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Entries from March 2021

Update on Max + Mortgage is a creepy word! Use this French expression instead! + bien immobilier, hypothéque, piaule, licitation judiciaire

Old port de plaisance marina in la ciotat france
The colorful port de plaisance in La Ciotat. Apartment sales in our town are exploding at the moment.

Did you ever stop to think about the word "mortgage"? The first four letters are a clue-in: "mort" in French means death and gage = pledge. Mortgage = death pledge. If the term is too creepy for you, then use one of these when in France:

- un emprunt immobilier = real estate loan
- un prêt immobilier = real estate loan
-un prêt hypothécaire and une hypothéque (when you mortgage part of your home for cash)

AUDIO/SOUND FILE in French and English
Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce all of the French words in today's story (see French Vocabulary section, below)

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

From our kitchen where I am quietly making lunch, I enjoy seeing our son work at the dining table. His laptop is open and he is on the phone with clients. Depending on which language he is speaking—French, English, or Spanish—I can guess which country he is calling. (I know I'm bragging. I am so proud of him!)

Though Max lives in Aix-en-Provence, he sometimes works here in La Ciotat on Fridays. Having gone into the wine business after graduating from Montpellier Business School, he’s making waves like his father in the wine world (whoops! I’ve gotten the “waves” idiom all wrong! But we’re sticking with it as the next sentence depends on it...). Speaking of les vagues, they’re one of the reasons Max is here on weekends: after work, he grabs his kitesurf and off he flies, to the nearest plage (he loves Almanarre beach on the Presqu'île de Giens, near Hyères).

Un Chez-Soi (A Place of One’s Own)
No surfing today though. Max needs to figure out where he will live after his lease expires in June. He’d like to buy a place instead of spending part of his paycheck on rent, and after meeting with a loan officer he is aware of his limited budget. So today, we are visiting an apartment in le centre ville de La Ciotat…. Only, by the end of the tour I’ll have a few tips for Max!

The split-level apartment is deep in the old town, along une rue piétonne. He’ll have to park a ways away if he moves here. Before we ring the sonnette, Max points to the end of the street where we see the sparkling sea and even the boats on the old port de plaisance. “Ah, and there’s the Irish Pub!” he smiles.

Pas d’ascenseur (No elevator)
We meet the owner at the giant wooden door leading into le bien immobilier. After climbing three flights of stairs, we arrive at a narrow landing on le deuxième étage and enter into the duplex. The stairs immediately to our left lead up to a small loft. Straight ahead, the main room/living area has a kitchenette along one wall. At the end of the counter, there’s the entrance to the tiny bathroom, opposite the fridge. Everything is nickel--super clean and tidy--which helps us to see big in a small space. The window on the facing wall looks onto the building across the street, right into the neighbor’s place.

Astuce no 1: Don’t let the owner know you don’t like his taste
“I’d change the paint right away,” Max admits as we head up the narrow escaliers to the loft. “This blue reminds me of my bedroom when I was a kid.” (Such a comment might’ve been ok were he talking to the agent immobilier, and not the propriétaire who politely showed us around his bachelors pad.)

Astuce no. 2: Don’t tell the owner how much you like the place!
Apart from his distaste for the paint, and his concern for the uneven walls, Max was full of compliments, perhaps too many.

“There’s lots of storage space! I can put my kiteboard here in this placard… and my valises in that one… Everything looks good, I won’t have to renovate (apart from the paint)...No extra expenses there...”

Up in the loft, we have to duck down in order to reach the bed (a mattress on the floor). Max pushes open the skylight and we stick our heads out and look across the rooftops all the way to the port……

Astuce no. 3: Don’t get the owner’s hopes up!
“I like it. I’ll call you next week with an offer,” Max says, as we wave goodbye to the owner. I have my doubts but keep quiet pour l’instant...

Back at home, the family weighed in with their wisdom. “Max,” I said, “with the current pandemic, you might want to find a place with a terrace or balcony, so you won’t be cooped up inside...”

Next, Grandma Jules piped up. “Buy a piece of land in the hills beyond! And get out of the city!”
“Where’s he going to sleep?” Jean-Marc laughed.
“He can get a tent!” Grandma insisted.
“Or maybe a van?” I wondered, having seen several surfer vans (with built-in kitchens/beds) in our beach town.
“I’ll put a van on the property too!” Grandma cheered.

...And don’t get Jean-Marc started, he’s been wanting a VW camper for some time!

