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The French Word "Renifler" & Getting my Husband and My Dog to Speak the Same Language

Square in front of Cinema Lumiere in La Ciotat France
This post begins and ends with pictures of (or around) our city's historic Cinéma Lumière. Corrections to this journal are helpful and appreciated. 

Today's Word: renifler

    : to sniff, smell, snuffle

French Audio/Listening: Click the link below to hear Jean-Marc pronounce the French words in today's story. Then scroll down to the vocabulary list to check your French comprehension.

Click here for MP3 sound file

La Gloire de Mon Pere Marcel PagnolImprove your French and lose yourself in the local countryside with this classic by Marcel Pagnol. A must read!

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristi Espinasse

Yesterday, en fin d'après-midi, Jean-Marc and I went to the movies. Marcel Pagnol's Le Temps des Secrets was playing at the historic Lumière Cinema here in La Ciotat, so my husband and I made a rare date of it.

Scenes from the nearby Massif du Garlaban relaxed us and the film was a welcome divertissement from various blèmes here at home. While each member of our family is dealing with their own struggles the good news is all three generations are currently getting along ici au bercail. (One new item in my human relations tool belt is a book about relationships and how speaking another's "love language" helps to improve communication and fosters closeness.)

How to speak to me...
After our movie date, we returned home and went for a neighborhood walk with our dog. My husband is not used to walking Smokey but he's making an effort and that really "speaks" to me. But when our golden retriever stopped to sniff the various weeds along le trottoir, Jean-Marc abruptly tugged the leash, "Allez, Smokey!" Move on!

An animal's sense of smell is so keen, so precise, there is a very specific word for it in French: le flair (as in "Le flair des chiens est supérieur au nôtre."). If only my husband understood that le reniflement, or sniffing, is part of the pleasure our dog gets from these outings. On second thought, surely Chief Grape, who's in the business of sniffing, understood...

Speaking my husband's language...
"Chéri," I began, "weeds are like wine to Smokey!" Jean-Marc looked a little confused and maybe I was too: Smokey doesn’t like wine but he loves to sniff weeds. And JM doesn’t care to sniff weeds but he loves wine. Is that clear, Dear Reader?  Are you and I speaking the same language? Now, where was I? Oh yes, trying to get my husband to see things from our dog’s point of view:

“...weeds (to Smokey) are like wine (to you). Other dogs have "visited" those grassy patches and left their scent which is brimming with information that only a furry connoisseur could appreciate!"  

At the next mauvaise herbe (a flowering dent-de-lion, this time), Smokey slammed on the brakes again, sniff, sniff, sniff. "That may be a ‘Chardonnay’," I pointed out. “Think of all the smelling notes or aromas!” Half a block later and our dog screeched to a halt at a patch of blossoming fumaria, "Ah! That must be a ‘Merlot’... with hints of plum? vanilla? cedar?" (And for Smokey, notes of Chihuahua? Bulldog? Beagle?)

Speaking our dog’s language...
By the time we rounded the corner, on our way home, my husband seemed to be catching on. "What's that one?" I quizzed when our twelve-year-old toutou plunged his nose into a bunch of sticky lichwort.

"Un Pommeral!" JM replied. (A Pomeranian! Smokey agreed, in his own dialect.)

"And that one?" I asked, pointing to another group of weeds.

"Ça, c'est un Pouilly-Fuissé!" (and un Bichon-Frisé, according to Smokey's estimates, sniff, sniff). Très bien! Our family members were relating to one another via a common interest: l’odorat. And now there would be no need for further comparisons in order to get my husband to understand my dog's need to renifler or sniff (i.e. no need to tell Chief Grape that the next time he goes to a wine fair, he should wear a clothespin on his nose and hurry on past all his favorite booths)! Man and dog were now speaking the same language (and man's wife happy now!).

"Thanks for the movie and for the walk," I said, when our trio reached our front gate. I'm looking forward to more dog walks with my man, and to turning more weeds into wine.

P.S. My human relations tool belt continues to widen and for once that’s a good thing!

Smokey golden retriever and fumaria weed
Smokey and the fumaria blossoms ("la fumeterre" in French). Here is a fascinating article about a dog's sense of smell.

The 5 love languages
Post note: The devotional JM and I are reading is based on Gary Chapman's book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts

fin d'après-midi = late afternoon
le divertissement = entertainment, diversion 
le blème (from "problème") = worry
le bercail = home ("fold")
le trottoir = sidewalk 
Allez! = Go on!
le flair = sense of smell
Le flair des chiens est supérieur au nôtre = Dogs have a better sense of smell than we do (Wordreference.com)
le reniflement = sniffing
Chéri = Dear
la mauvaise herbe = weed
une dent-de-lion = dandelion
le toutou = slang for “dog”
très bien! = very good
l’odorat = sense of smell

Vocabulary not included in the soundfile (added later, during editing)
un bichon-frisé = a popular dog breed in France, photo here

Cinema lumiere movie theater in la ciotat france
The Cinéma Lumière movie theater. Our city is known as "the birthplace of cinema" after the Lumière Brothers (pictured) came here to create the first motion picture ever made, "L'Arrivée d'un train en Gare à La Ciotat". Also located here in La Ciotat, The Eden Theatre, known as the first cinema in the world.

