A Deeply Meaningful French Word

A Christmas story filled with French words

Pointu boats in Bandol, decorated in Christmas lights (c) Kristin Espinasse at

I have a little gift for you today. The gift of language. Today's word of the day--make that "words" of the day, for there are many here--is in the story below. You'll also learn about this photo--snapped December 19th in the town of Bandol.

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

Driving round and round the seaside town of Bandol, I heard a faint mumbling beneath my breath: 

"But of course there's no parking--everyone's set out to do their gift shopping just like you!"

Stalled at yet another crosswalk, herds of shoppers passing by my car, coats and purses scraping against my headlights, I looked up at the giant Santa. He seemed as troubled as I (just look at those eyes!).

Claras war

Troubled and nervous! With the rain pouring down on my windshield, I proceeded to the next stop--and yet another crosswalk. It was tricky to see the pedestrians--given their knack for appearing from behind dark corners and landing in the middle of the street! 

With stress and frustration mounting, I had an urge to peel out of traffic and head for a quiet place to wait things out. I had one hour until my daughter's school bus arrived. Instead of using it wisely (to hunt for presents), I could use it indulgently (to pout!).

Now was a good time for a pep talk!

Look, there's a fishing and tackle store! You'd never have seen it if it weren't for this parking dilemma! You're sure to find something for Jean-Marc in there... One less thing to worry about! See what happens when you consider the bright side of things? GOOD happens!

My emotions jumped from despair to the very heady feeling I had now--that of espoir! Hope born of humility--for isn't that how it works? Put aside doubt (Will I ever find a gift?) and pride (And not just any gift--the perfect gift!) and intolerance (why am I not finding parking NOW)--and experience grace!

Grace indeed! Not only did a parking spot appear, but so did a peaceful and inspiring scene! I locked my car door and hurried over to the dock, just a few feet away, to snap a photo of some old fishing boats. Pointus! Their little masts were lined with Christmas lights.

The scene! And the colors! That blue, that gold. It was right out of a Van Gogh Starry Night painting.

I pulled my new Smartphone out of my coat pocket and approached the line of boats. Clicking on the camera app I knew chances were slim, this time, that a grumpy homeowner would pop out of one of those port windows and scold me for filming

With my umbrella teetering on my shoulder, my hands were free to take several pictures before turning toward the boutique-lined streets, opposite the port.

My former cares had completely fallen away as I marched down the street to collect Jean-Marc's gift. I still had no idea what the gift was, but felt confident of finding it in the tackle shop I'd spotted while stuck in traffic. And to think what a pathetic doubter I'd been! All it had taken was a slight tweak to my attitude. How well I'd handled that! How wise I had become! 

Rounding the corner I stopped dead in my hi-falutin' tracks. Oh no! The tackle store was closed!

C'est pas vrai! Now what to do? That old familiar grumbling returned, a little more colorful than before--as echoed in the words of the grumpy shoppers who passed me by: "@$#! Why are shops closing at 5pm, days before Christmas?!"

 Yes! Dagnabbit! Why indeed? Now what was *I* to do?

As I stared at the cobblestone pavement, watching puddles form where pavers were missing, a little inkling came along--hoppity hop hop--like a one-legged bird.

The little inkling said: "Excuse me, Mam, but maybe you need to retake The Test?"

"The Test?"

"Yes, Mam," Little Inkling said, reaching for the toe of my boot to balance his one-legged self. "See, so far it's been easy. You remembered to slow down, to breathe. You readjusted your attitude. You gleefully snapped up that parking spot and enjoyed the impressionistic scene just beyond it... but somewhere between there and here you--if you don't mind my saying--somewhere along the line you got a little sidetracked.


I thought back to all those shoppers I'd skipped past... and that smug feeling I had at being the one person around here who knew just where she was headed! How impatient I'd become when that slowpoke (the one back there with the sagging bonnet and cane) dawdled in front of the chemiserie, blocking my way to the tackle store! 

A tackle store that was now closed! Shoot! If I'd only sped it up a bit, I'd have made it in time!

"No!" said Little Inkling, hopping excitedly around my foot. "That's not the answer."

