"Conciliabule" or how to say Pow Wow in French + Family dynamics: living with adult kids and Grandma
Zut! There's a blooper, une gaffe, at the end of today's sound file. Listen for Jean-Marc, who tells me I've made two mistakes. Hear all the French vocabulary in today's story when you click on the link, below:
Conciliabule--what a cool word in French! A "conventicle" is a secret meeting of nonconformists, and it's perfect for today's missive about a recent family pow wow. Synonyms in French or English for consiliabule: tête-à-tête, conversation, entretien, chat, meeting, discussion
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
Our 3-Generation Household & La Thérapie Familiale
If ever there were 5 adult family members more challenged for multigenerational living, c'est nous! What with one ex-winemaker and wine shop owner (Jean-Marc), one bartender (Jackie), one wine salesman (Max), one wine thief (Grandma), and one teetotaler (moi...), le conflit est inévitable—even if booze has nothing to do with it.
One thing we've been needing to do with is our new living arrangement. A recent visit to Jean-Marc's cave à vin provided an opportunity for such a meeting (which I like to call pow-wow if only to slip in one more English term for my kids to learn).
"What is a pow wow?" our son asks, stumped.
"C'est une réunion familiale," I answer, flustered to be speaking bad French when I mean to speak English to my kidults. Seated around a table at Le Vin Sobre, my husband’s wine shop in La Ciotat, we're here to support Jean-Marc in his latest inspiration: une pause déjeuner for customers interested in a simple lunch option at the store. All family members are present, except Grandma, who is siesting at home (no worries, our wine cellar is locked!).
Last night’s storm has left us feeling out of sorts, so maybe this isn't the time for the conciliabule I have in mind but, with 5 strong personalities now living together (2.5 of us have short tempers and the other 2.5 wish to avoid conflict at all costs), je me lance!:
"I need help cleaning la salle de bain!" I say.
One of our tribe, the elder fiston, speaks up, arguing that if the bathroom is already propre, why clean it? I feel my blood begin to boil. If it's clean, that's because I keep cleaning it!
Later, at home, after our tummies are full (blood sugar intact) there’s another attempt at group communication and already 2 of us (mother and son) are wrestling with a resurfaced rancune. "Would you please back me up?" I say, glaring at our Chief, who remains bouche cousue. This is not how I imagined our do-it-yourself family therapy session! Maybe we needed outside help?
Max and I managed to work it out all on our own, and what a relief it was. "OK,” I agreed, “I will work on being less controlling if you will work on...." (I let my son fill in the blank)...
"...not losing my patience," Max agreed. Très bien, a successful pow wow at last!
Now that the storm is past, instead of grumbling over qui fait quoi I can focus on and appreciate each family member's contribution (even if that doesn't include scrubbing toilets and washing floors...):
My Mom, Jules, waters our garden, and her free spirit (which I am always trying to tame) helps us to lighten up and see life from a creative perspective. Jules also takes good care of her roommate, Smokey, qui veille sur Jules aussi!
My husband, Jean-Marc, takes care of the bureaucratic paperwork we all avoid. Plus he is willing to do anything on my Honey-Do list (if only I'll settle down and write it!).
I take care of the house and yard, do the cooking and try to make everything run smoothly around here by keeping everyone in line when I should probably let go and go with the flow. (But we all should remember the saying: “walk a mile in my shoes!”)
My 26-year-old, Max, is "our supply guy." While on the road as a wine salesman, he sees all sorts of bonnes affaires: from free-for-the picking persimmons to retro bistro chairs (from a wine shop that was tossing them) to a giant antique mirror (found by the side of the road) he gifted Grandma. He's that family member who brings useful/abandoned stuff home for redistribution. Plus, he's a neat freak so he takes care of details I don't think of (like washing down our portable clothesline after the storm).
And my 24-year-old, Jackie, is the peacemaker. Calm, quiet, and thoughtful, she is the listener (and still the dreamer). I am amazed by her ability to simplify and express in words a complex notion or emotion. I've always felt she would be an excellent therapist or advocate given her innate sense of justice. Ironically she is currently recovering from a terrible injustice and this has brought her back to France, to the frenzied fold she escaped years ago.
"Mom," Jackie texted, after I was still spinning from our family meltdown, "everything will be fine, I promise. Everyone is under tension today. Don't blame yourself or anyone. Let's be patient...."
Late that same evening, worn out from emotion as we sat gathered around the salon, I had the last word: “Look, we may not be a perfect family... but would you trade ours for another and maybe a whole other set of problems? We have made it this far and that is a beautiful thing. And right now, at this time in our lives, for various reasons, we are living together again and I believe this is not by coincidence. We all need each other. And, just think, when will we ever have a chance to live together like this again—parents, kids, and Grandma? It’s kind of cool, isn’t it?”
Or, as Jackie said of our multigenerational foyer, “We’re like an Italian family!”
We all nodded in appreciation of such exotisme. Yes, indeed. C’est la dolce vita! I think Jules would toast to that...just as she did when she snuck into Jean-Marc’s wine cellar, dragging a neighbor down with her. She must have swiped a very good vintage (Domaine du Banneret, Châteauneuf du Pape?) because when her son-in-law burst into her room the next day, il l’a grondée!
c'est nous = it's us
le conflit est inévitable = conflit is unavoidable
la cave à vin = wine cellar, wine shop
une réunion familiale = a family gathering
la pause déjeuner = lunch break
conciliabule = discussion, chat, pow-wow
je me lance = I go for it
la salle de bain = bathroom
le fiston = son, boy
propre = clean
la rancune = grudge, resentment, hard feelings
la bouche cousue = tight lipped
qui fait quoi = who does what
veille (veiller) = to take care of
une bonne affaire = a good deal
le salon = living room
C’est la dolce vita = it’s the good life
il l’a grondée = he reprimanded her!
*At the end of the sound file, Jean-Marc is saying: "voilà 'gronder' c'est 'é'...Ah zut!" (I had spelled it 'gronder'.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety