French for 'to upset, annoy, frustrate or impede'...
Combler: Satisfied or fulfilled in French (and in life)

Culte: How I found out I was in a sect in France (humor)

Today's word: un défi

    : a challenge

lancer un défi = lay down a challenge

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Note: the following (humorous) story is not intended to start a religious debate, but to highlight just one aspect of French life. Please read it under the filter of cultural understanding! As always, this is a personal journal about my life, and one aspect of that--albeit a big one--is faith.

Mom and I went to church together for the first time in 30 years. You'll like this one, I assured Jules. That said, I warned Mom not to be alarmed when she heard the word 'culte'--it simply meant 'worship service'.

"It could be," Mom surmised, "that in France, a non-Catholic church is referred to as a cult."

Do you think? In any case, in English we don't use the word in the same way; cult, it seems to me, is most often associated with a group whose members have been brainwashed, or undergone un lavage de cerveau. Come to think of it, some would say as much of we believers, or nous les croyants... But that is another story and we won't get (too) religious here today--lest some of you sign off before I can secretly and methodically convert you! 

Not to worry, I am primarily here to share the French language and my life, ici dans l'Héxagone, for the past 25 years. Early on, I hoped to find a church, but I never thought it would take this long. It was a chance encounter with another marcheur (along the path I take each morning) that brought Mom and me to this tiny local just off the old port here in La Ciotat.

baptist evangelical church eglise evangelique in la ciotat france
With all of 12 members in attendance, things went relatively well during our first visit to L'Eglise Evangélique Baptiste--apart from my singing Grace Infinie off-key, and Mom's fit of yawning (who could blame her, she doesn't understand French!) which began an hour into the culte. But by our second visit, a week later, Mom and I were in the swing of things, juggling two song books, confidently accepting the Eucharist (Ouf! It was only grape juice! wish I'd known that last week....) and having located the donation box (marked Grazie! on the side. The church's treasurer is Italian). 

We especially appreciated the young guest pastor, from l'île de la Réunion. His message on How Not to Worry and his words on positive thinking made me wish my whole family was present. So when he mentioned un défi at the end of the service, challenging us to bring one person to next Sunday's service, I began to wonder who I could invite....

Then, last night, my son and his friend Paul were here, busily making dinner. As Paul prepared homemade French fries, I sidled up to the kitchen counter and smiled. "Hey, do you want to come to church with me next week?"

Max didn't respond right away, but our frites maker chimed right in. "You go to church?" Paul seemed surprised.

"Yes. I do now! To the Baptiste Evangelique church."

"Oh..." Paul said, a sly grin on his face. Isn't that a sect?

"A sect! Paul, don't say that! No, it's not a sect! It's a Christian church." 

"Yes, well, we (French) consider it a sect," Paul said plainly.  

There followed a surreal moment in which my feet were now firmly in the shoes of every other religion on the fringes of what society deems classic, and the question begged: Did the French see me as a Jehovahs' Witness? 

Paul nodded. "Kristi, you did try to get me to come to church...your church did ask you to go out and find new members..." 

Trying to explain my denomination (Baptist? Protestant? Gospel?) to Paul via a creaky rendition of Oh Happy Day didn't work either. Paul smiled patiently, and asked, "Have you ever heard that sung in a French cathedral?"

No, admittedly. But I thought the French loved Gospel! What about all the Gospel concerts that fill up each summer? Did they consider gospel singers as part of a sect, too?

In the end, we all agreed it was a great song! And so the evening ended with Max, Paul and me belting out Oh Happy Day over a delicious plate of frites. Hallelujah for French fries and peace to all of those who's shoes we have not walked a mile in. It is better to feel empathy than to define it. I will never forget those 5 minutes in which I stood wearing, in another's eyes, a cloth that did not define me--a T-shirt market SECT. And I could see, for the first time, how things might actually look to the French, and how things could  actually feel to those on the fringes.

Further reading: In this blog's archives, check out Explaining your Religion in France


le culte = service, worship
un lavage de cerveau = a brainwash
le croyant, la croyante = believer
l'héxagone = France
le marcheur = walker
le local = room in a building 
ouf! = phew!
un défi = a challenge
une frite = french fry

Kristi Words in a French life
For more about French cultural differences, please check out my book Words in a French Life (click here).

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