"Well, what IS the answer?" 

As Little Inkling and I stood debating, the one towering over the other, SlowPoke--with her saggy bonnet and noisy cane--had eclipsed us! She hobbled up the street, the picture of perseverance.

Looking back down to Mr. Inkling, I laughed. "Well, I thought I'd learned to trust in the outcome. But now that this store is closed, it's true--I'm riddled with doubt again! How will I ever finish my Christmas shopping on time? I guess now's the real test--to trust another opportunity will soon appear."

(Here, Little Inkling cleared his throat...)

"Oh yes," I remembered, "And, meantime, to be patient with others along the way!"

"Très bien!" the little one-footed creature said. And, turning his beak up the path, my eyes followed his gesture until I saw a glowing light in the quincaillerie, or hardware store.

"Aha! I have just the idea for Jean-Marc! Oh, thank you, Little Inkling! Thank you!"

I hurried up the street, pausing cautiously at the crosswalk. As I stood looking left, right, and left again, ever the prudent American, someone leaped off the curb from behind me, landing right in the middle of the street!

I shook my head in appreciation, watching as SlowPoke traversed the rue, just like any French pedestrian worth her salt. Crippled or not, they sure know how to stop traffic!

Post note: the names of the characters in today's story have been changed, in respect of their privacy. But I can share with you their professions:

  • "Little Inkling" is a spokesperson for the non-profit "A Fish's Rights!" (spends his weeknights in front of the tackle shop, distracting would-be shoppers!).
  • "SlowPoke"-- she's a B-movie stuntwoman and a seamstress at the chemisier. 
  • The character known as "Kristin" goes by "The Birthday Girl" in real life--or at least on Sunday--when she'll turn 46! 

All three wayward souls wish you happy holidays--may the coming week bring you peace and joy! Thank you for reading and for all the encouragement you have sent me in 2013. I hope these stories encourage you, too.


la quincaillerie = hardware store
l'espoir = hope
un pointu = classic Mediterranean fishing boat
c'est pas vrai! = No way!
la chemiserie = shirt shop

Listen to A French Christmas and "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 


Picture taken up the street from the tack shop. My perfect birthday gift would be for all those chairs to be filled with those who read and enjoy this blog! Let's see about a meet-up here, in the new year!

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


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Kevin Ferry

Great story, and a wonderful lesson, especially for us New Yorkers!
My sister-in-law, a retired French teacher in the states, sent me the site subscription link, and I'm glad that she did.
You do a wonderful job! As a retired English teacher, I appreciate your knack for writing.
Merry Christmas!


Joyeuses Fetes and Bon Anniversaire, Kristin!

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristin,
Love your story today! Joyeux Noël!

Patricia Sands

I love Bandol! The best salade Nicoise I ever ate was in that lovely little town. A meet-up there next year would be fabulous! If it is early June, I might just make it! Joyeux Noël, Kristin!

Geraldine Ventura

As busy as this time of year is, I wat to wish you a very happy and blessed birthday, Kristin, even though it is early! Start celebrating now!

Bill in St. Paul

Happy Birthday, Kristin. After 43 years of marriage I still haven't learned to shop for my wife's Christmas presents early, I guess I like the pressure of last minute shopping but it doesn't improve my choice of presents any. Merry Christmas!!

Jane Thomson

Particularly superb photos today - you really have an eye.
And, incurable English teacher that I am, and realizing I should give you pass as you live in a francophone environment, I'll gently point out that you meant "faint" not "feint" in your text!
Bonnes fêtes!!

Pati Aine

Just as I was about to wallow in my Christmas blues,your post and this picture brought warmth to my heart!

Thank you, Kristen.

Karen, Towson, Md.

Love and thanks to you and to all of the commenting friends and family for another year of FWAD joy. Let's all carry Little Inkling around with us in generosity of sprit, during this magical season.

[By the way, Kristin, nice smartphone photos! Do you carry your camera less these days because of that?]

Have a wonderful birthday, Kristin!

