Ecureuil, Pronunciation Fears, and most difficult French words to pronounce (read aloud by Jean-Marc!)
Allergies and hay fever in French: rhume des foins, rhinite

Stylo: Is Handwriting still necessary? French cover letters & How he stole my heart

Stylo pen pitcher lavender wand
Will handwriting soon be obsolete? Currently, French employers still appreciate a penned cover letter. (Picture of the handmade pen my sister gave me for my birthday.)

TODAY'S WORD: le stylo

        : pen

un stylo bille = ballpoint pen
un stylo plume = fountain pen
un stylo feutre = a felt-tip pen

Try Mastering French Vocabulary with Audio MP3


Votre lettre doit être irréprochable : écrivez sur une feuille blanche A4, au stylo bille noir ou bleu foncé (pas de bleu turquoise, fluo ou paillettes!). (Texte issu de l'article 10 erreurs à ne pas commettre dans votre lettre de motivation)

Your letter must be irreproachable: write on a white page A4, with a black or blue ballpoint pen (not turquoise, neon-colored, or with sparkles!). (Text from the article 10 mistakes not to make in your cover letter)

ECOUTEZ - Hear Jean-Marc pronounce the example sentence in French: Listen to today's example sentence

Improve your spoken French with Pronounce it Perfectly in French or  Exercises in French Phonetics


    by Kristi Espinasse

There are status symbols and then there are story symbols. The first tells the world you are rich, the second tells the sentimental story of who you are and where you have been.

When I returned from France in 1990 as a junior in college I wore a pair of Eiffel tower earrings, I wrote with a fountain pen, and I owned a pencil case. Every student in France had one such trousse - swimming with crayons, stylo billes, highlighters and an exotic form of Wite-Out. When I pulled out my pencil case in an American classroom, I felt a tiny bit French. (Sitting behind the wheel of a Ferrari must feel as exhilarating.)

Maybe it's pushing things to compare pencil cases and Ferraris, but the excitement is there. That small leather trousse symbolized a still-exotic-to-me art de vivre--a way of living I yearned for deep down.

Not long after my return from France a young Frenchman I had met in Aix-en-Provence searched his own pencil case for a suitable pen in which to write me a letter, the first of many. And that is how my husband stole my heart. We eventually married and had two beautiful children--one of which, now in design school, stole my pencil case :-)


la trousse = pencil case
le crayon = pencil
le stylo bille = ballpoint pen
l'art de vivre = lifestyle

Apron french script


PENCIL CASE - every French student carries one!


Selection of FOUNTAIN PENS

Jackie and cousins
A handwritten sign is the most welcoming! Here are my niece and nephew welcoming their cousin to Denver a few years ago.

A few comments from the post about French Cover Letters, bring up some interesting topics about handwriting in France:

Chez nous, employers would expect that the cover letter would be computer generated and printed even were a teenager applying for such a job as candy seller or life guard. Is it not the same in France? - Robert
I also am amazed that the handwritten letter is required. I'm sure that in the USA, someone would be quick to "find" it to be a subtle form of discrimination, against those who do not write as legibly as others...  Joan

These points and the following questions make for good conversation. Should handwriting stay or go? Should it still be taught in schools? Required for a cover letter? Does handwriting still matter?

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Suzanne in Monroe, NJ

I have a lovely leather pencil case my sister bought for me on or first trip to Paris in 2002. I use it every day. Sadly, when I've gone to the same stationers on Rue St. Dominque the only had plastic ones.

Trina from St. Petersburg, FL USA

I hope hand writing is always taught. It is personal. I still appreciate a handwritten note or letter, don't you?.

And, even though it is no longer necessary for people to physically sign bank checks as a method of payment, we do (at least still) need personal signatures for some endeavors. It would be a shame (in my humble opinion) to loose those.

I am surprised about the requirement of a handwritten cover letter accompanying a CV or resume though, particularly since most employers now require applicants to be computer literate, I would think more employers now would prefer typing skills.


As long as there is breath in my body, I will single-handedly keep letter-writing alive - along with wild and colorful envelopes (a la Ray Johnson). And I know that I am not alone in this effort. Vivre longtemps à l'ancienne!!!

joie in Carmel

It is absolutely necessary. Ask any teacher. It is one of the processes of brain development. The brain has to form the letter before it can be transferred to paper. It is also as many say ..personal. Take your signature. Initially one starts out carefully using all the letters usually in cursive and as time goes by and one becomes more comfortable with writing your signature becomes a part of you. If we don't know how to read cursive, how are we going to be able to decipher older letters and manuscripts that were written. Or ledgers of marriage, birth and death. It is fine to move on into the future with technology, but in many areas the past should not be shoved aside. Think about it. Velcro is used almost exclusively on children some point they really should learn how to tie one. This is just a very simple example. The past gave us the future, so don't let it disappear.


