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Entries from May 2022

Terroir, French for "somewhereness" & that magnetic pull we feel towards France

Sainte-Cecile-les-Vignes wildflowers
Those wildflower seeds loved the terroir in Sainte Cécile, where we lived for a time

TODAY'S WORD: "terroir"

  : soil, region; "somewhereness"

FRENCH SOUND FILE:
 Click the link to hear Jean-Marc pronounce the French words in today's post. Then scroll down to the vocabulary section to check your French comprehension.

Listen closely to the vocabulary list


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

You have probably stumbled across the word terroir (especially if you are a wine lover) and have a notion as to what it means. But, lately, this earthy term is taking on even more significance, helping to clarify just what it is I love about France. And it’s more than the food, more than the architecture, more than French dirt!

A synonym for terroir is "somewhereness". J'aime ça. My husband, a former vigneron, says a complete definition of terroir (beyond the region in which the grapes are grown and the soil) would include the history of a place and even the winemaker. Mais bien sûr!

It is also le facteur humain that describes our strong attraction to France. I love the way French women of all ages stroll arm-in-arm, or "bras dessus bras dessous". At a time when adolescents are awkward about everything, you’ll still see girls walking, les bras entrelacés. Throwing their heads back, laughing and chatting, it’s the most natural thing in the world. I’ve been honoured by such arm-hugging tenderness which, culturally, is a little less natural to me. Slightly embarrassed, I will gradually – so as not to make things even more awkward – let my arm slip away until, ahhh, I’m more in my comfort zone. But I will always appreciate the endearing moment a friend reaches for my arm while out on a stroll.

Speaking of endearing: I love the affectionate way the French acknowledge a kindness. “Vous êtes adorable!” they’ll gush. Where else on the planet will a perfect stranger say, in so many words, you are worthy of love and adoration? You will hear this phrase while serving an impromptu coffee (our plumber said it to me the other day, as I added a lump of sugar to his espresso). The compliment can be used anywhere, anytime. “Vous êtes adorable!” I thanked the cashier who left his register to help me carry a heavy cagette of patates and melons to my car.

One may have sinned a thousand times but, for a moment in time, in a stranger’s eyes, we are worthy of veneration. There is something else I enjoy here in France, though not every foreigner will agree: it’s the way a clerk will honour your place.

C’est-à-dire, when it is finally your turn at the counter you will be given the time you need and then some. Never mind the long queue behind you. When it is your moment to do business at the post office or the pharmacy or at the art supply store, you can linger with your needs, your unending questions, and your doubts. I am still not comfortable doing this – no matter how many times the postal worker says “Ils peuvent attendre”. There is time. Perhaps le temps is yet another element here?

Terroir... It could unlock the mystery of why so many of us feel an attraction magnétique towards France. It’s visceral, it’s minéral, it’s surréaliste. We feel we have, at some other point in time, been a part of this somewhereness. We walked along the salty shores or inhaled the mineral scent of the earth as we strolled arm-in-arm in the countryside with a soulmate… our endearing âme sœur, La France.

*    *    *

vineyard
Jean-Marc, harvesting at Mas des Brun in 2016. See une coquille, or “a little mistake”, anywhere in today’s post? Thank you for letting me know and I will fix it illico!

FRENCH VOCABULARY

le terroir = soil, region
j'aime ça = I love that
un vigneron = winemaker
un bras = arm
bras dessus bras dessous = arm-in-arm
entrelacer = intertwine
une cagette = crate
une patate = potato, spud
une queue = line, queue
c'est-à-dire = that is to say
ils peuvent attendre = they can wait
âme soeur = soulmate

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A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens


Dépanner & How a safety pin can outwit pickpockets

lily of the valley muguet roses flower stand pizzeria la ciotat
Pictured: a muguet stand here in La Ciotat. I hope you all had a relaxing premier mai, or Labor Day, and that the month is going well. On May 12th, at 6 p.m., Jean-Marc and our son Max are having a special wine-tasting for organic and natural wines. If you are in the area of La Ciotat they would love to see you. Click here for more info about this free winetasting event

TODAY'S FRENCH WORD: “dépanner”


    : to help out, to lend someone money, to help someone out of a jam, to come to the rescue

(Here we are focusing on one sense of the multi-meaningful  verb “dépanner” as it relates to today’s story)

FRENCH SOUND FILE: Click the link to hear Jean-Marc pronounce the French words in today's post. Then scroll down to the vocabulary section to check your French comprehension.

