Cloué au lit (Nailed to the bed): La grippe, les frissons
S’épancher: to pour out one's heart + Another grocery store encounter

Les Étrennes: This French new year's custom will have you digging in your pockets

Marseilles les arcenaulx mailboxes boite lettres
Photo of les boîtes à lettres taken in Marseilles at Les Arcenaulx. Thank you, Jean-Marc, for recording two sound files for today's post (the second is found below the vocabulary list). Note: if you are experiencing déjà vu reading the following column--tout va bien--the story is being revived from the archives


    : New Year's gift, tip, bonus

étrenner = to wear or use for the first time; to be first in the line of fire

Listen to Jean-Marc read from
Avec les vœux du Nouvel An arrive le moment des étrennes. Vous ne savez pas à qui donner ni quel montant consacrer à cette tradition ? Ce don d'argent n'est pas obligatoire, mais c'est un signe de gratitude qui permet d'entretenir les liens avec des personnes qui vous facilitent la vie. With New Year's wishes comes the moment of New Year's gifts. Unsure of who to give to or how much to devote to this tradition? This donation of money is not compulsory, but it is a sign of gratitude that allows you to maintain ties with people who make your life easier.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

On Saturday Mom and I were crammed between the two folding doors of an old telephone booth (now a tiny, free library brimming with books). We were checking the latest titles, including Shogun, which Mom could not read because it was in French. Helping return the book, I looked out through the window of the cabine téléphonique and spotted Postwoman Marie....

Postlady marie

"Mom! There's Marie! Should we give her her gifts now?"

Mom suddenly confessed she had eaten Marie's present. The giant plastic champagne bottle filled with miniature candy bars had been too much of a temptation, stored as it was for the past three weeks on Jules's kitchen comptoir....

We began searching through our coat pockets for some cash, for this was the opportunity we had been looking for... Tis the season of les étrennes! Time to tip those people in our lives who make our days easier or brighter. (And I certainly appreciate it when Postwoman Marie opens our gate and drops a package--rather than putting a yellow ABSENTE slip in our mailbox for pickup at the post office!)
"Hurry, she's getting back on her motorcycle!" Jules and I sped toward Marie, singing Maria Maria! 
Having caught up with la factrice, we showered Marie with kisses in thanks for her warmth and realness.

 Marie pulled off her heavy casque de moto, revealing bright blue cropped hair.

"Oh, I love the blue!" Mom said, "even more than last week's green!"

"Merci beaucoup," Marie smiled. "Attendez!" She said. Having accepted our gifts, Marie pulled out a stack of calendars from one of the satchels on her yellow motorcycle. "Il faut choisir...."

Mom was thrilled by the unexpected gift, and she thoughtfully examined the selection of themed calendriers....

Il y avait des chevaux, des champs de mer....

Not wanting to keep our postwoman waiting, I nudged Mom to hurry up and select a calendar.

"Oh, I'd better take the kitties," Jules decided, and Marie nodded, from one animal lover to another.
Our factrice put her helmet back on, only for Mom to shower her with more kisses. And when our blue-haired postwoman drove away there were bright pink kiss prints, les bisous, all over her helmet, and hopefully all over her heart.

Story Update: it is now January 2022 and Mom (who never receives mail) has Postwoman Marie's tip ready. "I'm giving extra this year--for her family." Jules is referring to "Guacamole" Marie's adorable, four-legged complice.


Click here to listen to the French terms below
les étrennes = New year's gift, a tip, (also "Christmas Box")
la cabine téléphonique = telephone booth
le comptoir = counter
la factrice, le facteur = postwoman, postman
la casque de moto = motorcycle helmet
attendez = wait
Il faut choisir = you need to choose
il y avait =  there were
les chevaux = horses
un champ de fleurs = fields of flowers
la mer = the sea
le bisou = kiss

Vocabulary that didn't make it into the sound file:
le/la complice = partner, partner in crime, accomplice

Kristi in telephone booth and smokey
Smokey and me at the telephone booth-turned-library from today's story

Jules my mom in front of coiffeur in la ciotat france
A favorite picture of my Mom, Jules, walking in La Ciotat

Les arcenaulx mailboxesClosing with another photo of the mailboxes at Les Arcenaulx. Stroll with me there in the story "flâner"

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I love those little libraries all over Provence. Such a great idea.