Yes we all need to be able to communicate with pen and paper, it is indeed our unique signature and what happens when the electricity is out? Thank you notes need to be handwritten.

Marshall Morton

In my experience a huge percentage of French men and women's écriture is VERY similar--think of menu boards, hand-written notes, etc. it's easy to read and very distinctive. How is this this uniformity achieved?


Our dear Kristi,
I cannot imagine a world without handwriting,and yet I know that in many peoples' minds it has almost become antiquated.
I completely agree with Joie!
And what a loss it would be to loose the ability to either write or understand the written word.
Missing Aristotle,Shakespeare,too many others to fanthom!
When I was growing up(and I admit that it was a long time ago)
such a thing was not even in the realm of consideration!
Wow,times change,and unfortunately,not always for the better
(at least in my opinion).
Natalia. xo

edie schmidt


I love getting a handwritten letter. It is so much more personal than a computer generated
letter or an email. I studied calligraphy in college and am awed by artists like my older sister who creates beautiful writing with pen and ink.

Edie from Savannah

Carolyn Chase

Having had to correct school papers, I would say that handwriting can be difficult to discern, and hence as an employer I would prefer to receive typewritten information from an applicant. It certainly would level that issue of the playing field.
On the issue of learning cursive, I stand firmly that it is important. Learning it well would be of value when using it for any communication with another person, beyond just personal use for taking notes or something. But more basic, the eye-hand-brain connections that are created by the activity are of value in a child's growth and development. It is also of value when listening to a lecture, since taking written notes adds an element of visual and the kinesthetic to the various elements of learning/remembering, as well as providing a record that is accessible later. If cursive is learned well, it is faster than printing, and also doesn't require hauling a tablet or laptop around - even 3/5 cards work to receive the info.


One of my acquaintances was telling me a few weeks ago that she had commented to her kids (10 & 12) what a nice thing their aunt had written them. They got the card and opened it and left it on the counter which was when my friend saw it.

Their comment was, "We didn't know what she said, we can't read it." She had written it in cursive and they had never been taught it in school. So, my friend had to read it to them.

It made me stop and think that one day soon even handwritten, hand addressed letters being sent through the mail won't be able to be delivered as perhaps the mail carriers won't be able to read the addresses.


You didn't mention that employers in France have those handwritten letters analyzed by handwriting experts who will decide if you will be a good employee!


We may as well get used to the fact that -- very sadly -- it's a dying art.

It should be taught, but apparently it rarely is. I have a friend who teaches English at the high school level in a private school here in metropolitan Washington DC. She says all her students print when they do in-class tests. She first thought it was because they were aiming to provide clear text for her sake. Come to find out it is all they know how to do. They aren't taught cursive or any kind of joined up script even at the junior levels of an expensive private school.

The other thing I notice is that children are apparently not routinely taught how to hold a pencil or pen. When I see young people signing credit card slips or writing checks in the supermarket, or making notes in a store of my name and phone number if I'm ordering something, I am struck by the way so many clutch the writing instrument in their fists much as you see primates on the nature programs holding a stick to forage for insects. Yes, says my friend, that's how many wield their pens at her school.

I remember how exciting it was in elementary school when we knew we were about to progress from printing to "real writing." What's more we were going to use a pen and ink instead of a pencil!

Mary-Audrey Mellor

My grandchildren always write hand written thank you notes. I taught my children to do that and they have passed that on which is wonderful. I love to receive them.

Otherwise we e- mail or talk on the phone. I have saved cards and notes and it is so nice to see their progress. They are now 12, 14 and 17.

Now in schools so much is done by computer but I hope a lovely hand written note never goes away. Mary-Audrey Mellor, USA


I now print messages to my grandsons of about the same ages so I'm sure they can read it. Their writing is not good. I remember practising a lot and everyone being so proud to do well. Definitely agree with everyone.


Unfortunately, in Canada, handwriting is no longer taught. There has been extensive research that indicates that students learn better when they hand-write notes during lectures, and that has certainly always been my strategy. I have noticed that there is a new handwriting trend with bullet journals, but I'm sure that the majority continue to use an electronic calendar to manage their time. I work with a VP who frequently is the subject of friendly taunting due to his use of the old-fashioned leather-bound paper planner. Having said all that, I, too, was surprised to see Jackie's handwritten cover letter, given that in North America, the standard is to submit job applications, including cover letters and resumes, electronically. Personally, I love beautiful fountain pens and stationery, the ritual of writing snail mail letters and posting them in the box, and receiving cards and letters in the mail among the inevitable bills and junk mail.

Anne Marie

I ♥ my Waterman that I bought in Cahors over 15 years ago. I use it religiously and enjoy sketching with it, as well. The difficulty is finding ink cartridges in the US. I like to stock up on them when I'm in France where they are cheaper and easier to find. My pen is a mottled dark green with black accents. It's one of my prized possessions.

