Alone & Face to face with a burglar! Seule et nez à nez avec un cambrioleur!
Profiter de la vie

On the positive side: after the attempted break in, getting to know the neighbors (including somebody famous!)

poissonnerie la ciotat fish on ice thon loup dorade fishmonger
We're meeting our neighbors, thanks to our local fishmonger. Read about this endearing personnage (seen in the last photo) in today's story. 

le voisin

    : neighbor

Example sentence & Sound File

Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the soundfile

Quand la maison du voisin brûle, c'est ton affaire aussi 
When your neighbor's house burns down, it is your business too.


    by Kristi Espinasse

She wears miniskirts that could get her arrested, but that is not why her nom d'affection is "Bifteck." I call her this for the way she fries up steaks at home after selling fish all day (the smoke sets off the "damn combo alarm," the one that warns of fires or thieves). But especially, I call her this, for the way our loveable personnage has helped "beef up" neighbor relations around here. Her fish stand, turns out, is the local hub or old-fashioned "water-cooler," as we would say back home.

I went to her poissonnerie the day after my run-in with the intruder. "Comment ça va?" Bifteck inquired, her long blond braid embellished with an island flower.

"Ça ne va pas du tout!" I said. "Il "était là. LA! Dans ma fenêtre!!"

"Peuchère!" Bifteck hurried around her fish stand to sympathize. Next, she proceeded to tell anyone within earshot what had just happened to their very own neighbor--moi! Like this, I met a lady my age who lives down the street... (the neighbor with that oeil-de-boeuf window. I'd always wondered who lived there!). She told me two men in a camion blanc have been circling the neighborhood. The pair knocked on her door and were insistent about giving her an estimate for some roof work she did not need. 

Next, I met the biker in flip-flops and a tank top, who lives a few doors down and who never lets solicitors beyond the front gate. Holding a sack of just-bought supions, he warned, "It's often a ruse to case your home!" 

Finally I met another voisin, who looked to be around 70. "Do you know who you are talking to?" Bifteck took me aside. "He's a world-famous chef d'orchéstre. He's so kind, but a true tête en l'air !" I ran home to google my neighbor who, turns out was 90! I wondered, did he know Harry--beloved South African conductor who also lived in Provence. Harry... Maybe it's not too late to write about that dinner at my friend Cyn's in which we spent a melodious evening, huddled around her piano, Harry's fingers dancing on the keyboard.

That night is now blurring in my memory, as are the specifics of Thursday's break-in which is more and more like a bad dream. If only the police had taken fingerprints. If only some item, some piece of evidence--a glove, lighter, or God forbid a knife (Bifteck found one after her own home invasion.  The police were able to get fingerprints, catch the guy and put him in the la taule for 5 years!).

But back to Bifteck, our local fishmonger, who is the strength of our voisinage. I've been to her stand 3 times since that chilling encounter at the bedroom window, and each time she cries out the news (like all crieurs or fishmongers worth their salt). And each time, a huddle of neighbors forms around the paella, or near the tuna, or by the coquilles saint-jacques, to listen to what happened to one of their own. The solidarity that ensues is enormously reassuring. As the saying goes:

Quand la maison du voisin brûle, c'est ton affaire aussi. When the neighbor's house burns down, it's your business too!

le nom d'affection (terme d'affection) = term of affection 
le bifteck = steak
la personnage = character
la poissonnerie = fish store, fishmonger's
il était là, dans ma fenêtre! = he was there, in my window!
peuchère! = you poor thing! what a shame
un cambrioleur (une cambrioleuse) = burglar
supions = small squid
oeil-de-boeuf = bull's eye window
le camion = truck
le blanc = white
le voisin = neighbor
le chef d'orchéstre = conductor
tête en l'air = scatterbrained
la taule = slammer
le voisinage = neighborhood, vicinity

Poissonnerie fish shop fishmonger
Thank you, Jean-Marc, for these beautiful photos of our neighborhood warrior with the purple flower in her hair.

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Catherine Berry (But you are in France, Madame)

A true community. So glad that there was a silver lining.


What a perfect denouement to the story of the break in and commencement of a much happier story. Brava!


This really is a wonderful outcome of your near break-in. I do think the best defense is knowing one's neighbors and looking out for one another. We are lucky to have neighbors like this next door to us. After learning about the camion blanc seen in your neighborhood and about the men soliciting roof estimates, I wonder if while you were away and having work done if a potential burglar approached your workmen and got a peek inside. It might be worth asking those who did your kitchen renovation if anyone came to the house while you were away. Also, I think the police should know about shady characters offering to do estimates. They might keep their eye on them.

I loved this story for another reason. Your write so well about others that their characters jump from the page. And thanks too to Jean-Marc for the photo.

joie in Carmel

Le bein triomphe du mal.

joie in Carmel

oops....I meant bien!