Trina in St. Petersburg, FL, USA

Delightful story. The part about Jules eating the candy because it was around too long gave me a laugh. I hope she wasn't planning extra mini chocolate bars the 2nd time around for Marie's four-legged companion. Chocolate is a no no for dogs.

We do this tipping here in the States in December. I gave our neighborhood postman a gift card for the coffee / sweet shop and a smaller version for the postman who comes once a week when the other is off (it took me 'til January to catch up with the latter).

Marianne Rankin

For the holidays, I usually tape a card with $10 in it for the mail carrier to the slot in my front door. Their routes are getting longer.

In cold weather, I've also given him packets of cocoa.

Seeing the variety of mailboxes (not uniform, like the boxes in an apartment I lived in years ago), I'm wondering, do the residents have to buy their own boxes? Orif someone moves, does the new tenant for a particular residence "inherit" the box?


Bonjour Kristi,

I love today's story and I laughed out loud at Jules eating the candy! I just did that myself. The box of Neuhaus chocolates was too tempting and now I have to find another gift for a friend we were going to visit this weekend. We just had to cancel our trip today because of another snowstorm coming with over 6 inches of snow and ice! We are just recovering from the last storm that dumped 9 inches of snow and we lost power for a few days! It got chilly in our house 10 degrees Celsius! Brrrrr......

I love the photos of the mailboxes too!


I live in area of town where houses have 1-3 acres of land. There is a cul de sac near by and one of the people put up a little library box with books for people to read. I have not availed myself of any of the books, only because it is at the beginning of my walk/run and I don’t want to carry a book.
I tried to add a photo of it here, but couldn’t do it on my IPad.
The tradition of giving gifts to your mail person, newspaper delivery person, sanitation removal person,etc. is a nice tradition. We often give money to them when they go beyond their normal work. We don’t usually see them, especially since out mailbox is aboutI .15 th of a mile from our house.. It is interesting that your mail women rides a motor cycle, but I guess that is the easiest way to get around La Ciotat and the narrow streets.
Happy New Year to all 🥂🎊😘
Peace, Kathleen

Patty Cargill

Kristi, there was a sweet little restaurant in Aix-en-Provence I loved to visit. They had beautiful white linens hanging across the ceiling, a collection of antique mailboxes on the walls, lovely chandeliers hanging charming. Visited in 2008. I sent them an antique mailbox from my home in Roanoke, Va. I never heard from them and cannot remember the name, only that it was a lovely place for lunch.
Ah, and dear Smoky. The very best to you et famille in 2022.

Roanoke, Va

Karen Cafarella

I just found one of the libraries on my neighborhood walk!

 Faye  Lafleur

There are also small libraries such as these all over Lafayette, La as well! What a smart and absolutely wonderful thing!!!

 Faye  Lafleur

There are also small libraries such as these all over Lafayette, La as well! What a smart and absolutely wonderful thing!!!


We have those little free libraries here in Carmel, too. I pick up all kinds of books to read or peruse and then return them. It’s fascinating to me to see what my neighbors are donating. Sometimes it’s whole collections of cookbooks. Today someone donated a collection of books about ballet! I have even found French paperback novels on occasion. Sometimes I find books for my son, my sister, or my neighbor. I feel very fortunate to live in a community that values literacy.

Mara Munroe

The Little Free Library movement has a website, with locations listed:

And of course some people don't register their libraries but still use the idea. Customizing to match the house is common. And I saw one in New Zealand made out of an old refrigerator! There are also Little Free Food Pantries.

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