Click here to access the MP3 audio file

 

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Driving up to a local ATM for some flouze, I saw the familiar figure loitering around the strip mall. I hesitated over whether to drive off or face the situation.

As soon as I got out of my car, the woman beelined it towards me. 
“Vous avez un euro cinquante à me dépanner?”

Could I spot her a dollar fifty? Such a specific sum. Was she a regular shopper who was short a few coins for a pack of cigarettes or a baguette? It is the impression she gave the first time she stopped me, in a nearby parking lot.

"Non. Non, non!" I replied (those last two noes surprised even me as I nervously turned to the distributeur. I tried to hide the numbers I was punching into the clavier--all the while keeping an eye on the woman who was slinking away.

Having run into her several times, I knew her story didn't add up. Unlike the panhandler outside our post office or the mendiant beside le tabac or the ivrogne seated in front of the superette (whom Mom regularly supplies with ice cream) who are clear in their motives and whose stories (true or not...) we blindly support, this woman made me uneasy. Certain beggars  make me uneasy but that is no reason to look away. It is better to err on the side of giving than to make the mistake of leaving someone in need. I suppose that rule should apply to her as well?

Her. We will call her "Passe Inaperçu," because she blends into the scenery: bare skinned (no makeup), hair tied back, neutral pants and top... you might not recognize her a second time. But a third, fourth, fifth... I see her when I go to the grocery store or to the animalerie, she's soliciting other shoppers in the parking lot, walking right up to them as they head to their cars: "Vous avez un euro à me dépanner?"

Maybe it was a question of the language? Jean-Marc's guess, when I relate the story to him, is the woman is too ashamed to beg, so she asks for money another way. If that is true then I am the one ashamed for jumping to conclusions. Yet...there is something dishonest about her, something in her manner that is synonymous with con or scammer. My intuition is so specific it adds “organized ring” to the hunch. Is it any coincidence, then, what happened next....

While driving to that same centre commercial, I noticed a van pull off to the side of the road, the side door rolled opened and a handful of people got out—including
her. I knew where she was headed, but who were the others and where were they off to? 

There are all sorts of scams and scammers in France and various ways to deal with them. Our friend Charles, in Florida, has a homemade "antivol" contraption anyone can make. To outwit a Parisian pickpocket all you need is une épingle à nourrice. Charles fastens the safety pin to the bottom of his front pant pocket, and ties a string to his wallet, attaching the two. C'est malin. A clever way to keep your wallet safe.

You've got to be malin with these thieves. And malin enough to know who's who: are you dealing with a con artist or someone in need? When is one the other? Tell me, Dear Reader, how would you handle my “parking lot” situation and have you ever been duped? I would love to know your thoughts and hear your stories in the comments section below.

***

See une coquille, or “a little mistake”, anywhere in today’s post? Thank you for letting me know and I will fix it illico!

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Photo of the shopping center mentioned in today’s story. Look at the dog on the back of the motorcycle.

FRENCH VOCABULARY
le flouze = cash
le centre commercial = shopping center, strip mall (when it’s outdoors)
Vous avez un euro cinquante à me dépanner? = would you spot me a dollar fifty?
le distributeur = ATM, cashpoint
le clavier
= touchpad
le tabac =tobacconist, tobacconist's (shop selling cigarettes and other items (cards, magazines...)
un ivrogne, une ivrogne = alcoholic, a drunkard (man), a drunkard (woman)
la supérette = mini market, grocer
le mendiant, la mendiante = beggar
passe inaperçu = goes unnoticed 
l’animalerie = pet shop, pet supply store
un antivol = antitheft device
une épingle à nourrice
= safety pin
malin = clever
illico = right away (see the post for more)

1490E128-69B3-4E67-A710-C1EA12946DC8
Rusty and Betty, the baby tourterelles, are doing great. We are thrilled they have remained in our yard, and often fly down to peck for seeds in the garden.

Serenity prayer priere de la serenity sicily italy
Do you know The Serenity Prayer in French? Learn the words and enjoy the calm and peace this poem brings. Bon week-end. Enjoy.

A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. Ongoing support from readers like you helps keep this site ad-free and allows me to focus on writing. My wish is to continue creating posts that are educational, insightful, and heart-warming. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider supporting it via a blog donation of any amount.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. PayPal or credit card
3. A bank transfer, ZELLE is a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase our online memoir, The Lost Gardens