oh gosh! This was almost as bad! She wasn't going to ask the waiter! This was the point at which I realized it must be pride that was shuffling all my emotions. If only I could learn that lesson, which began 10 years ago. And what little progress has been made...

"Jean-Marc!" I said, hoping to influence him. But my husband grew frustrated with the ridiculous situation and I watched as his turn came to self-detonate.

What a ridiculous situation indeed. And to think, up til now I wasn't in trouble with anybody! I had set out to mind my own business--pausing only to help defend my mother-in-law (that was it! Last time I'm sticking up for her--THE RASCAL!--only to end up on the attack end!)

It was too late now to try to keep up appearances. My husband threw up his arms, "C'est le monde à l'envers!" With that he stormed out of the restaurant, leaving me to translate--and then contemplate--his departing remark: "It's a crazy world!" Indeed, it's the world upside down.

Michèle-France wasn't fazed, but lingered suspiciously close to that ashtray before I snapped, "Come on, let's get out of here!"

"I'll just rest here until he brings the car around," my mother-in-law casually mentioned, pretending to ignore the ashtray. 

Oh no she wouldn't. Not if I could help it! With that, I coaxed the little trouble maker away from the table and its treasure, past the discreetly indiscreet restaurant audience, and out to the curbside where we waited for our ride.  

I couldn't wait to see how my husband would navigate... what with the world being as he said,"upside down". I guessed we had better put our seatbelts on! 


French Vocabulary

la grotte = cave

ça fait du bien = that feels so good

la maman = mom

la belle-mère = mother-in-law

le bouton d'acné = pimple
allez / ça suffit / arrête! = come on. that's enough. stop! 

le supion = une petite seiche =small cuttlefish

la quincaillerie = hardware and junk store

c'est le monde à l'envers! = this is crazy! (or this makes no sense!) 


"Cabanes de Pêche" or Fishermen's cottages in Marseilles (c) Kristin Espinasse
Cabanes de pêche. On the way to the restaurant, there are these classic fisherman's cabanes--used nowadays by families who spend the day at the beach. (The colorful doors open up and the family has access to everything from beach mats to little cooking stoves on which to fry merguez sausages for lunch!)

Kristin Espinasse (c) Jean-Marc Espinasse

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Pat Cargill

Oh my, this is too funny and I have "been there" with my own Grandmother, who felt entitled to take anything she pleased from a restaurant table. You will one day look back on this with amusement, remembering chere belle-mère. Life is funny and weird and can be decidly upsidedown.


Darling Kristi,

Thank you Honey for sharing this precious story. What a memory for the family. I remember when I was in France for 6 weels in 1979 - I came home with complete menu's from all of the fabulous meals I enjoyed, plus posters on the shop windows, maps, ashtrays, towels from the Ritz in Paris, Carlton in Nice and on and on. I spent the next few years covered in my bed on certain nights with all of my stash as I dreamed of my next trip. I still ask the shops for their posters, I just can't help myself. All of this mapping and dreaming is what sparked the flame that put you where you are today. I have repented, last September I didn't find one artifact in my suitcase when I returned to Mexico.

I am so happy you shared this story, which I had heard in full detail last week on the phone when you were pondering outing your dear Mom-in-law. Viva la France!!!



Winn Gregory

You can't outdo yourself every week. Or can you. This is genius like Seinfeld taking nothing and doing an entire show about nothing. We all dedicate a lot of energy to what we believe is right. Especially when it is repeated and predictable the event grows ever larger. All of our family were taught you did not take anything ever ever. Once my mother took a little slip of a plant from the roadside in Florida and we all thought we would be arrested. The Golden Rule is all you need. If you ask and they say no you then know it was wrong to invoke the five finger requisition and as you said big deal... just go buy one. If you ask and they say yes how nice and you feel good about yourself worth far more than the cendrier. Finally yes my final comment for today whenever these squabbles and negative events take place you will remember the day forever thus hanging your memories on the event. Otherwise the day will sink into oblivion like many others have. There is a positive side to negative things, of course. God bless you, your belle mere, and Jean Marc l'homme de monde envers and any part of France la belle mere visits. haha. Winn

Winn Gregory

oh and I think your real mere is tres kool aussi, posters from France? Good Lord somebody needs to clean up. C'est vrai, you and your ma are two to draw to. Her place in Heaven is way still there.

Eileen - Charlottesville, VA

Hi Kristin,
I love those little fisherman's cabanes and the photo of you is gorgeous! You haven't changed in 7 years! My husband always takes the beer coasters!