Astuce no. 4: Don’t listen to everybody!
Meantime, with everyone now dreaming of the wide-open road, I’m reminded of one final tip or astuce: Don’t listen to too much advice when shopping for your first pad, or you might end up sleeping in a car, with the whole nutty family--avec tout ta famille de barjots!



Listen to the following list of French terms
un emprunt immobilier = real estate loan
une hypothèque = mortgage, loan agreement
les vagues = waves
la plage = beach
une presqu'île = peninsula
un chez-soi = a place of one’s own
le centre ville = town center
la rue piétonne = pedestrian street
la sonnette = doorbell, buzzer
port de plaisance = marina
un ascenseur = elevator
le bien immobilier = the property
le deuxième étage = third floor (in French)
nickel = spotless
une astuce = tip, trick
le placard =closet
la valise = suitcase

to brag = se vanter
bragging = vantardise
bachelor pad = garçonnière
un bail = lease (apartment, house…)
loan officer = responsable des prêts
duck down = se baisser
pad = appart, piaule
legal auction of property = licitation - vente judiciaire 

Estate sale
Max has (by now) visited 5 apartments (he found them via ads on sites like and Another way to find a place (apart from visiting the local real estate office) is via bank repossessions, estate sales, or "licitations". Here is a sign that appeared a few years ago on a derelict home (not far from the beach!) in La Ciotat. (The end price was two times the price listed on the sign.)   
Max pot de depart
Max and friends in 2017, before our son left for an exchange program in Mexico. (Max is the one under the sombrero)

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

Un avion de chasse: after “canon” another French word for “hottie” or “babe” + French vocabulary: prendre sa revanche, taquin, rebonjour, phare, pantoufle

Jean-Marc randonner parc mugel la ciotat
Learn a host of new French words as I poke fun at my husband in today’s billet. Don't miss the sound file, where Jean-Marc pronounces all the vocabulary in French and in English. Photo taken in the magnificent Parc du Mugel, here in La Ciotat.

Today's Word: Taquiner

    : to tease, to kid, to joke, annoy, poke fun at

What is Taquiner? 
Having fun irritating, annoying (someone) in small things and without malice.
S'amuser à irriter, à contrarier (quelqu'un) dans de petites choses et sans méchanceté.

Audio file, click to hear all the vocabulary in French and English. Then check your comprehension with the words list at the end.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
When our regional newspaper, La Provence, published an article about une écrivaine ciotadenne d’origine américaine, my husband had a field day teasing me. “Les gens vont te reconnaître quand tu marches dans la rue! People are going to recognize you when you walk down the street!”

Mr. Taquin could needle me all he wanted, the tables were about to turn... and I wouldn’t be the one wearing dark sunglasses...

It all began while out on a morning walk, when a complete stranger called out:
“Bonjour, Jean-Marc!”
“Who was that?” I whispered, as the man passed by.
“One of my customers, ” my husband answered, thinking nothing of it.

Ici arrive les groupies (Here come the groupies)
Next, our accidental idol was spotted at the supermarket after a woman did a double-take when we walked in. “Bonjour, Jean-Marc!” she demurred, dropping some fruit de la passion into her dainty market basket. This was only the beginning of le deluge. Ever since he opened his wine shop, Le Vin Sobre, Il ne passe pas inaperçu! He does not go unnoticed by the locals.

C’est lui la vraie vedette (He's the real celebrity)
The other night we were on our way to the flat rocks by the shore to enjoy the sunset, when a couple began waving… “Rebonjour!” Jean-Marc responded. Evidently, he’d seen them earlier. “Do you know my wife? Jean-Marc said, by way of introduction.
“Non,” they admitted. They didn’t.

Ce n’est pas grave. No hard feelings, I mean, it wasn’t as bad as the last time we were stopped. “Tu connais ma femme?” Jean-Marc said to the man with the golden retriever. Before the man could respond I nodded my head, Oui...but the other answered, “Enchanté. Nice to meet you!”

Harrumph! Talk about being invisible! Maybe it would be good to stand out after all? Speaking of stand out… WHO was that jogging past us now?

Coucou, Jean-Marc...”
“C’était qui?” I elbowed my husband, watching the avion de chasse fly by.
“Encore une cliente. Elle s'appelle Célia.”
“Célia? Mon Dieu! I’d better spend some time at our wine shop instead of remaining holed up at the house all day, in pantoufles.
As if reading my mind, our local celebrity added, “T’inquiètes pas Ma Chérie. C’est toi mon avion de chasse! Don't worry, Dear. You are my dreamboat!”