John Banks

Thanks once again, Kristin, for a charming story of life in France and your very personal perspective. I always appreciate reading your stories. Wishing you and yours the best of holidays!
28330 Charbonnieres, France

Judi, Washington DC

Happy birthday, Kristin, and thank you for the timely reminders in today's's as if you have the birthday, and we get the gifts! Bless you and keep you well in 2014, and all your family, too. Joyeux Noel et Bonne Année!

Jan greene

Merry Christmas ! And Merci for a year of posts and discoveries of spirit and soul. Happy birthday! We are both Christmas babies, but I much older! Give yourself a big hug for your courage and love sent to so many readers!

Ken Scupp

Joyeux Noel, Bonne Année & Bon Anniversaire! Merci for all your thoughtful blogs throughout the year. As we are planning a trip to France next year, a meet-up sounds wonderful. It would be great to meet you and see Jean-Marc again. Please write more about his vineyard project. Best regards

Linda Williams Rorem

Ah, 'Tis the season to breathe deep, relax, and believe in miracles! Http://

Andrea Robinson

You are very wise indeed...thank you for reminding us all to learn the lessons that are around us all the time. Merry Christmas. It has been years since I have been to the South of France with it's wonderful bright colors and sun. I seem to always return to Paris. Maybe some day soon I will be back to the South. Your photos are such a wonderful reminder to me of how lovely it is.

Fay Plauche' Butler

Loved the boat pic. Our French forefathers built boats in Le Seynne, France and New Orleans, LA USA more than a century ago.

(In placing things in time, I must remind myself of my own age and things are farther back than I think. ;o)

Fay Plauche' Butler


Hi Kristin. Another little typo to add to the one pointed out by Jane, above. Change 'lept' to 'leapt.'

Have a Happy Christmas.


Hi Kristin. Another little typo to add to the one pointed out by Jane, above. Change 'lept' to 'leapt.'

Have a Happy Christmas.


merci beaucoup Kristin, One day at a time, one moment at a time helps us focus on what's really important ! ce qui compte,
Joyeux Noël...

et je voulais dire que je recommande souvent votre blog aux amis et ils l'apprécient beaucoup! Merci, Margot

Alanna from Dallas

Happy Birthday! I keep thinking you'll catch up to me in years but alas, I seemed to have jumped ahead a bit lately! Tant pis! Remember, with age comes wisdom. least I hope it does!

Joelle Andree Mandica Ramsey

Kristin, merci pour votre magnifique blog.
Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee!

David DeCrane

In your first sentence you mean "faint," not "feint."


What a wonderful set of metaphors for the path to happiness. Full of rich language. May that force (of Little Inkling) stay with you (and may I absorb some of it!). Thank you.

Cynthia Gillespie-Smith

Kristi, quel plaisir de voir les belles photos de Bandol! Wish I were there! Thanks for your insight and inspiration, as always. Joyeux Noel et très bon anniversaire.


Kristin, Loved your story today! A good reminder to slow down and observe the beauty all around us. Love you photo of the boats. I saw boats decorated like that in tropical Honolulu last Christmas, Such a nice surprise. Hope to visit Bandol one day it looks charming . Joyeux Noel a ta famille!

Sherry in Kentucky

I have been reading your writing since the beginning. You have grown and grown and grown both as a writer and as a person. This was so beautifully written that I could feel myself taking a deep breath, slowng down and really beginning to see the possibilities. Little Inkling, indeed. Meet up in the new year? I think I see my chair right there in the middle. Joyeux Noel to you and your beautiful family.

Jeanne Robinson

I loved the story but must admit to a bit of distress about the boat picture. There appears to be an American flag on a mast in the center of the picture, but it is upside down. An upside down flag is an international symbol of distress and not to be used lightly. Can this just be a simple mistake? I love my country and our flag. It hurts my heart to see our flag disrespected.



I should be sitting in that wonderful scene below the church in Bandol right now. What a beautiful story you have found within your lovely mind for all of us this morning. Please return and take more photos of Bandol and the boats this Christmas. How on earth did you remember about having a ´little inkling´…. I miss having our conversations every day or two. Your post has put me back on the path of thankfulness this morning as I was definitely a sour puss five minutes before I read your story. You do have the gift of love and healing and the commitment to fight through each battle, whether large or small and survive … I think I must reread your story one or two more times because I am sure there is even more strategy hidden between the lines.

Have a wonderful birthday my precious, I will never forget the day you arrived.



John Patte

Good message! When one can't do anything about it anyway, just take a deep breath and keep smiling!

Ronni Ebbers

Bon Anniversaire, Kristin!

Wonderful story. Jules says it all.
Sign me up, any time of year in Bandol.


gwyn ganjeau

Kristin, as always you have teed up my day with tender inspiration. i have already had my own little conversation with Little Inkling and look forward to many more! Merci beaucoup for the introduction!

And have a happy happy birthday, Kristin. You have made a difference on this planet, and we are all celebrating the day you were born.

Many wishes for a coming year of peace, health, love, belly laughs and many happy surprises!


Happy Birthday to you........& may all your wishes come true.
& thank you for the gift you give all of us each time you post....
we are forever grateful to your sensitivities & how beautifully you express them
Joyeux Noel a vous et votre belle famille


Formidable! As I was reading this blog, I thought "Kristin must also be on the cusp of Capricorn, because she is learning the same lessons as I". I only wish I was going on 46 instead of 54 (shoot, if I'm wishing...even younger!) to really start taking note and to truly "live and let God", let go and trust!
Thank you for the reminder! I can never have too many!
Lorinda :-)

Marcia Stoub

Thank you, Kristen for a beautiful, divinely inspired story.
Your words have a centering, calming effect during this stressful season.

Happy Birthday to a beautiful lady who shares her whole being with all of us.

Love and blessings to you and your family at this Christmas time and in the new year.


Loved your post! Joyeux Noel!

Pamela Blair

I am so happy to have found this site. I love how you go into your thought process; it shows so clearly the interplay between your "ego" and your "higher self." If all of us were so conscious of this interplay (or even HAD the interplay), it would be a better world. May you have a wonderful holiday with your lovely family, and keep these missives coming. I read each of them with great pleasure.

Allen Laskin

I was beaten to the punch by "faint" and "leaped" ("lept" may not be a typo, but at best it is archaic). But many references to the "tack" store (instead of "tackle"). Tack stores sell saddles, riding boots and all kinds of horsey stuff.

Pardon the fussiness--Happy Birthday and have a great holiday season.

Allen, the fussbudget

catharine ewart-touzot

Tomorrow is my French husband's birthday too, so happy birthday to you both..certain that the right Christmas gift for you husband will surface,and you will be glad you didn't buy something else. Merry Christmas to your family and your new community..

Frederick Scheeren

Dear Kristen, I loved the message in your post today. We all need to show more patience at this time of year and just enjoy the spirit. But I caught you changing Marc from a fisherman into a horseman, half way through your account. A "tackle" shop is were you find gifts for a fisherman (lures, poles, flies, etc.) A "tack" shop is where you find gifts for a horseman (saddles, boots, etc.) Merry Christmas

anne wirth

Hi Kristin,
Your story was a wonderful reminder of the Spirit of Christmas. Wishing you and your family a Christmas filled with blessings.


Sandy Vann

Your post is such a lovely reminder to us all at this beautiful though busy time of the season.
We are there, in the pretty white cafe chairs with you for your meetup next year! Put our reserve sign on them svp!

Bon anniversaire. Joyeux Noel and thank you for sharing your heart and soul with us each week Kristin. You continue to inspire and enlighten! Bravo.
Now to find that one last gift for my own husband. :)

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

Happy Birthday Kristin. Thanks for all of the wonderful words and photos in 2013.

The story came at a good time for me. Have a Merry Christmas. I would love to be in one of those pretty white cafe chairs next year!

Happy New Year!

Be well!

Susan Klee

Kristin! I join the small portion of your many many fans who write to wish you happy, joyous, and good celebrations at the end of this year, when you have brought all of us so much happiness, joy, and good.

Merci mille fois, Kristin.


Susan K.