Lisa - Windermere, Florida

Thank you darling Kristin for these wonderful stories and pictures! You bring so much to my day! I'm sending you a boatload of joy!

Heather in Arles

Krisitn, your writing is absolutely wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Thank you for all that you do. And now I have to convince my honey to take me to La Grotte!!


Darling Kristi,

Just this very moment as I was re-reading your great post I had the thought that we should all send our beautiful, one of a kind, and precious Michele-France some souvaniers (sp?) from all over the world where we your readers have enjoyed so many funny stories of this special lady. My heart and mind is so full of memories that our Michele-France has brought into my life over the past 20 years. After all she was the one who welcomed you into her home with so much love and compassion when J-M first met you. Michele-France only speaks a few words of English but each time I see her she repeats over and over, 'I love my Kristi'.

So I'm thinking can you imagine what joy it would be for her to receive little tiny packages at her apartment in Marseille by the sea. Why don't you post her address so we can all thank her for giving us this wonderful French life through her raising of the perfect man for our Darling Kristi.

Ashtrays, candy, postcards, whatever your area in the world is known for - then we'll have to buy her a world globe - she has been a widow for around 30 years so the attention would be so good for her. Jewelry is great too!!!



p.s. You will never know how much I love and respect Michele-France!


'a round of ice cream sundays.' Were those 'sundaes' that you had on Sundays'?!!

Margaret Dennis

Kristin, I am sorry but I cannot stop laughing at your expense. I could just see this whole scene. My guess is that you were beet red and the kids were ready to crawl under the table. Of course, it is your writing that makes the story even better.

So, when is the next family outing?

Margaret in springish Durham.

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Nick. Im busy editing the story now... and will gladly fix the sundays!

Mom, there you go again! (But it is a lovely thought!)


Hi Kristin----Family. What can I say, I have some characters in my closet also. Be well.

Pennie in Canada

I read all your posts; I don't often comment, but always love and am touched in one way or another by your stories of everyday life with your beautiful family. I'm into your second book now, and I chuckled when I saw the word ceinture, and 3-yr. old Max teaching you how to pronounce it. Just the other day while reminding my husband Martin to buckle up (there are fines you know), I said, "I'll look up seatbelt in French and then it will be more fun to remind you." Good timing. Just 12 more "sleeps" until we fly to Paris!! Blessings to you, Kristin!


It makes me think, as I approach middle age, of whether I will grow old gracefully or just not care what anyone else thinks. I am always torn between the two. You haven't helped my decision at all, but you have made me laugh out loud!!! xoxoxox

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

Hi Kristin --- I loved this story. Very funny, and interesting. In counseling, we used to always say --- where's the fun in disfunctional? Ha -- it's rare to find a "functional" family. And much less interesting.

My mother in law tried to take a candle holder off our table at a Holiday Inn restaurant. She blew out the flame, then put it in her tote bag. We were suprised when we spotted the smoke coming out of her bag. She was so upset --- she quickly took out the candle holder and fled. Ha. I don't think she tried that again.

Stay well!

Wells Edmundson

Kristin: this may be the face of dementia...your belle-mere is losing her social inhibitions. A visit to her doctor is in order to exclude treatable causes such as thyroid, B-12 deficiency, brain pressure, etc. but it may turn out to be Alzheimers. 50% of adults by age 85 have this. Kind regards
Wells Edmundson, MD

Pat from Oregon

I wondered if you would actually put your mother-in-law's address out for the public . . . as fun as Jules' idea is, it could end up being a bust! I can just see bags of goodies flooding her front door - sort of like that scene in "Miracle on 49th Street" when the post office pours bag after bag of letters into the court room.


Our dear Kristi,
Such beautiful pictures(YOU!)and a wonderful story to start our day with a smile!
My belle mere did the same thing; in truth,I've been guilty,too.That's what makes this story so gives us the chance to laugh at ourselves.(and in my case,not to judge others)
Thank you!!!
Love, Natalia XO

Diane Young

I think your mother-in-law suggesting that she could ask the restaurant for the ashtray seemed reasonable. We've all been somewhere, sometime, when we wanted something as a souvenir and it's nice to ask for it, even if we don't always do it. Poor Jean-Marc was embarassed by Maman. That's the sad part. You need to stay out of the picture, as the kids did, and let the mother and son resolve it. Hope the food was good!