On our latest outing, Mr. Visible and I managed to make it all the way to the phare without any fans calling out his name.

“Personne ne t’a reconnu ce matin! No one recognized you this morning!” I snickered.
“C’est un miracle!” my husband laughed, adding: “But then not all of my girlfriends say bonjour when they see me walking with my wife….”

Pfft! Ah well, he could rib me all he wanted. At least HE noticed me. In nearly 20 years of blogging, I can count on two fingers how many times I’ve been stopped in public. As for my husband, C’est une star!

le billet = post
une écrivaine ciotadenne = a writer from La Ciotat
d’origine américaine = of American origin
un taquin, une taquine = teaser (one who teases)
le déluge = the inundation
rebonjour = hello again (for the second time today)
le phare = lighthouse
taquinerie = teasing
Il ne passe pas inaperçu! = he doesn’t go unnoticed
ce n’est pas grave = no big deal
un avion de chasse = very beautiful girl or woman
la pantoufle = house slipper

...And the word "canon" (from the title of this post). Can you guess the meaning? Answer here (along with a pretty picture of my Mom).

Language/cultural note: Rather than saying bonjour to the same person twice in one day, the French will say, “rebonjour.”

to have a field day with something = faire ses choux gras de [qch]
to needle = embêter
to turn the tables on somebody = prendre sa revanche sur
to snicker (US), snigger (UK) = ricaner
celebrity = la vedette
evidently = visiblement, il paraît que


Jean-Marc serre chevalier jacket
Our local star. I hope you enjoyed the humor in today's billet, or post. It was fun getting back at Jean-Marc after all his taquinerie! P.S. Here, our accidental idol is wearing a light blue jacket available at Jules Melquiond Sports, in Serre Chevalier!

Enjoy one more teasing story in the post "Six-Pack Abs", and learn my husband's tip for a chocolate bar stomach (and why the French call it that!)

Smokey golden retriever rugby shirt St. Patricks Day France
Unlike the French, Smokey dressed up and celebrated St. Patrick's Day. A few more pictures here.

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

Following a hunch from Paris to Miami + know these useful French words?: débrouillard, fonceuse, farfelu, embaucher, boulot, bagnole

Baccarat bar
Today's lesson: Be a smart cookie and follow your dreams! Learn the French, below, and read about a fashion student who "sows" an unusual seed, and is hired to mix designer drinks.

Today's Word: un débrouillard, une débrouillarde 
    : resourceful, clever, self-starter
    : a smart cookie, self-reliant, street-smart

Listen to Jean-Marc read the following French
Sois débrouillarde. Suis ton rêve!
Be a smart cookie. Follow your dream!

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Following a hunch from Paris to Miami

You never know where a hunch will lead unless you follow it! Our daughter surprised me years ago when she mentioned bartender school. At the time we were in Paris, where Jackie was doing a 3-week internship with an haute couture designer. Her bartender remark seemed farfelu given she was studying fashion design, but she ended up following that hunch: she dropped out of design school and started working in la restauration, as a food runner.

At 18, she moved in with her boyfriend, who was sans bagnole so Jackie did the driving. On lonely nights in their shoebox apartment, she cooked, cleaned, and shared her dream of moving to the States. "You can come with me!" she enthused. But the two didn't share the same enthusiasm or motivation. “You’ll never do it,” he said (daring her? Or didn't he think she had it in her? "It" being drive? determination? Guts? The courage to leave the known for the unknown? Or zest? I like this last one, ZEST, and you'll soon find out why :-) Meantime, never underestimate a smart cookie! Il ne faut jamais sous-estimer une débrouillarde!)

Jean-Marc and I were not crazy about the situation but Jackie’s loyalty, both to her petit ami and her job, kept her stuck there...until one day her landlord phoned, saying he heard a commotion and shouting. Jackie denied this, but it was too late, Jean-Marc wasn’t taking any chances. He and Max showed up at the apartment and brought Jackie back home.

Our daughter no longer mentioned her dreams or the USA, but we kept encouraging her. “Aunt Heidi’s friend owns a Mexican restaurant…” Little by little Jackie’s dream revived and she got on the plane, September of 2018, headed to Denver. She lived that first month with Aunt Heidi, who helped with her resume so she could apply for a job at the Ritz in Vail.

