Vadrouiller: 7 updates while we roam around La Maddalena
What to serve our Guests? (and "Bob's Your Uncle" in French)

“La Douloureuse”: A funny way to say “the check” + A Tourist Trap, Beware!

Handwoven fishing baskets on La Maddalena Island, off Sardinia. Read about how we got trapped in a tourist net in today’s missive, and learn another meaning for la douloureuse. Speaking of pain, my eye surgery went well. Thank you for your kind notes.

Today’s (Slang) Word: la douloureuse

  : the check, the bill, “the painful”

AUDIO: Click the link below to hear the example sentence + all the French vocabulary. Then scroll down to check your French comprehension.

Click here for thr MP3 file

L’argot s’est enrichi d’un mot charmant. La note à payer, connue sous le nom d’addition, s’appelle, depuis quelque temps, la douloureuse. Slang has been enriched with a charming word. The bill, known as “the addition,” has for some time been called “the painful.”— Aurélien Scholl

In books: How to Retire Overseas: Everything You Need to Know to Live Well (for Less) Abroad


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse 

La Maddalena c’est le royaume du poisson! Jean-Marc said, and from the selection of fish on display outside the island eateries, I could see why.

It was our second day along the Italian archipel, and we had reservations at a restaurant recommended by our Airbnb host. Seated now among the stylish clientele, I began to feel uneasy in my sundress and mismatched wool cardigan. Tant pis! I was in good company. There across the table sat my husband, wearing his favorite T-shirt: “Real Men Drive Tractors.” Regarding evening attire, we might be slowing down... But in affaires of the heart we are making good progress. For that I raised a glass of acqua frizzante as my date reached for his Vermentino and we toasted to 28 years of marriage. Tchin-tchin!

They say novelty is one key to a good marriage and something new for us is letting me pay the bill. All these years my husband has handled l’addition, for a “pain free” transaction. Even if the debit is coming out of our mutual account, I don't feel it so much when my spouse takes care of the check. I became aware of this when traveling to the US last month, when Mom surprised me with $500! “It will make things a little less painful for you while on vacation. Enjoy your time with your sisters and your dad and use this to help with the restaurants.” How generous of Jules to offer me spending money to make the bill—or “la douloureuse”—as they call it in France, a little less painful.

Les Oursins Dans Ma Poche? It isn’t that I have prickly sea urchins in my pockets, preventing me from reaching for my cash. It just depends on the situation. While spending is one thing, giving is different matter and something that doesn’t hurt at all (as Jules says: it feels good to give!). But overpaying, that’s another story and so on with ours….

Jean-Marc and I had settled on the pasta and fish (I would order the pasta, he would order the fish and we would share our main (and only) dishes. But when we learned the fish of the day didn’t have a set price (it was listed at 7€ per 100 grams) we asked the waiter for just one serving or “fish for one” figuring we were within our budget.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” said he, “we only have turbot in that case.” Having never had turbot, I figured he was apologizing for having only a substandard fish “for one.” “It’s ok, I’ll have the turbot!” I decided, certain it was the best deal on the exotic fish menu….

For a substandard fish, that turbot was magnifique! It was a flat fish, similar to sole, and very delicate looking. The waiter carved it for us and we each had a palm-sized portion to go along with the pasta dish we were splitting. I ordered cheesecake for dessert and Jean-Marc ordered an extra spoon for his “taxable” portion as he calls it. (The kids and I call it Get Your Own the Next Time! But the kids, all grown now, weren’t here and so the bill would be even less—or should have been....

Holy cow! No wonder the French call the check “la douloureuse.” The meal we shared cost 108 euros. Just as I was resigning myself to pay the painful note, Jean-Marc smelled something fishy….

“Sixty-six euros for the turbot? But that’s impossible. We ordered fish ‘for one’!”

“But maybe we should have asked the price?”

“One serving of fish is around 500 grams. They are charging us for almost one kilo!” An argument ensued when the manager came over. “This is NOT fair!” my husband insisted, giving his final word. With that, the manager pointed to the bill and drew a line through the 108 euro total…JM and I were hopeful… until the manager scribbled “100.” 