I am just now catching up with a few posts. I am so sorry to read about your attempted break-in. What a terrifying experience. You handled it with admirable courage and level-headedness.

I think motion-activated lights are a good idea. Just make sure they are carefully positioned so as not to be set off by every passing squirrel or fox! But as to suggestions people will inevitably give you to get fake deterrents -- homemade alarm system signs, tapes of barking dogs, or the fake alarm boxes you can buy from the Internet to attach to the outside of the house -- I'd say don't. Professional burglars aren't stupid or uninformed. They know the difference between fakes and the real thing, so if you ever decide an alarm system is a good idea, spend the money to get the real thing.


Kristin, what a sweet story. Now you know your neighbors have your back. And there's lots of caring going on!!


La France profonde...those neighborhood watch committees are good ... but it is difficult as a foreigner to get to know who or where they are! I think the gals at our bakery would do a similar job if one needed it!

Faye lafleur

Alls well that ends well. I hope U get good security. Not trying to be negative but not sure your neighborhood is as safe as u originally thought. Unfortunately there is no truly safe sad. Forming neighborhood watch is a good thing or at least to exchange phone #s with a few neighbors so while police or spouses have not yet arrived, at least one has some support! Thanks for update!


Oh to live by the sea and have fresh fish everyday!! As someone else said - there is a silver lining. Glad it is receding into the background and being replaced with happier encounters.


So good to know your neighbors, and you know the saying, which is very appropriate here, "it takes a village". You know what I find interesting? Regardless of location, burglars in France use one of the same old excuses as they do over here in US "let me give you an estimate...." and the whole time they are casing your home to see if it's worth it to come back to break into. Ah well - it all ended on a good note. And something positive came out of the experience.


Our dear Kristi,
Another beautifully written(with beautiful pictures!) ,thought provoking post today.
And your quote really says it all!
In any neighborhood,we have to band--and stay!--together.Never too many eyes or situation aware people to keep all of us on top of things.Unfortunately,too many "bad guys" lurking,trying to steal and take advantage.
You are in my prayers for the trauma of your frightening experience to give way and again allow you to find the inner peace of savoring each day in your lovely home.
Natalia. Xo

Kitty Wilson-Pote

What a heart-warming postscript to your ordeal, Kristi. And Jean-Marc's ordeal, too, as his heart must've been racing as he drove home.
Thank you for another superb word-portrait as with adept economy of expression you introduce us so vividly to this special neighbourhood shopkeeper. (Her sea-wares are so lusciously displayed -- my inland tastebuds are on overload just looking, and my nostrils tingling!)


Kristi: So glad you are telling your neighbors! Solidarity is fantastic and comforting. Try to not let the thieves steal anything, including your peace of mind... That was the hardest part for me after a breakin. You are brave.

Suzanne Dunaway

Oh, that woman is way more than a fishmonger....


Wonder who the chef d'orchestre is!

La Ciotat has been in my thoughts more often since I saw the film L'Atelier during the FFF (French Film Festival) in Brisbane.
By the by, one of the most irritating things about watching ANY French film is: everybody smokes! So sad...

Anyways, totally irrelevent.
Peuchère, such a charming expression, though, is one word; rather than peu chère (not expensive):

peuchère \pø.ʃɛʁ\ invariable
Expression provençale et languedocienne utilisée pour marquer la compassion, la pitié, parfois la commisération.

Regards from smokefree Brisbane! :)


She looks great! Neighborhood solidarity is the way to go! So glad it makes you feel better about the whole thing....and fun to start getting to know les voisins....

pamela singer

perfect protection neighbor watchdogs congratulations what fun new freinds and reception xxpamlea

Bettye Dew

Wonderfully written piece, Kristi. You made it look easy, kept your tone throughout, just delightful, thoroughly enjoyable.

Patricia Sands

Truly a happy ending and many new beginnings! :-)

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Jacqueline, for this definition of "peuchère"--it is the best I have read. It is an endearing term, one I love hearing around here.

For more about Serge Baudo, the chef d'orchéstre:

Jan Hersh

Mon Dieu! Quel histoire!

Jane Baars

I'd like to hear more about your encounter with Harry R.

Judi Dunn

....WOW! I love her just seeing this photograph! She is someone I would want for a friend ....... She has that exciting 'rebel aura' about her.... Make her your best friend there..... Judi

Elaine Squeri

Est-ce que vous avez une adresse pour une boïte à lettre au bureau de poste pour que je puisse contribuer by chéque?
Je ne me sers pas de carte de crédit pour contribuer et je voudrais bien! Aussi, je ne me sers de Facebook.

Kristin Espinasse

Mille merci, Elaine. Bientôt j’aurai une adresse à vous donner. ☀️

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