Embauchée! Hired!
Jackie loved her job as a cocktail waitress at the elegant Ritz Carlton. She watched the bartenders who showed her how various drinks were made. In turn, she shared a few French apéritifs (two favorites from the south: le Mauresque (pastis with orgeat syrup) and le Monaco (panache beer with grenadine syrup). Around midnight, she walked home in the dark, slipping and sliding along the snowy highway. She often called home (it was 8 am in France) during the midnight trek, reassuring us all was well… even if she lacked cold-weather gear. “I need to get some après ski boots!”

She got those boots and more! Before tourist season in Vail ended, Jackie received an employee award--a 5-star recognition from her manager at the Ritz for outstanding service. 

Back in France for the summer, our Franco-American immediately found un boulot here in La Ciotat. We barely saw our daughter that summer, as she worked overtime or double shifts. When tourist season in France ended, Jackie debated her next move: school in France or go back to the States? After seeing an ad for a bartending school in Miami, she had an epiphany!

A True 'Zest' for Life
At 21 our would-be bartender was on her way to Florida, where she had no family or friends, not even a room to rent! The school placed her in a hostel, where she took a bottom bunk in a roomful of foreigners. Tucking her suitcase under the bed, Jackie organized herself in that little space, while going to bartender school. She celebrated her 22nd with strangers and began looking for permanent lodging. After 6 weeks living out of her suitcase, in two different hostels, she moved in with a French girl, and found work waitressing in a 5-star restaurant, at The W Hotel. 

Another season ended and this time Jackie received a tip from her roommate about a bartender job opening at Baccarat, the historic French crystal company. Did you know they have a boutique bar? This, from their website:

We invite you to live the unique experience of sipping a coffee, tea or cappuccino; enjoy a bubbling coupe of champagne, a glass of wine, or discover our signature cocktails and taste our delicious food.  All served in Baccarat, surrounded by Baccarat’s beautiful and colorful crystal.

The manager liked Jackie’s French look and hired her on the spot. During the challenging months ahead (the beginning of a pandemic!), Jackie continued to work as some employees were let go, including the manager. In addition to tending the bar, she was now in charge of opening and closing the shop, and various managerial tasks. The pressure and stress built up, but Jackie hung in there!

All this to tell you that last week on her one-year anniversary at the Baccarat boutique, Jackie was surprised with a luxurious gift and a letter of recognition from the CEO! We are so proud of our daughter who followed a hunch and landed a job in America for an historic French company—and is working in a beautiful boutique while doing something that combines her love for design and bartending

From Fashion to another Passion
“I have never been happier,'' Jackie recently shared. Her gutsy decision to move to another country and a new city was timely. Had she stayed in France she would have been an out-of-work waitress (restaurants here are still closed) or a student stuck at home, following courses online. 

Speaking of which...Jackie is still unsure about college, though she’d like to take a class in taxes. 

Taxes? Another farfelu idea?

“Well,” Jackie explained. “I’m tired of paying someone else to do mine!”

Who knows where this latest hunch will take our Go-Getter? Meantime she’s bought the current no. 1 book on finance and is saving (most) every penny while looking for a good investment

I hope you enjoyed today's update on my daughter. Now remember, no matter your age: Be a smart cookie and follow your dream! Sois débrouillarde. Suis ton rêve.


Jackie behind bar
The crew from channel M6 filming Jackie for a special report. If you are in France look up the M6 schedule for March 28th (not sure of the name of the episode...look for Baccarat or Miami report!) 
Harmony goblets by Baccarat
Baccarat "Harmonie" Tumblers. This gift was serendipitous:"Harmonie" was the name of Jackie's first horse. Ever since, the word "harmonie" has always held a special significance. This was such a meaningful reward from Baccarat!

Jackie baccarat crystal boutique miami florida

If you are in the market for a fabulous French chandelier (or anything crystal! I love their papillons/butterflies...) contact Jackie at the Miami boutique. She will be happy to help you! Or stop by the bar for a refreshment....


farfelu = crazy, farfetched
la restauration = the restaurant industry
une bagnole = slang for car
un petit ami = boyfriend 
il ne faut jamais sous-estimer une débrouillarde = one must never underestimate a smark cookie!
embaucher = to hire
un apéritif = alcoholic beverage enjoyed before dinner
un boulot = slang for "a job"

an internship = un stage
food runner (busgirl) = aide-serveuse
a go-getter = un fonceur, une fonceuse 

Jackie at 17, in Paris: "Je suis assez capable de me gérer moi-même."
To Flip Somebody Off in French 

Jackie and coworker
Jackie and a colleague
Rum drink baccarat bar

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

Jules update + Which of these French words is new to you?: guet-apens, tuyau, épuisette, taule, couvre feu, comme si de rien n'était, arroser, pantoufle...

