How to say 'minor crime' or misdemeanor' in French? And a fishy story for you today....
Culte: How I found out I was in a sect in France (humor)

French for 'to upset, annoy, frustrate or impede'...

Jackie and Breizh at our first vineyard
Jackie and beloved Breizh at Domaine Rouge-Bleu. Jean-Marc writes about our kids, who harvested with us, in his latest chapter.

Hi Kristin, I lost track of French Word-a-Day years ago. Out of the blue I checked back in and, what, Jackie was all grown up and living in Colorado, what?? So I started going back through the archives to somewhat catch up. Found out about your new book-in-progress, and on a whim, signed up. I am so glad I did!! I don't think blog writers realize how wearying, over time, it is to read about their seemingly endless streams of good fortune and triumph; it is so not like real life. Well, let me just say: you are different. YOUR BOOK IS REAL. I love it so much! Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Martha, A reader from long ago

Merci, Martha! I hope your review will inspire others to read our book. It is thanks to your support that we are able to advance on this memoir--something we have wanted for a very long time.

Today's Word: contrarier

    : to upset, to annoy, to vex
    : to impede, frustrate

Also: contrarier un gaucher = to make a left-handed person write right-handed

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

I'll bet you thought the misunderstanding with my neighbor had something to do with fish! Surely you were thinking I tossed some rotten poisson over her fence or that I was about to ditch the stinking swordfish in her poubelle because I was too lazy to roll out the bin on garbage day! And those guesses are in line with the theme of today's story: assumptions, misunderstandings...and paranoia.

Let's go back now to the front gate, where I was about to dart across the street to throw some rotten fish into the municipal trash can. Any plans to passer inaperçu were foiled when a car pulled up to the 4-way stop. I casually waved it forward, Allez-y! Go on! But the driver did not budge....

On closer look, it was her! The woman my Mom had met last fall, who happened to live across the street. I remember coming home from my walk and seeing the two chatting there at our portillon. Being all sweaty and puant, I was not ready to meet anybody, but that didn't faze Mom who was just happy to introduce her new friend....

Not two minutes into the conversation that followed and I began to wonder (and said as much to Mom later on): Shouldn't Mom be more careful about the strangers she meets on the street?

Fast forward several months. Here she was now, the neighbor I had been avoiding. Oh, hello. You are C (name withheld) I said, having reluctantly approached the car to peer through the passenger window. 

Yes, C said. Do you have a minute? There's been a misunderstanding and I need to clear things up! 

Of course, I said. Why don't you park over there....

Having backed into a space in front of our house, C got out of the car and we both turned, noticing the way the vehicle was parked à travers, almost diagonal and out of the parking lines. It reminded me of how anxious both of us were to set an awkward matter straight.

Don't worry about it, I said. I know why you are here and I am very sorry about the misunderstanding, I began.

Yes, C, agreed. I believe I said something that might have made you think I was....

No worries. Here, come on in and I can explain, I said, pointing to our gate, but C hesitated. 

I have been very distressed over this. Très très contrariée, C admitted, clearly upset.

Yes, I see that, and I can explain, I offered, getting right to the point: You have to the time, you were a complete stranger to us. And when you told the story of how your Aunt, the butcher, tried to poison you with un saucisson... well, it painted a vivid picture in my head!

Yes, C sympathized. I realized that later, but I was so at ease talking with your Mom. And it was at that point that you walked up. And that's the last I saw of you or Jules.... You must have thought I was nuts. I have been so upset over what you might be thinking about me! I felt so bad for such a long time, C insisted. Très très contrariée. The thought that you misunderstood me! 

I feared it would take time to convince C that I'd come 'round, that I didn't harbor any more doubts about her coming from a long line of French butchers who try to slowly kill people....

I have a funny story for you, I said to C, hoping that by sharing it on sera quitte--or we would sort of be even in the What I thought you thought category...

This whole time I worried you misunderstood me too! Because you hadn't seen Jules out and about lately, I feared you thought I had locked up the little garage behind the house! And that I was tossing bits of bread to her and not letting her meet any friends or have any fun!

C laughed. No! I never thought that! I assure you! 