Daniel DeCristoforo

Bonjour Kristin,

As I understand things, there is a renaissance of sorts in cursive writing and note taking with pen and paper.

Cursive writing among certain practitioners of « bullet journaling » : this group finds paper journals to be more flexible than software, which is quite structured.

Also, there are, I think, some studies showing that writing by hand is conducive to thinking and reasoning. As you well know : writing is a physical act. I am a practitioner of walking as cure for writer’s block or getting stuck mentally. Walking for any reason !

I don’t think pen and paper, nor traditional books, are going anywhere. J’adore Boîte à Livres, librairie merveilleuse, à Tours. On trouve toujours les papeteries partout en France. Quelle chance.

Many interesting videos on YouTube concerning bullet journaling. Very easy to draw in a paper journal ; another technique for synapse stimulation.

Lovely post ! As ever, your beautiful photographs. Merci pour « stylo bille, plume et feutre ».

Bien cordialement,



As a mother of 4 boys, I witnessed many tears as they worked so hard trying to form letters. Computers were a God send for my children. As for taking notes, my youngest struggled so much with handwriting than by the time he had written notes on one idea the teacher was on to 3 or 4 other topics that he was unable to write down in time. His grades steadily improved as he was able to use a computer for his school tasks. I would be curious how his handwriting would be analyzed by a prospective employer - they might miss out on a first rate engineer.
I do think handwriting still should be taught but typing is wonderful for those with fine motor problems.

Eileen deCamp

Hi Kristi,

I love receiving a handwritten note or letter! I love the beautiful European handwriting! I think handwriting should still be taught in schools but I don't think it is stressed as much here in the states anymore unfortunately! I love the photos :-)

Trina from St. Petersburg, FL USA

Sadly, some schools in the USA no longer teach cursive writing; they only teach printing.

Trina from St. Petersburg, FL USA

I had the same dilemma with finding ink cartridges for my Cross fountain pen, except when I lived in NYC. Now I've discovered Colorado Pen. They sell a wide range of ink and cartridges, as well as converters (to use bottled ink) and are very helpful with information, too. They have a retail website.

Monica Gfrorer

Beautiful handwriting is an art and a joy to behold. Friends who are 70 years old and above learned a certain method that is truly beautiful and easy of identify. It speaks of character. Handwriting and proper spelling should be taught in the schools.

William McKay

Great example of cultural differences, there's no right and wrong, just different. I was shocked when I found out our schools don't teach cursive writing anymore. As a result, my adult children's signatures look like they're 7 years old. But on the other hand, they don't miss it. Everything in Canada is electronic now, and no employer wants anything hard written. And both my kids print neatly and very fast. Me, I still like giving and receiving hand written notes and cards, so does my wife, function of our ages I guess. Thanks too for the wonderful glimpses into the lives of you and your family!

Sh'reen Morrison

Kristi - your questions - my answers.

"Should handwriting stay or go?" Stay, absolutely !

"Should it still be taught in schools?" Yes !

"Required for a cover letter?"
Yes, to show the employer the artistry and care with which the applicant will go about other tasks.

"Does handwriting still matter?" Yes, because art and communication matter. Even in these tumultuous times.

Love to you and your family,

Sh'reen Morrison

Diane Heinecke

I think cursive handwriting should be taught in early elementary school. It's a shame many American schools have removed it from the curriculum. One of my young grandchildren said it's not taught, but she learned it by herself. Another said he cannot read my handwritten letters...sad. I find it a sign of proper upbringing when a friend sends me a handwritten Thank You for some gift or favor. It shows that she or he took the extra time. Not only that, when I'm writing I'm visualizing the person and bringing back memories. In the U.S. business letters are expected to be typed or done on a computer, but personal correspondence is much warmer and intimate when handwritten. Finally, because an individual's handwriting is unique, seeing it brings to mind the person. I realized this when I came upon a note the other day. I immediately recognized the handwriting of my late mother and got tears in my eyes.
By the way, I have heard that employers in Europe expect initial correspondence to be handwritten so their handwriting analysts can get an idea about the applicant's qualities. True??

Marianne Rankin

I was astonished to read that French employers prefer a handwritten cover letter. Is there a reason? The main issue with that is that it might be rather long. For example, when I was writing cover letters while jobhunting a few years ago, I wanted to mention several points - including that the employer would not have to provide health insurance for me, because I had my own (so it might cost less to hire me). Since I've read that the average letter might get 60 seconds of someone's attention, one must make an effort to encourage its being read by making it especially legible.

Before that, at another time I was jobhunting, I had decided that to make my letter stand out from the others, I would print it and my resume on very light-gray paper. But after I bought paper and envelopes, it didn't take me long to find out that using "paper" applications and related documentation were not the way things were done any more - it's all on the computer now.