Julie Schorr

Bon anniversaire, Kristin! Lovely post today. I wish I could sit on that terrasse below the church and sip a chocolat chaud with you and chat! I would invite your mom as well. I am sure we would have some lively conversations! I wish you and your family a wonderful Christmas and New Year as well.
Thank you for the lovely pictures, posts, and sharing a part of your every day life with all of us.


Lovely post, Kristin. I would love to see those photos of the boats.

Happy birthday!!! YOu are still as beautiful as ever after all these years.

Tom McCullough

Wishing an early Happy Birthday to my birthday partner. It will be crazy this year (on a Sunday) especially with our Christmas Candlelight service in the evening. But, hey, what a great way to celebrate my (our) birth...i.e., remembering His birth. From Detroit, it's...


Our dear Kristi,
It is almost your birthday but it is you who given given us a gift--that of espoir,love
and joy.This is truly one of your most wonderful posts!
How gifted you are!
Thank you!!
Natalia xo

Mary-K Gilbert

Hope you'll bring your wine to Del Mar, CA! and did you drink the rose in Bandol? How would you rate it??
Cheers and Merci-
MK Gilbert Friday, Dec 29th

Kit Wilson-Pote

Merci de tout coeur for the introduction to your Little Inkling. My own has much to learn from him, and his way of drawing out honesty, humility, open-minded/heartedness as well as willingness in a few breaths on a wet street is so great! Thank him for me, and Slow Poke, too. As for Kristin, she lives in the Gratitude corner of my heart and mind always!

Bonne Fete, Joyeux Noel et Bonne Nouvelle Annee a vous et a toute la Famille en Europe/Amerique/Notre Terre entiere!

Vickie Kent

You truly have a gift for writing. I loved the "Little Inkling"...what a were beautiful. Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas & a Very Happy New Year. Have a blessed holiday!


Favourite word in this post....."Dagnabbit"!!!! :-)

Forgotten how it can be cold and raining for Christmas on the other side of the world as I was busy yesterday in the sweltering heat planting, mulching and watering my garden in readiness for family lunch outside (hopefully) this year!!

Wishing you a wonderful and happy birthday for tomorrow and hopefully the rest of your family also have some "Little Inklings" as to what would make your day special!

Now... off to water the plants!!


Diane Young

I must say "dagnabbit" struck a chord. Gabby Hayes et les autres hommes dans L'ouest au cinema il y a soixante ans et plus. Quite the American Western phrase that I haven't heard in many years. How talented you are in personalizing emotions, as in "The Little Inkling". Thank you for sharing your shopping adventure, your thoughts and best of luck in finding the "cadeau parfait" for Jean-Marc. Most of all, Bonne Anniversaire et Joyeux Noel. Bandol looks lovely. Wish we could all be there in those chairs.


Kristin - You are such a delight!! I LOVE, LOVE reading your posts. And I LOVE the picture at the end of the church! It should definitely go in your next book! I would die to come for a meet-up there!! I loved today's post. You are such a warm, wonderful, insightful, thoughtful, creative, passionate, beautiful person - inside and out. Happy Holidays from Phoenix (Chandler)!

Bo Brown

Happy Christmas! Thank you for your lovely stories. They always brighten my day.

june furey

You bring joy to my heart, lovely story today if only I could be there to share your birthday what a would be wonderful event to look forward to. Miracles still happen I believe, one never knows happy festive season to you and your family love you Kristin
June, Gold Coast

Chris Allin

Happy, happy birthday, Kristin. May the coming year bring you as much joy as you have brought to others. "For it is in giving that we receive..."

Leslie NYC

Happy Birthday,Kristin!
Thank you for this blog, which I treasure and savor.

Audrey Wilson

Happy Birthday & Merry Christmas to you & your family!
Thanks for all the information on day to day french . So helpful to we expats having to use french on a daily basis. Here in Roussillion the locals steadfastly refuse to speak English, & also speak french with a Catalan accent !!
But we chose to live here and so 'buckle down and get on with it !!' Anyway, it's such a lovely part of the world in which to live, & the local people are so friendly & helpful .
I always enjoy your thrice weekly blog. I feel a bit of a connection since my youngest daughter now lives in Phoenix !
p.s Did you know that British Airways fly direcct to Phoenix from Heathrow ?