Mom is free to meet whomever she likes, I said. But I do think she should be careful not to invite strangers back to our home. You never know who these people are. 

I agree! C said, as we hugged and kissed.

Still, I was a little irritated, or contrariée, with Mom! After all, how come C thought I didn't like her? Had Jules shared what I said--after I asked her not to?

I hurried back to the dark garage where we keep Mom (just kidding, it was a garage until we remodeled it into a beautiful studio where we have invited Mom to live!). All but grabbing Jules by the ear and rushing her to the front gate, I informed her of her visitor. And I reveled, just a bit, in catching Mom off guard--just as she catches me off guard whenever she introduces me to strangers--and that is often!

Mom surprised me--and even inspired me--by being chiche or up to meeting whomever had just stopped by. With a bright and welcoming smile she greeted C and gave her a big hug. I am so happy to see you! I have missed you!

The three of us sat down at a table in the garden, where a final misunderstanding was cleared up. Turns out Mom had never tattled on me to C. It was only my fearful thinking that made me think so.

The moral of the story is: don't wait so long to dissiper un malentendu. As for fearful thinking, we need to toss it out--continually--like stinky fish!


le poisson = fish
la poubelle = garbage
passer inaperçu = to slip past unnoticed
allez-y = go ahead
le portillon = gate
puant = stinky
à travers = across, through
un saucisson sec = dried sausage
on est quitte = we're even
chiche = to be game to do something
dissiper un malentendu = clear up a misunderstanding

Mom picking passiflora flowers
My beautiful Mom, Jules. If you have a minute click here to read the story about our walk on La Voie Douce (the gentle path)...and all the strangers I meet thanks to Mom.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal week after week. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, I kindly ask for your support by making a donation today. Thank you very much 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


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Anne Umphrey

How I would love to meet your Mom. I too enjoy chatting with strangers. When I travel I chat up people also waiting for their plane flight. I meet the most interesting people that way. Everyone has an interesting story about who they are and about their lives. This is one reason why I like your blog so much.

Michael Connolly

Lovely story, nuanced and gentle and healing.
AND I would like to bring an error to your attention:

"that didn't phase Mom who was just happy to introduce her new friend..."

should be ..."that didn't FAZE Mom..."

Ce sont des homonymes!

Kristin Espinasse

Many thanks, Michael! And edits are always appreciated. Off to update the post with the correction.


Enjoyed your story - we humans do tend to be , in some ways, very much alike no matter what country we are in. Have a great day.


That's how my Grandfather was, or as they say here, he 'never knew a stranger'. He would sit outside the screen porch on a tree stump under a great maple tree he had planted years before and chat with whoever drove or walked up to say Hi.


Your lovely story is like a parable, a great reminder to not wait too long-often a misunderstanding is something one or both have misunderstood and then flights of fancy of worry take over. I’m so happy it all worked out so well!!

Cynthia Lewis

I remember this photo of your lovely, gracious mother (one of my favorite photos) as she is gathering blossoms to maybe add to the flowers already in her hair. It is so true that "a picture is worth a thousand words". Your writing today makes clear how important communication truly is. Just a few words can make a profound difference. My best wishes, Cynthia


I’m like your mom. I too talk to everyone. In an outdoor café or on the train into Vancouver I talk to strangers. Some give me the cold look, which is their derogative , however most are friendly. I’m now surrounded be wonderful friends I’ve met this way. Most people are lovely, kind, interesting and friendly once you get to know them

Catherine Nary

Sweet, sweet story! I love it when people patch things up! It makes way for changes and happiness! --

-- which I have done a lot of lately. I relocated from the U.S. Air Force Academy Library in Colorado (I had you sign our copies of your Words and Blossoming books for the Cadets at the Vineyard in Denver last September) to Travis Air Force Base medical library in Northern California, where I am director. When I posted in LinkedIn about my new position, a long-time (about 46 years!) friend congratulated me. We are now in a committed, exclusive relationship! One change begets another! It's just so amazing how things work out!

I continue to enjoy your stories. Thank you!

Dulce María

THAT is an absolutely gorgeous picture of your mother!

