The French word for "good"... and an amusing French idiosyncrasy!
Homesickness strikes during passport renewal at the American Consulate in France

How to say "to lose it" or "to come unhinged" in French?

Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseilles (c) Kristin Espinasse
One of the doors on the cathedral of Notre-Dame de la Garde in Marseilles. We visited there, yesterday, after renewing the kids' passports at the American consulate. See the giant gond on the right? See today's expression, below...

le gond (le gohn)

    : hinge

sortir de ses gonds = to come unhinged, to lose it

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

Pendant la periode de renovation, on peut être un peu sur les nerfs. C'est alors facile de sortir de ses gonds! During renovation, one can get a bit worked up. Therefore it is easy to come unhinged!

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

After writing Monday's post, my head was throbbing and my stomach, growling. Even though there wasn't a "real" story to labor over (just a series of dog pictures and French expressions), I am always surprised by the physical toll that writing takes and, when it is over, I feel like a wrung rag (and resemble one, too).

When the writing is finished I need to rest and refuel. I can't handle any more decision making or any more pressure, having pulled out all the stops to meet a self-imposed deadline. So when my 15-year-old appeared in my office (a corner nook of an increasingly cramped bedroom), asking whether a friend could stay the week (it's school vacation time here in France), I began to crack.

"No! Jackie," I growled. "Look around this room," I said, waving my arm from my desk, to the couch, to the bed, to the mattress on the floor. "We are already piled one on top of the other!"

"But Daddy said it's okay!" Jackie informed me.

But Daddy said it is okay? My blood begin to boil. I remember the last time we renovated a house, when--with no doors or windows and construction booby traps everywhere--the very same scenario played out. No! The kids can't have friends over for school vacation! I had said then, amazed at how differently my husband and I saw things.

Six years later, another renovation and we still see things differently! He just doesn't get it! NO. No sleepovers--at least not at our place!

"But Daddy said it is okay!" Jackie insisted, and when I went to argue back, my daughter's words stole my breath: "It's not a problem with him. But YOU are the problem!"

I left Jackie and stomped out of the room to find my easygoing let's invite the world to sleepover during major reconstruction husband. But I knew better than to try to talk sense into him. We would only end up in a shouting match and I didn't want the workers--who were busy tiling the bathrooms-- to be our audience!

And yet... amidst the drilling and the hammering a few more machines were now whirring as two mouths fired up like power saws. But when neither my husband nor I could get our points across (Him: well! if you prefer our daughter watching TV reality shows nonstop during vacation! Me: WHAT?! Of course I don't want that!!) we stomped off--each in opposite directions. 

I stomped out to the vegetable patch to get some green onions for a salad... and that is when I came face to face with the two workers who had been tiling the bathroom. They were seated at the picnic table, their ice boxes open, having lunch. They had already finished work, but I hadn't heard them over all the commotion in my room!

Surely they had heard the excited murmuring in the next room? I smiled sheepishly at the workers. Waving my green onions like a peace flag, I wished the men bon appétit.  

I meant to hurry and disappear, along with my onions and my pride, into the kitchen. Only, seeing the savory plates of the workers, my stomach began to tug at me. Apparently Smokey's stomach was tugging at him, too, for there he sat begging like a mendiant

I pushed the golden mendiant aside. "Off you go, Smokey..." and quickly took his place.

"I meant to tell you what a wonderful job you are doing here. Thanks!" I said to the workers, when my eyes tiptoed back over to those savory plates. "What's that you are eating?" I asked.

"Couscous!" The chef d'equipe said, pushing his plate toward me. 

"Oh, thank you, but I've got something cooking in the kitchen." In reality, there was nothing waiting for me to eat in the kitchen. As I lingered at the table, my blood sugar dropped and dropped (which explained my quick-to-snap temper, earlier. But I wasn't the only one with low blood sugar! My heart smarted again as I recalled my husband's words!).

"Have you ever tasted couscous?" The builder asked, pushing his plate all the way to me.

"Yes. Oh, thanks--but you need to eat your lunch!" I said, pushing the plate back.

"I've finished. Go ahead, mangez!" Monsieur insisted. I watched, eyes wide with hunger, as the plate was pushed back my way. I thought about all the snacks and meals and coffees and chocolates I have offered workers over the years, but never had the situation been reversed like this.... 

I picked up the spoon Monsieur was using and shoveled a bite into my mouth. A sensation of calm came over me. I pushed the plate back, but Monsieur insisted, "Go ahead. Mangez!"