Happy Birthday, bonne anniversaire! Meilleurs voeux pour un Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee...

Rina Rao.

Many Many Happy Returns of the Day Kristin.
Have a great B'day!!
Merry X'mas and Happy New Year too.
It would really be wonderful, if your wish came true and that lovely picture could actually have your friends seated on those chairs---you never know!!!
Love, Rina.

Candy in Colorado

Chere Kristin, your writing and photography just get better and better - with age? - perhaps; with experience? - peut-etre; with a growing perspective? - c'est possible. But certainly better and better all the time. You are a blessing to us all. Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee (et Bon Anniversaire! bien sur!)

Kathleen from Connecticut

Great post. I love the imagery...I could just see a little being there on the sidewalk with you.
Love the pictures and yes it would be nice to have FWD friends fill the chairs.let us know when. I'm ready to return this spring.

Bon Anniversaire, Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee!


Judi Miller

What a wonderful Christmas story! I was there with you, every step of the way - you painted such a vivid picture for us! Make the 'meet-up' some time between May 26 & 29, 2014, and I just might be sitting in one of those chairs! We're headed to France next Spring and we can hardly wait!

Bon Anniversaire, Kristin! Mine was a week ago, so we are both almost 'Christmas babies'! Have a beautiful Christmas!


Joyeuses Fetes and Bon Anniversaire, Kristin!
And to your wonderful family thank you for a year full of fun, interest love and share of adventure. The meet up sounds interesting!!


HI Kristin,
I am just getting around to reading this weeks stories. Your writing has really taken a nice turn. I love the way your wrote the last three articles. You seem inspired, but maybe your statement about just letting the creativity take you there is the real reason. Great job!

And I love to hear you write about your kids and husband. They add color to your life and to your writing.

And finally, kitting is cool. It has become very popular in the US in the past few years. There are knitting clubs here and the libraries are hosting them.

Ok, now finally! I love the pictures of the Christmas decorations. It makes me feel like I am there to experience them myself.

Merry Christmas,

Christine Webb-Curtis

Bon anniversaire, Kristin. Quarante six ans est un plus bel âge. I wish you a wonderful year. And a wondrous and sparkling Christmas and New Year.

Mary -Audrey Mellor

Merry Christmas and Happy New year to you and your family, Kristen. Also Happy Birthday. Love your stories. May love, good friends, good health and joyous times fill your Newvyear. Fondly, Mary-Audrey

John Carr

Chere Kristen
Joyeux noel + mes meilleurs vouex pour 2014

annabel garrad

Merci et Merry Christmas from Down Under!


Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday! I hope the New Year ahead is extra special just as you are.

Carolyn Dahm

To our dear Kristin,

Wishing you and yours a peaceful, joyful Christmas today. My husband and I are away from family this year so I've had my share of the blues today. Thank you for lifting my spirits and helping me to appreciate the true meaning of the season. A wonderful story and pictures. Thank you for once again, sharing your life and spirit with us this year. Special hugs and kisses to Braise, Smokey and the kitties!

I hope to share a table with you someday in that cafe....

A happy, blessed birthday from one December baby to another!

Love and hugs, Carolyn Dahm


Merry Christmas to you and yours. And may 2014 be filled with peace and happiness for all.


Charming post.

Faye Stelly- Lafayette, La.

Enjoy your blogs, Kristin...helping me w/ my French, which I appreciate.
Am going to France next year & a "meet-up" would be fun.
Bon anniversaire et passez des bonne fêtes!

Steve and Alison Howard

I love the photo of the church in Bandol. I have a photo of it, taken at the market last April. Yours is better. But it brings back happy memories of many stays in Sanary and excursions in the neighborhood. Bonne anniversaire, Kristin, et bonne annee! Amicalement, Steve et Ali.


note to Jeanne Robinson, I think that is not an American flag, but a red and white striped flag in front of the dark blue water, just an optical illusion.


One of your best photos, Kristin - the bottom shot of the Christmas tree and the empty café chairs....Superb !!!!
What about THAT one for your book?

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