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks! I will let her know you said that. 💕


Your mama is special ♥

Rick Spring

Bonjour, Kristi,
I came across this a couple of years ago and have tried to incorporate into my life, as often as possible. I used an online translator, so I hope it is fits, when appropriate:

Il n'y a pas d'étrangers ici, seulement des amis que vous n'avez pas encore rencontrés.

I read your blog and have regularly for many years, now. Have purchased and read a few of your books, also. I intend to purchase your and Jean-Marc's memoir, but have not, yet.

Keep up the good work...
Rick Spring


Our Dear Kristi,
Dear Jules is a beautiful sweetheart just like her beautiful daughter!
You both travel through life's journey learning from each other and then are so kind to share these lessons with us.
Today's post is once again a gentle reminder that most malentendu can be remedied with something as simple as honest conversation.Wow.Really good to remember.
Thank you!
Natalia Xo


Bonjour, Kristin
I knew this was going to be one of your really good stories when I saw the photo of young Jackie and Breizh. It signaled to me that you had been in a state of deep reflection and that the story to follow would connect past experiences just like you have connected Jackie and Breizh with you and Smokey. You have such a gift for expressing what you see with your heart. Deep reflection is the grace for aging and should be shared. Merci beaucoup!


Dear Kristin: I believe you are a reflection of your lovely mom. How fortunate you are to have her not only here, but also with you! The fact that she loves to speak to strangers only enforces "Streetcar Named Desire" when Blanche says" I rely on the kindness of strangers". When we get to know that stranger, we are all for the better as you have written. Merci beaucoup, Kristin.


I wish I had the gift of being comfortable speaking to strangers. God bless those who have that gift.

Kitty Wilson-Pote

Kristi, such a wonderful resolution to a very human social-tangle! Brava to 'C' for her determination to clear the air, and to you for your readiness to welcome her rapprochement. Your amaxing mom Jules reminds me in many ways with my much-beloved and redoubtable late best friend, a true extrovert, who'd happily chat up anyone she encountered. As a true instrovert, I was often nervously appalled at her openness -- while envying her a tad too. She shrugged off my discomfort, saying reassuringly, "Kitty,I am just so CURIOUS about people!" I could see that these spontaneous exchanges nourished and delighted her, making that radiant orangey aura of hers glow! The world needs all of us, and what a lovely scene you share here affirming that reality: the three of you together in harmony once that real AND symbolic stinky fish got tossed!

Kitty Wilson-Pote

('amazing' not 'amaxing,' obviously re Jules, yet maybe the typo-neologism is kind of apt for such an outgoing spirit?!)

Kitty Wilson-Pote

(sigh -- too many typos eluded my re-reading!)

Kristin Espinasse

Rick, that is a fine quote in French or English! Also, thank you for your support over the years. Much appreciated!

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Ann 💕

Kristin Espinasse

Kitty, Thank you for sharing your lovable friend. You must miss her terribly. Her lovely aura and character live on in your words here. 💕💕😘

Kristin Espinasse

So thoughtful. Thank you, Joanne. 


Having re-read this I’m reminded of your mom and mr zig zag. Which you wrote about a while back. Worth reading again. One of your best.
Je fais beaucoup de fautes de frappe. As a dyslectic I do make a lot of typos. Sorry

Kathleen Bidney

Jules is a jewel. Talking to strangers is not a bad thing. That is the way you might meet new friends or you might find out that you know someone in common. Life is short and we need to make the most of it. I am always talking to strangers at the next table in a restaurant or in line at a store or many other places. In lines at stores, it is a good way to pass the time and not get upset with how long it is taking.
My husband has learned to put up with my talking to strangers and most often joins in on the conversation if he is with me.

Heddy Abramowitz

A very minor point in a lovely essay. You wrote "both of us were to set an awkward matter strait." I think you meant to write 'straight.'
I am now an ex-pat in Jerusalem for 40 years, so I know how fragile spelling becomes. Love your blog, trés charmant. Thank ou for sharing your life, and allowing me to brush up on mylong-lost French.

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Heddy, for your kind words and very helpful edit. Much appreciated. I so enjoyed my visit to your site, and will be back to visit your art with my Mom. I would love to take her to Jerusalem, as it is a dream of hers. 

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