Kristin Espinasse

Diane, Jean-Marc wasnt embarrassed at all. But you are right, I needed to stay out of the picture! Will see about rewriting that paragraph, to make it clearer about who was trying to keep up appearance (and it wasnt my husband!) Thanks.

Herm in Phoenix, AZ

Salut Kristin,

Great writing today! Of course, I’ve never done any of that kind of stuff.

In the vocabulary section: Did you mean Ça fait to bien or Ça fait du bien or do I have another phrase to remember?

À plus tard


only once did I "steal" from a restaurant table: a tiny little pot pour le lait du the. Felt guilty all day, but I still enjoy it 20 years later...
Asking permission may not be the answer :when my brother naively asked if he could take a plate (qui portait son prenom) they said O.K. but later he noticed they had added 16 euros to his bill...

Marcia Douglas

When I was a teen and on a French class trip to a local French restaurant, several of us took those snail holders you're given to eat snails with. I still feel guilty about that. In all likelihood, it's never wrong to do what is morally right and the ones most affected would be the younger generation looking on, who might think it's ok, if the grown-ups think it's ok. Still a funny story! P.s. love the blue shutters and blue doors, so much so, I'm going to paint my shutters on my pale yellow house a soft French blue this summer. :-)

Nancy L.

Oh Kristi...LOVE that photos of you on that easternmost tip of Marseilles. When we were visiting back in 2011, we went hiking along the cliffs there with our friends.(We also made the trip to see you in St. Cecil Les Vignes during that visit) I adore the way the little boats are pulled up on the rocks --I took several photos of them at the time. Ahhh, thanks for the memories xoNancy


Bonjour Kristi, Loved the story, and have been in that situation with friends in college. Since Max and Jackie were with you, you could have told your la belle mère that stealing would not be a good example to the kids. I did like her idea of asking the waiter, at least then she would either have a gift, or know it was wrong to take it.

Bill Facker

How fun is this .. a Mischievous Grandma, the embarrassed Daughter in Law, a Son overwhelmed by the scenerio, with Jackie and Max no doubt enjoying the show .. another fascinating portrait of real life, and that's what makes your writing an A+ !

Sandy Vann

Delightful in every word and everyone has written, exquisite writing Kristin. Makes us all smile and reflect.
Family stories, often the very best.


A perfectly delightful story! There are no perfect families, you know. That's why it's fun to read about (and watch) other people's flawed families! I've been to that little spot... for a wonderful lunch. I have a photo of those boats. Thanks so much, Kristin! Keep it up! Reading your stories and looking at your photos takes me back and makes me miss Provence.

Cynthia Lewis (Eastern Shore of Maryland)

Hilarious!! Mille mercis! ( An ashtray purchased from la quincaillerie just wouldn't be the same).

joie in Carmel, Ca.

I think we have all "helped ourselves" to something from a restaurant at one time. Did anyone think to ask her why she wanted the ash tray? Perhaps she wanted it to remember a time the family was all together in Marsielles at their favorite restaurant. Just a thought......and how does one describe "rascal" en francais?


Your story brought back a bittersweet memory for me. The star was my own Mother-in-law in a lovely little country inn. We'd gone, all of the family, for Sunday lunch. At the end of the meal my MIL started loading things from the table: salt/pepper shakers, the ashtray, even the cloth napkins into her bag. My brother-in-law was so appalled he grabbed all of the silverware still on the table and dumped it into her tote. My MIL, who was quite ill at the time, but had not shared that bit of info. with us became terribly upset, burst into tears and dumped everything out of her bag back onto the table. I was a new bride at the time and wondered what I could do to "save" our family lunch. My father-in-law said not one single word. He simply reached across the table to his wife of many years, took her hand and escorted her out of the restaurant. Now, I'm a MIL myself and think fondly of the sweet woman who walked with such dignity out of that small country inn on that sunny Sunday so many years ago.
Not "the best lunch" ever for our family but one which taught me a lot about family dynamics and the sad perils of aging. Thank you for a beautiful story. BTW, Marie-France isn't really a rascal at all. She seems so very familiar to me... XO

Judi Boeye Miller, Lake Balboa, CA

It seems I had a very different reaction from many of your readers. I didn't think this was a 'very funny story.' I was filled with anxiety almost the entire time - the story was full of anxiety - your writing really showed every bit of that and it showed the emotion just amazingly clear. It made me so anxious, I had to keep re-reading lines to know where I was in the story (not that it was confusing, more probably to calm myself) Amazing writing. Not funny, but very, very impactful. I think we have all been in a public place with a terribly awkward, embarrassing, strained situation where we just want to make it all right... and, it's just tough! I bet it was quiet in the car ride home! Glad all are safe and ready to face another day. Things do look better in the morning! Excellent post!