I should note that in rare cases, employers still care about things that I fear are falling by the wayside. Among the questions I asked one interviewer was, "What about me attracted your attention, or helped you decide to consider me as an applicant?" And she replied, "Your cover letter - it was well punctuated." I didn't get the job, but I'm still pleased that she noticed the care I had put into applying.

Leslie NYC

What I love about visiting France is that there is a collective, cultural wisdom about these issues. You see cool teenagers on the metro reading Racine(in a book!) without embarrassment. They know that something might be gained by technology, but think though what could be lost as well. Here people pity me or look down at me for not having an iPhone. In France, kids are intrigued by my old Rolleiflex from 1955. I don't have to start at square one in every conversation or defend what might be considered a Luddite lifestyle in the U.S. I can just go about my life, paying attention as I walk down the street and talk to people, looking them in the eye.
As they say at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco: "Turn off your cell phone and BE HERE NOW!" Write those thank you notes, send other people's kids postcards if you go on a trip, learn to write. Happiness is slowing down and paying attention. It truly is that simple, if not easy.

julie camp

What wonderful written offerings you provide within, a balance of warmth, humor, information and food...for thought. Thank you both. -julie-


I love writing and receiving letters in cursive. It's a very personal act to take pen to paper, it takes time and thought, and can't be hurried. I feel blessed to have people in my life who still communicate with letters. Nothing is as fun as seeing a hand penned letter in the mailbox. I love technology and the instant accessibility it gives us but there is just something so beautiful about the hand written word on paper. So, I would like everyone to have the option to write in cursive and I say to keep teaching cursive !

Diane Young

I think all children should be taught cursive but it's really difficult sometimes to read the handwriting of us in the "troisieme age". That's why even though I write personal letters and notes in cursive, I have to be very careful. Treasure handwriting while you still have the ability to do it legibly. I spent many years reading resumes and employment applications that were typed, and it was so much easier. My thinking is type business and handwrite personal.


It was the Common core which stopped cursive writing in schools. I think that this is deplorable. What will happen when someone needs to read old manuscripts and doesn't know cursive? Not only don't students not know cursive but their printing is illegible. When they only know how to write electronically and the power goes off, what then? Just like the clerk in a store who can't figure out how much change to give you when the cash register doesn't tell them. we are doing a disservice to the children of today, who can't think without technology helping them. I am not bashing technology, because it is so vital in society today, but let's not forget the basics of writing and math.
The thank you letters (if I receive them) from the grandchildren look like they were written by elementary children when they are actually in high school or college.

Enough of my ranting and raving. Good for Jackie writing a letter with such good penmanship. 👍



I still have the "trousse" I came home from France with after my first trip there when I was a junior in high school. The color has changed drastically and it is well-loved and well-worn but I still love it!


What a sturdy pencil case you must have bought back in 1990! Doesn't it make you feel happy to know that your old case is being used by your daughter? I love it when my daughter actually admires something I used and loved and finds a use for it in her own life.

Maybe Jackie will gift you with a new trousse as a surprise?



Kristi - You nailed it by using "exhilarating"! I too feel the same about l'art de vivre en France! You are lucky to actually have been able to chase those dreams and live them! It's much slower going (but still exhilarating) when you start chasing that dream as "une femme d'un certain âge". ;-)


Chris Allin

Dear Kristi,

A very dear friend of many, many years will not send emails or text messages to me. She has always sent handwritten letters and cards and it is always a joy to find her perfectly scripted letter in the mail box!

We had completely forgotten about the pencil cases we carried during three years of high school in France! When I returned for two years of college in Paris, my pencil case went right back with me. So after reading your post we had a wonderful nostalgic chat about a favorite time in our lives. Thank you for that!
C & G


As Diane H above reminded me, until recently - even now? - some French employers (and it included huge national organisations like Gaz de France) - used graphologists to analyse the handwriting of all prospective empoloyees. In the UK there's long been a largely cynical attitude towards graphology but in France quite the reverse (same, I gather, with clairvoyants). So maybe that's a possible reason for Jackie (being asked) to handwrite her letter. Just a thought.

Suzanne Dunaway

I cannot imagine a world in which cursive writing does not exit...the beauty of it, the elegance, the personal touches that each handwriter puts into his/her script. My granddaughter, watching me leave a note for my husband one day, said, "oh, I wish I could write like that. It's like art, so beautiful and musical." Well, my mother was a stickler for handwriting and (this may age me) we had to learn cursive letters by writing between square, perfectly, on straight underlines. Thank heaven. I love my writing, I love writing, period. And a lot of it has to do with before-computers-before-texting written words in flowing, artistic, script that makes music with letters.


Thanks for the "shout out" for my comment about handwriting!


I know twenty-somethings in the US who usually type or text, but who value the occasional handwritten letter for one another. It is still special.

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