Fifty euros per person was not unreasonable for our anniversary dinner, and I just wanted to pay the bill (more than ever) and leave before the scene got any bigger. But my husband wouldn’t let that fish go! On the way out he stopped the manager, who was in the middle of serving clients on the terrace. Next, Jean-Marc raised his finger and wagged it like never before. Wag, wag, wag! “La prochaine fois qu’on vous demande un poisson pour une person ne servez pas un poisson facturé pour deux persons!!!” The next time someone asks for fish for one don’t charge for a fish for two!!”

I stood there feeling as awkward as my dress until, finally, I grabbed my husband by the arm, sunk my fingernails in and the finger-wagging stopped. Next, we stumbled off, one of us shaking in indignation, the other struggling along in slippery sandals. 

We passed several more eateries on our stroll back to the rental apartment, and I wondered just how many other tourists were in for a surprise when la doleureuse arrived. Meantime, my husband walked silently. It was time for some humor to dispel the mood, and what better than a play on words?

“We’ve got to remember never to order turbot again. It’s the most expensive fish!” 

“No it isn’t,” JM corrected me. “All the fish cost 7 euros per 100 grams.”

”Well then, you might say we were ‘turbo’charged!”

So that’s my fish story, dear reader. I would love to read about your own mistakes or any tourists traps you yourself fell into while traveling. Thanks for sharing and see ou next week.




La Maddalena, c'est le royaume du poisson ! a déclaré Jean-Marc, et à la vue de la sélection de poissons exposés devant les restaurants de l'île, je pouvais comprendre pourquoi.

C'était notre deuxième jour dans l'archipel italien, et nous avions réservé une table dans un restaurant recommandé par notre hôte Airbnb. Assis maintenant parmi la clientèle élégante, je commençais à me sentir mal à l'aise dans ma robe d'été et mon cardigan en laine dépareillé. Tant pis ! J'étais en bonne compagnie. De l'autre côté de la table, mon mari était assis, portant son t-shirt préféré : "Les vrais hommes conduisent des tracteurs." En ce qui concerne la tenue du soir, nous ralentissons peut-être... Mais en ce qui concerne les affaires du cœur, nous progressons bien. Pour cela, j'ai levé mon verre d'eau pétillante pendant que mon partenaire prenait son Vermentino, et nous avons trinqué à nos 28 ans de mariage. Tchin-tchin !

On dit que la nouveauté est l'une des clés d'un bon mariage, et quelque chose de nouveau pour nous, c'est me laisser payer l'addition. Toutes ces années, mon mari s'est occupé de l'addition pour une transaction "sans douleur". Même si le débit provient de notre compte commun, je ne le ressens pas autant lorsque mon conjoint règle l'addition. Je m'en suis rendu compte lors d'un voyage aux États-Unis le mois dernier, lorsque ma mère m'a surprise avec 500 dollars ! "Cela rendra les choses un peu moins douloureuses pour toi pendant les vacances. Profite de ton temps avec tes sœurs et ton père et utilise cet argent pour t'aider avec les restaurants." Quelle générosité de la part de Jules de m'offrir de l'argent de poche pour rendre l'addition - ou "la douloureuse", comme on dit en France - un peu moins douloureuse.

Les Oursins Dans Ma Poche ? Ce n'est pas parce que j'ai des oursins piquants dans mes poches que je ne peux pas prendre mon argent. Cela dépend juste de la situation. Si les dépenses sont une chose, donner en est une autre et cela ne fait pas mal du tout (comme le dit Jules : ça fait du bien de donner !). Mais payer trop cher, c'est une autre histoire, et c'est ainsi que ça s'est passé pour nous...

Jean-Marc et moi avions opté pour des pâtes et du poisson (je commanderais les pâtes, il commanderait le poisson et nous partagerions nos plats principaux (et uniques). Mais lorsque nous avons appris que le poisson du jour n'avait pas de prix fixe (il était indiqué à 7 € les 100 grammes), nous avons demandé au serveur une seule portion ou "du poisson pour une personne", en pensant que cela rentrerait dans notre budget.