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Luci, for such a tender and beautiful story. I need to look up the word :rascal: which I may want to change (I use it here in a tender sense, aka the little rascals, but perhaps it is too strong a word.

Faye, so funny about the candle with the smoke coming out of the purse! :-)


Thanks for confessing your peccadillo, Kristin - I think that made a difference. Obviously, life in France was desperately poor during and after the war and such a jarring experience as yr. lunch must have been an uncomfortable reminder of that era. We have been lucky.

Joan Linneman

I found Luci's story compelling too. An incident like that shows how fragile we all really are, one step away from embarrassing ourselves in public due to advanced age or illness, or being the person who needs to handle the situation without destroying the dignity of a loved one.
BTB,why are there still ashtrays in rsetaurants? I though French cafes and restaurants were now smoke free...


Is she a kleptomane, or did she just want that ashtray for some reason known to her? There is a big difference.

Robyn O'Neill

I wonder if my grandfather saw those wonderful tall houses in Marseilles when he lived there as a young man around 1900. I've never been there but now I really would like to see that city and taste the bouillabaisse that he talked about.

Kathleen from Connecticut

Taking things from restaurants is not just for the elders. I remember my mother wanting a plate from a restaurant in New York state. We were with business associates of my fathers and my mother wanted a dessert plate. Well the boss decided that my mother should have it , so he held it up in the air and proceeded to clean it off and then handed hit to my other to take. We were so embarrassed, that needless to say, we did not take it.

So tell us over what Jean-Marc and his mother were arguing. You left us a cliff hanger.



I imagine that was private beeswax, Kathleen, since it didn't directly involve Kristin. Her family story was personal enough! Admitting her peccadillo opened up the space for half the commentators to confess to casual cafe crime, which is eye-opening. And strange how many people thought it so funny when it really wasn't. Her belle dame et mari both behaved badly and she is the one who has to live with them. How long can she keep making excuses for him? Can't regular readers descry an underlying pattern of stress past her pretty game face? It seems we are addicted to cheap entertainment.

Kristin Espinasse

Jeanne, the word of the day, kleptomane, lightly referred to the ashtray that I--and years later my mother-in-law, set our sights on. Your question, and the other responses here, make me realize that she may have been motivated by sentimental reasons. In any case,this story, as with all the stories, is meant to be humorous.

Kristin Espinasse

Kathleen, re who were they fighting about? No cliffhanger there, just protecting the identity of the certain someone ...


I also had a different take on this story, even though "kleptomaniac" is in the title. I wonder why Jean-Marc would bait his mother in a public place, or any place for that matter. He knew she would take the bait. I think she simply used the idea of taking the ashtray as a way to get back at him. Aaand, since she is an old woman, as am I, everyone thinks it's cute except for the one person who thinks she may have dementia. One reader wondered if she, herself, would grow old gracefully or just tell things the way they are. I didn't know the two were mutually exclusive.

By the way, what is the French way to express "baiting" and "taking the bait"?

Jan  Hersh

Now I would love to hear the story from HER point de vue!

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

It seems a sign of your increased use of French that your spelling errors use the French spelling when writing in English.

Sollicite instead of solicit.

Hard for me to understand why it is such a problem to take an ashtray from a restaurant. In my younger days, the restaurant, in my area, would see it as a bit of marketing, just like taking one of the matchbooks printed with their name, sitting in a bowl as one exited. Rare to find matchbooks in a bowl now. Instead, a business card to take home.

Times have changed, with the image of smoking so altered? Those little items are viewed as so valuable and not marketing items? I suppose so.

Asking the restaurant staff if it was okay to take it seems so rational, if you, Kristin, were so upset all of a sudden. I think I was not quite understanding the anger between mother and son (the topic not wanted) or why she is a "people like her who have already been labelled". Rather mysterious comment to me.

The humor is all in your huge reaction to her small action. And the world upside-down, in the duaghter-in-law telling her mother-in-law how to behave, rather than support her in pubic. Leaving the son to choose his best way out of a crazy upset.


I like Joan's idea about belle dame's behaviour. Kristin's take in hindsight is sweet but may be a bit generous. Sarah La Belle's comment is alarming - public theft is a 'small action' and K. should support it?

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