Near cinema lumiere la ciotat france

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Patricia Sands

Your perceptive blending of les flairs de Smokey and JM have created a post that is in itself like a fine wine. And hilarious! Thank you for starting my day with a smile. Bisous

Ruth Hallett

As a dog lover and a wine lover, I can totally relate. Every day, as I walk my darling Sheldon, I watch as he sniffs intently every few meters. He must be able to differentiate between the scents of all the other dogs in the neighborhood and in Central Park!

Leslie NYC

Someone compared smells on the street for a dog to an opera for people. A rich and magnificent experience that we can only have faith exists.

Cynthia Wilson

Weeds to wine!!!! Excellente ! Et merci.


I love this post, Kristi! Date nights, love languages, strengthening relationships, dogs. Bravo to you and Jean-Marc! ♥

Anne Umphrey

Kristi, as my beloved black Lab Dakota grew older and older walks to him became not a chase after a ball, but a slow stroll along the lane stopping every 3-4 meters to sniff this bush or at that stone wall. His eyes, his hearing and his heart were aging too, but not that sense of smell. My walks became strolls too. Since my nose isn't as good as his, these walks became a time for me to stop and look at the various small sights, a leaf here, a blossom there, the newspaper on someone's porch still not picked up. (I guess they sleep late.)
Dakota has passed over now, but I treasure the memory of these walks as I hurry now along the same path.
Thank you for sharing the imagery - weeds to wine.


This is a great post and very easy to relate to for anyone with dogs. We walk our two pups every day - yes, definitely for the exercise but also because we know they love the sniffing and smelling of every post, scraggly weed, and roots and base of all trees. We tell them "OK, let's go outside. Time to check your pee-mail." The same idea as this letter from you, but not nearly as elegant :)

Ahulani McAdam

My mother used to say, “Dogs smell in colors!”
That helped me grok the infinite possibilities.
What a brilliant example of how love languages work and the generosity of spirit and imagination it takes to step into giving and receiving what can actually be most difficult for us.
Yet, that very stretch is how the heart grows. Kristi, I continue to be stunned and soothed by how your gifts bring such deep and gentle teachings to us all.


Charmante, Kristi, Cette histoire est très charmante!

Mary Lou

I relate dogs stopping to sniff as "canine face-time" Always look forward to your posts. Thank you


This was an excellent posting!

Teri Browne

So absolutely darling and a great idea!


Love that picture of Smokey - such a dear dog. What a fun post to start my afternoon with. Thank you. Nancy

Ronald Michael Holden

The vocabulary has it right, "fin d'après-midi," but your narrative says "fin de l'après-midi," which (though technically correct) isn't quite the same thing. I don't think a native speaker would use that particular locution. Yes, I'm pedantic.

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you for catching this one, Ronald. On my way to fix it now. All the best to you in Seattle.

Kathleen Bidney

Love the relationship of doggy smelling and people smelling of wine. I personally prefer smelling wine 😆 and I don’t think that that would be Smokey’s choice. To each his/her own 🥰
I often thought of going to the movies while we were in La Ciotat, but Dean does not know French, so unless there were subtitles he would be totally lost. Maybe I’ll go by myself next time we are there, unless you’d want to join me.
Looking forward to spring, but then I remember that it is only March and we could still have a snowstorm… ugh!
Peace, Kathleen


Wonderful post, Kristi, on so many levels.
💕 Emily


Hi Kristi,
Wonderful and our dog Tank loves to stop and sniff or sometimes stop, drop and roll on deer poop! UGH!
Dogs do have a keen sense of smell!

Chris Allin

A sweet story, straight from a dog lover’s heart 💙

Karen in NY

What fun to read. I do wonder how a dog experiences the world. How do they process ALL those scents? And I admit to abysmal ignorance about "notes" in a glass of wine. I went to a wine tasting once. Eyes rolled. What a beautiful (and funny) story of bridge building. ♡♡♡♡

Andrea Hughes

Fun post, Kristi!
My dog used to be just as fastidious!
One minor spelling correction:
Pouilly Fuissé

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Andrea. My eyes could not see that misspelling even after reading your note. Then, ça y est—saw the missing s and extra e! Merci!

K. J. Laramie

This is one of your most creative offerings, and so meaningful.
Brilliantly conceived!


It is very nice to read 'dent-de-lion'. Here in the big city, it is always 'pissenlit'!

Nancy Grubb

Great post! The book about the 5 love languages has been a useful tool in my human relations tool belt for almost 20 years. I am glad to hear it is useful for you, too.

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