I felt a little awkward but that didn't stop me lowering myself into the seat, beside monsieur, all the while aware of the situational comedy. It was funny how one situation had led to a completely unexpected turn of events: had someone told me twenty minutes earlier that in the next life scene I would be dining with our tile-layer, scarfing down his wife's lovingly-packed lunch, I would never have believed it. Impossible!

And yet, in life, all things are possible. With that hopeful thought, something inside me murmured: Go ahead. THIS is life! This is the authentic moment you are always pining after. So take the risk and finally live it! What are you afraid of?

"I picked up Monsieur's soup spoon. "Well, that ought to calm me down!" I admitted to Monsieur, who, had he indeed heard the bickering earlier would appreciate the comment.

He smiled. "How do you like it?" 

"It's good. Very spicy!"

The worker laughed. "It is Tunisian couscous. My mother makes it, in Tunisia, and my wife makes the sauce here in France."

I remembered both workers were Tunisian. That is when I realized why the other worker, whose seat I'd taken, had gone off to sit on a pile of logs. He must be a practicing Muslim, in which case  it would have been improper to sit with a woman. But this would not occur to me until after I had consumed the entire plate of couscous that his boss, the chef d'equipe, was currently offering me. Only then I would understand the compromising position I had put the men in, and further appreciate their graceful response.

Meantime, what with the colleague waiting at the wood pile, I began to worry that the boss needed to get back to work, too. I started shoveling in the couscous, unsure of whether it was impolite to hand him back an unfinished plate. As I struggled to finish, I noticed how a very large portion remained. That is when it hit me that the boss had not really finished his meal, as he said he had. He'd only finished half of it! He was just being polite by offering me the rest. But should I believe what my ever-anxious thoughts were telling me?

Oh you think too much. I told myself. Be simple and do what you are told. Eat this meal!

And so I shoveled down bite after bite until... what was that? I began chewing on a fleshy compound. It soon dawned on me that this was chicken skin--spat chicken skin! The boss must have rejected it earlier, pushing it to the side of the plate, as one does. And there, in my haste, I'd gone and pushed it back in with the rest!

I sat there in limbo, with the spat chicken skin tucked in my right cheek, unsure of whether to spit it out (as the boss had done...) and so embarrass him, or did I swallow it? Quickly I brushed my hand across my mouth, spat, and tossed the piece into the onion patch beyond (wincing at the assault this must have been to the tall green herbivores, who preferred compost). 

If the chef d'équipe noticed the skin-slinging gesture, he was discreet. I hurried to finish the couscous when Jean-Marc walked passed, stopping in his tracks for a double-take at the picnic scene.

Owing to the absurdity of the situation, there was no way, now, to maintain my cool silence (earlier I had vowed never to speak to my husband ever again!). But I would have to bow down, now, and explain the situation... or buck up and ride it out in pride, with a what are YOU looking at attitude.

But I knew that what Jean-Marc was looking at was slapstick funny. There was no way possible to maintain a holier-than-thou self-righteousness. I had to give in!

I pointed the giant soup spoon at the boss. "He offered it to me," I said, managing a crooked smile.

Jean-Marc laughed back, but his words were addressed to the chef d'équipe, who had handed over his lunch.

"You going to bill us for that one, too?"


Post note: once those carbohydrates went into effect, my perspective changed a bit. The idea of having Jackie's friend over, during renovation, didn't seem like the end of the world, after all. So what if there wasn't an extra bed. The girls could sleep on the kitchen floor or in the bath tub. What was the big deal after all? (As it is, we're sticking with plan A. No sleepovers yet! ;-)

French Vocabulary

mangez (manger) = eat!
bon appétit! = enjoy your meal!
un mendiant = beggar 
le chef d'équipe = crew chief

Hollyhocks on Re Island (c) Kristin Espinasse
Hollyhocks on Isle of Ré. Photo taken last summer.

Good News: Very excited to tell you that France Today magazine is about to relaunch into a worldwide publication and that I have been given the chance to write the last page column titled Le Dernier MotClick here to view the trial offer


Student for hire (c) Kristin Espinasse
Slices of French life. Photo taken last summer. The handwritten sign on the bottom reads: Young serious law students looking for housework and babysitting jobs. I am experienced, dynamic, and responsible. Available every day from 3:30. Contact me. You see these signs in the baker's, in the superette, and in any number of little shops in France. Have you ever put up a sign like this? What did it say?

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