Max spear fishing in La Ciotat beach
My son, Max, spearfishing here in La Ciotat. In today's story, his grandmother Jules goes fishing in the garden, while I reel in a boatful of new French words for you. Enjoy, and please share this post with somebody who loves France or the French language. Merci!

Today’s French expressions: avoir la pêche (vs) aller à la pêche

  : avoir la pêche = to feel great, to feel happy
  : aller à la pêche = to go fishing

Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the following sentence in French:

Quand ma belle-mère, Jules, a la pêche...Elle va à la pêche!
When my mother-in-law, Jules, is feeling energetic, she goes fishing!


“I feel good!”  my mom announces, stretching out her arms beside the budding fig tree. “Look how rosy my cheeks are!”

En effet! After hibernating all winter, Jules a la pêche. Her energy stores are full and she is ready to return to work as our resident Tuyau Operator, in charge of watering all the flowers and veggies. It’s about time Sleeping Beauty woke up. Les hibiscus ont soif!

Mom surveys the wild garden and its unruly grass, its patches of buttercups, dandelions, grape hyacinths, and, oh—look at those two-foot-high beanstalks! Our front yard has come to life, just like Mom and her furry, elderly assistant, Smokey (who’s put on a few pounds after guarding Grandma all winter. The two share the afternoon goûter in bed, and I suspect it’s not the only snack for nos aînés gourmands!).

Plus de Pantoufles!
When Jules, in her black Converse high tops, marches past her favorite Papillon chair, you know she means business. No contemplating the clouds today, c’est l’heure d’arroser.

I pass by the fountain on my way to meet her, and the water begins to tremble. Can you believe that’s 4 dozen baby koi rushing to the surface? The doves use a similar attention-getting strategy, going as far as to knock on the window until Jules gets up to feed them! Everyone is hungry now that winter is over, ou presque

Un guet-apens? (An ambush?)
Jules grabs the long wooden pole and net—the épuisette—and plunges it in and out of the water sending petrified poissons darting toward the papyrus for cover.

“I caught 5!” Mom gasps, upending the net and watching the fish land in the copper jam pan (a recent gift Mom picked up for us at la Coop Agricole). 

“Hurry! Get some water in there!” Mom signals, as the fish flop around their copper tôle, or prison.

Les yeux ébahis, I scramble to fill the copper jam pan with water before the fish (that's slang for inmates!) go into shock. Visiblement, Mom’s energy is running ahead of her again. If you think her motor is charged, you should see Smokey! Our 11-year-old golden retriever has leaped over the fence and is trespassing in the neighbor’s yard, probably eating the cat food again! “Smokey! Reviens ici!” Whereas moments ago our senior chien jumped over the fence, he is now crawling under the flimsy barrier, comme si de rien n’était.

As you can see, I’ve got my hands full keeping these thrill-seekers in line. But I’m not complaining. I’m too dazzled by the koi swimming in the copper jam pan. Jules has the coolest ideas and her creativity is enough to wake a zombie (or anyone feeling lethargic during a pandemic!).

“It would be a fabulous centerpiece for your next dinner party!” Mom adds, easing into her butterfly chair. Time now to contemplate the clouds, and think up more adventures in this era of couvre-feux and confinement.

Post note: No photo of the fish in the bassine à confiture, or copper jam pan. When I tried to recreate the scene, fishing wasn’t as easy as Mom made it look! 

Fish in pond

un jeu de mots = a play on words

en effet = indeed

avoir la pêche = to feel energetic 

le tuyau = garden hose

avoir soif = to be thirsty

le goûter = snack

la pantoufle = house slipper

nos aînés = our elders

le gourmand = food lover

arroser  = to water

ou presque = or almost

un guet-apens = an ambush

une épuisette = pole and net for collecting fish or clearing  leaves from the pond

en taule  (en tôle) = in the slammer, prison

le poisson = fish

visiblement = clearly

reviens ici! = come back here!

le chien = dog

comme si de rien n’était = as if nothing were amiss

couvre-feu = curfew

The paris library
NEW IN BOOKS: THE PARIS LIBRARY by Janet Skeslien Charles. 
Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable story of romance, friendship, family, and the power of literature to bring us together, perfect for fans of The Lilac Girls and The Paris Wife. Order a copy here.

Smokey in papillon chair
Or senior chien, Smokey is doing great. Don’t miss this story of Mom’s papillon chair, click here.

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety