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A Beautiful Escape via the French word échapper belle

Mediterranean pebble Beach at Plage Mugel La Ciotat France
Today's story takes place in La Ciotat, not far from the beach. 


(ay-shap-ay bel)

    : to have a close call, a lucky escape; to let off the hook

L'ECOUTE: Practice your French Listening Skills. To hear the French in today's story, click below. Next, check your comprehension by viewing the vocabulary list (farther down).

Listen to the vocabulary list, click here

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Is there a word in French or English for when you are avoiding your To-Do list... by shopping instead? And does going grocery shopping count? En milieu de semaine, there were a lot of things I could be doing instead of hanging out at the supermarket, such as:

  • applying for French citizenship (but it's so much easier to renew my titre de séjour every ten years!)
  • completing the colorectal kit offered by the French government when you turn 50 (as I did 3 winters ago...)
  • working on Mom's bureaucratic papers before she is deported!

Ah well, as Scarlett O'hara famously said, Après tout, demain est un autre jour! Today, there's Monoprix--France's grocery/clothing/home store all wrapped up into one! But before rushing over to les allées de tentation, better exercise un tantinet of delayed gratification and shop for food first.

Touch screen and french produce scale for weighing fruits  vegetables

In this supermarché you weigh the fruits and vegetables yourself, using une balance and its accompanying touch screen (with photos of all the produce). Searching the screen, I could not find the picture of the onions. But it was there a minute ago! It even reminded me I needed onions. So where was the picture now that I was back with my sack full of oignons? The universe was playing tricks again. I looked around hoping for a Good Samaritan. Finally, I marched over to the only other scale.

An elderly man with a hunched back stood weighing a small bag of abricots. Glancing into his chariot, I saw a dozen more bags of unweighed produce and a battered cane he had tossed inside. The Man Sans Canne looked so calm and peaceful as he took his time at the self-serve station. A flash of admiration erased any memory of The Onion Dilemma, and I quietly returned to the other scale (where, incredibly, the onion was back on the screen!). Leaving the produce department, I kicked myself for not having the courage to say something to the man, to this last bastion of le bon sens. Here was more than a man--here was an inspiration. I hope to be eating like him and solo shopping like him (my own cane tossed into my chariot) well into le trosième âge!

Studying my family's grocery list I saw "ice cream, raspberry jam, and another quatre-quart (kids love this rich, buttery poundcake for the 4 o'clock goûter. No more kids in the house, but Grandma loves this treat!). Having gotten some eggs I rounded the bend and.... Chariots of Fire! There he was in the dairy aisle! Alas, I missed a second chance to say something, anything, to The Man Sans Canne. Instead, I hurried off and, rounding the corner, the handle of my own chariot (a smaller, two-wheeled poussette de marché) slipped and the cart fell, its contents tumbling out.

(Ouf, the carton of 12 eggs was intact!)

"Vous avez échappé belle!" another shopper exclaimed. 

"Oh, oui!" I smiled, quickly making a mental note to share with you, dear reader, the wonderful French phrase which literally means "a beautiful escape". Echapper belle also means to be let off the hook, which reminds me of hooky.... We'll end with that: the reminder to play hooky de temps en temps. Why not play at the grocery store? It might lead to a beautiful escape and some meaningful encounters, too.  

en milieu de semaine = midweek
un titre de séjour = residence permit (see la carte de séjour...)
Après tout, demain est un autre jour = after all, tomorrow is another day
les allées de tentation = aisles of temptation
un tantinet = a smidgeon, tad, wee bit
une balance = weighing scale
un abricot = apricot
le chariot = shopping cart, trolley
le bon sens = good sense, common sense
le troisième âge = later life, old age
le goûter = snack, afterschool snack, afternoon tea
la canne = cane
ouf! = phew!
de temps en temps = from time to time, now and then, occasionally
Caddie grocery cart in french chariot
It's amusing, isn't it, to read a stranger's grocery list. And judging from the crossed out item, it looks like they finally found the onions, too! :-)

Highlights from the archives:
Review the five senses in French: la vue, l'ouïe...
Check out The Most difficult French words to pronounce (and add your own in the comments to that post)
A family vacation in Queyras (the French Alps), pictured below.

Queyras France Alps

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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Kathi Koegle

Bonjour Kristi! It's delightful to read your post--especially as my husband and I are in France en vacances right now.

Your observations and vocabulary lists always enhance my visits.

I hope you and your "proches" are well.


Kristi…get at your Mom’s papers! Who knows…..she may become a citizen before you! All in jest, trying to encourage along the way.

Jeanine Woods

Coucou Kristi! It's wonderful to see your posts again- I adore them! Et j'adore vos descriptions de la vie quotidienne en France et les histoires de votre famille! Je m'appelle Jeanine et j'habite a San Diego, CA. Je suis marié et j'ai deux enfants qui sont adultes et aussi j'ai trois petits enfants qui sont la joi de ma vie. Je suis en retraite (depuis un mois!) et je voudrais de parler francais plus avec des groups de francophones ici a San Diego. C'est un but! J'ai envie de lire vos posts chaque semaine. Merci et bonne rentree!


Bonjour, Kristi!

Merci beaucoup pour vôtre messages. Une question, s’il vous plaît - pouvez-vous dire “une échapper-belle”?

Kristin Espinasse

Good question, Anne. The answer is yes. Have a look at this example in the first paragraph at this site about the French language:

Tim Averill

Tu as toujours échappé belle, a mon avis!

blair barnhart-hinkle

I was definitely frustrated with all the things on my various to do lists which were in different books or pieces of paper or on my phone. I recently discovered bullet journaling where I now have all my lists, calendars, books to read, health tracking, movies to watch daily to do lists, house to do lists, monthly reminders, weekly reminders all in one place. It is like my master plan - all in one place. I watched a lot of videos - and some people make their bullet journals works of art - mine is utilitarian and functional - and not instragram or pinterest worthy - but it works and gives me a sense of control over all of the lists in my life..


Hi Kristi,
Thanks for your post and yesterday in the supermarket as I was looking at a basket of baguettes to go along with our spaghetti dinner, a lady mistakenly strolled away with my cart...I turned around to toss my baguette in the cart and I noticed it was gone! I saw her cart and thought maybe it was mine until I saw the grocery list in the seat but not my handwriting! haha
I usually put my list in the seat also!
Thanks for a fun post and I love your last photo!

Phoebe Eskenazi

Bonjour, Kristi!

Merci pour vôtre blog. "Belle échapper"est une expression superbe. Parfois, pendant la pandémie, un voyage au supermarché ressemblaît à une belle échapper!

Patricia Sands

Bienvenue, Kristi! Tu nous as manqué!

Kathleen Bidney

Vous avez échappé belle. I don’t know if I would be as lucky. Anytime is a good time to go grocery shopping. So many people from my church go after the Sunday service. We call it the second service. If I am not mistaken, in all grocery stores in France, you weigh your own vegetables. Here in the US we can now do it, but you don’t have to, and sometimes finding the right image is not easy…. Is it organic … the large variety or something else.
Have a good day and work on the Mom’s papers. You don’t want to her sent back to the US.


Jerry Wood

Je nous refuse les caisses libre-service.🤬 They are frustrating and why should I work for them without getting paid. As Charles Dickens would say hum bug.

Earle Self

In your last installment, you had asked for background on your readers. I couldn't comment, not realizing I was blocked by an extension I had installed. I'm (slowly) learning French because I have a daughter, exactly your age, in France. She and her husband run a restaurant in Pralognan la Vanoise. In this installment, your mention of your mom's CDS motivated me to find out why I couldn't comment and remedy it. I hope your Préfecteur is more user-friendly than my daughter's. It took her many months. Her Carte is based on her husband's being a German national and thus an EU citizen. My French progress has been slow, in part because we keep having to cancel trips there owing to the pandemic. We have one other thing in common. I have six-inch scar on my forehead from basal cell surgery...

Adieu, Earle

Judi Miller

Bonjour Kristi!
I am so happy to see your wonderful posts arriving again in my email box!! I love the stories as much as the vocabulary! I must go and do at least a few of the things on my list -I’ve been procrastinating during our many days of hot weather (that’s my most recent excuse!). Just now I flashed back on our meeting in that tea shop in the little alleyway off la rue St Andre, across from the apartment Chris & I were renting - when you had brought Jackie to Paris for an interview with a design house. It’s a very nice memory! Judi


Our dear Kristi,
Made my morning to find your wonderful post in my inbox!
Only you,ma chere,could turn a mundane shopping trip into a faire du course au super marche extraordinaire!(complete with those self service check out contraptions!)
Well into my troisieme age aussie(and using a cane!) it's fun to realize how we all observe each other and emphmasize with what is going on in one another's lives. A really refreshing and lovely touch of kindness.
Your gifted writing and words have reminded me of this!!
Thank you!
Natalia xo

Judy Feldman

Hi Kristi, so glad to see your posts again! As a professional procrastinator, I can relate to your story! Bon courage for getting things done, sans tarder!


Kitty Wilson-Pote

Joie sensationnelle spéciale de septembre aujourd'hui! A new Kristi-gem in my inbox! Ahhhh, quel plaisir -- all shall be well. "Take that, 4th (delta) wave of covid!"

Great reboot toward treasuring each moment, just as my own happy vacation has ended. I'm allowing a bit of floundering in the transition to autumn's projects, even to divining what they ARE.

Thanks to your sharing 'le charmant petit vieux sans canne', and the basket's spilling too, THAT deed will be my first focus: patiently roughing out a wheel-sketch (my version of a list) whose spokes are my To Do's. Then turning it at the tempo of the day, each day.

Merci, dear Kristi,'avec un câlin souriant', comme toujours!

Frances Anamosa


It is wonderful to hear from you again! I love talking with people when I am shopping.

Thank you for writing and sharing with us. Frances

Chris Allin

Dear Kristi,

Your journal is like music. When it is there, it brings much pleasure. When it is not, the silence is deafening. So happy to have music once again.
🎶 🤗 🎶


So nice to be connected to French Word a Day. I got sucked down a rabbit hole trying to connect to be able to leave a comment, mais j'ai echappe belle (je me suis echappee belle?) et enfin me voila, j'espere. Enjoyed your foray au supermarche.
Greetings to all after a long time

Julie Farrar

Salut, Kristi! I hope summer has been great for your family. And I love the idea of "7 things" goal from an earlier post. It can keep me on track for bringing order to the house. I'm also happy to say that France is letting us in again and I'm off to dust and scrub down my apartment next week. Be well.

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