"Oh, je suis désolé", dit-il, "nous avons seulement du turbot dans ce cas". N'ayant jamais mangé de turbot, je pensais qu'il s'excusait d'avoir seulement un poisson de qualité inférieure "pour une personne". "

Ce n'est pas grave, je prendrai le turbot !" ai-je décidé, certaine que c'était la meilleure affaire du menu des poissons exotiques...

Pour un poisson de qualité inférieure, ce turbot était magnifique ! C'était un poisson plat, semblable à la sole, et d'apparence très délicate. Le serveur nous l'a découpé et nous avions chacun une portion de la taille d'une paume de main pour accompagner notre plat de pâtes que nous partagions. J'ai commandé une tarte au fromage pour le dessert et Jean-Marc a demandé une cuillère supplémentaire pour sa part "taxable", comme il dit. (Les enfants et moi l'appelons "Prends le tien la prochaine fois !" Mais les enfants, tous adultes maintenant, n'étaient pas là, donc l'addition aurait dû être encore moins élevée... ou du moins ça aurait dû être le cas...

Sacré nom d'un chien ! Pas étonnant que les Français appellent l'addition "la douloureuse". Le repas que nous avons partagé nous a coûté 108 euros. Juste au moment où je me résignais à payer la note douloureuse, Jean-Marc a senti quelque chose de louche...

"Soixante-six euros pour le turbot ? Mais c'est impossible. Nous avons commandé du poisson 'pour une personne' !"

"Mais peut-être aurions-nous dû demander le prix ?"

"Une portion de poisson fait environ 500 grammes. Ils nous facturent presque un kilo !" Une dispute a éclaté lorsque le directeur est venu. "Ce n'est PAS juste !" a insisté mon mari, donnant le dernier mot. Avec ça, le directeur a pointé du doigt la note et a rayé le total de 108 euros... JM et moi étions pleins d'espoir... jusqu'à ce que le directeur écrive "100".

Cinquante euros par personne n'étaient pas déraisonnables pour notre dîner d'anniversaire, et je voulais juste payer la note (plus que jamais) et partir avant que la scène ne prenne plus d'ampleur. Mais mon mari ne voulait pas lâcher l'affaire ! En partant, il a arrêté le directeur, qui était en train de servir des clients en terrasse. Ensuite, Jean-Marc a levé le doigt et l'a secoué comme jamais auparavant. Secouer, secouer, secouer ! "La prochaine fois que quelqu'un demande du poisson pour une personne, ne facturez pas un poisson pour deux personnes !"

Je suis restée là, me sentant aussi mal à l'aise que ma robe jusqu'à ce que, finalement, je saisisse mon mari par le bras, enfonce mes ongles et que le secouage de doigt s'arrête. Ensuite, nous sommes partis en titubant, l'un de nous bouillonnant d'indignation, l'autre se débattant avec des sandales glissantes.

Nous avons passé plusieurs autres restaurants lors de notre promenade de retour vers l'appartement de location, et je me demandais combien d'autres touristes allaient avoir une surprise en voyant arriver la douloureuse. Pendant ce temps, mon mari marchait en

silence. Il était temps de dissiper l'atmosphère avec un peu d'humour, et quoi de mieux qu'un jeu de mots ?

"Nous devons nous souvenir de ne jamais commander de turbot à nouveau. C'est le poisson le plus cher !"

"Non, ce n'est pas le cas", m'a corrigé JM. "Tous les poissons coûtent 7 euros les 100 grammes."

"Eh bien, on pourrait dire que nous étions 'turbo'chargés !"

Voilà mon histoire de poisson, cher lecteur. J'adorerais lire vos propres erreurs ou les pièges dans lesquels vous êtes tombés en voyage. Merci de partager et à la semaine prochaine.


le royaume du poisson = the kingdom of fish
tant pis = oh, well
les affaires = articles of clothing
l’acqua frizzante = sparkling water
le Vermontino = a grape variety from Corsica, Sardinia, Liguria, and Provence
tchin-tchin! = here’s to you!
la douloureuse = the check, “the painful thing”
avoir les oursins dans la poche = to be a cheapskate, “to have sea urchins in your pockets”

In books: Her Own Legacy by Debra Borchert. A Woman Fights for Her Legacy as the French Revolution Erupts. Order here



The port of La Maddalena 

A cheery eatery near our Airbnb

Can you read Jean-Marc’s T-shirt via the reflection in the window?

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Jens Hork

Hi Kristi,

Well, I think we have all experienced these tourist traps (I remember a similar sea food dinner in Bodrum, Turkey, in 2010!), but turbot being the king of salt water fish is always pricy and it might have been caught up here in the North Sea. That's why I think it must have been way more expensive than the local Mediterranean fish (but they should have warned you of course).

Please say bonjour to Jean-Marc.


Hi Kristi,

Thanks for sharing your anniversary story! Sounds like a fun evening even with the painful bill!



Susan Stafford

Long ago, we had a similar shock in Portugal at a seaside restaurant where fresh fish was priced by the kilo. $150 for lunch for two! The price was high because it was based on the weight of the whole fish prior to the fish being filleted and cooked. It was delicious, and we still remember that meal and laugh.


Congratulations on your anniversary - sounds like a lovely place even with the greedy restaurant. Enjoyed the pictures - thank you for sharing. Hope your weekend is lovely.

BillR richardson

I have a Paris TTrap cab story. Hailed a cab from La Place Vendome to go to the American Express office near there. However, when we exited the square, the cab driver turned the wrong way which I recognized immediately as I had previously been to the intended AMEX office. En francais, I told the cab driver that she was going the opposite way and an argument ensued between us as we continued along the wrong route. Finally, in desperation, I demanded that she stop so I could exit the cab. She pulled to the curb and I handed her a 20 Euro bill which she immediately switched,by sleight of hand, to a 10 Euro bill and gave me a few coins in exchange for the 10. As she pulled away, I shouted, en francais, " voues etes une gypsy".

Note: At least one good thing came from this encounter as I did learn the french word "gitane" as I actually used the english word gypsy. So, that french word/lesson cost me 10+ Euros. lol


hi, Kristi: First of all, congratulations on your anniversary; many more to come; second, glad your eye surgery went well (didn't know about it). As for your story, good for Jean Marc to speak up; we went to an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn & asked for rice balls without any meat; we did receive them, but with meat in them. We told the manager about that & he says the waiter never got that message; we attempted to leave, but couldn't until we paid for the food that we never ate! Thieves all over the world! Amicalmente, Ann

Carolyn Rider Chase

So glad to hear the eye surgery went well. Mine was successful but issues remain.

I appreciate your feelings about the bill at the end of the meal. I'm willing to pay a high price if I choose to do so. I find it insulting that some enormous price is charged without my choice in advance. I'm glad that Jean Marc had at least expressed his feelings. Only protection for something like that happening I guess is demanding a clear expectation ahead of time of the largest the cost might be. Certainly diminishes the pleasure of the experience.



Happy Anniversary Kristi & Jean-Marc!
My husband and I have a different saying for being a cheapskate! We say someone who doesn't reach for la douloureuse has T-Rex arms! (Tyrannosaurus Rex) Arms too short to reach the bill! :-)

Kristin Espinasse

Beth, T-Rex arms—That is a good one!


Happy Anniversary to you both! Sounds like overall you had a wonderful time in La Maddelana. From the photos, it's very picturesque - great for a romantic weekend!

I'm sorry about the restaurant! We've all been there! I don't think it's just about the money (important, too), but more about that nagging icky feeling of being taken advantage of, and people actually lying to you, with no recourse. Horribly frustrating!

I hope you persevered and enjoyed the rest of your time in that beautiful place!

I have traveled in France and Italy extensively and for the most part have not had any problems with my bill, except....on several occasions I have had to take issue with the sommelier in the establishment because they can be pretty sneaky. I have been charged for a full bottle of wine when I only ordered a glass, and have been charged for a glass of wine that never appeared, etc. So, my advice is to read the bill carefully and make sure your sommelier is not trying pad his or her sales.

Happy Anniversary!
Derin Gemignani

Diane Heinecke

Sorry you two got hurt right in the wallet! Hope it didn't ruin your whole day. Makes it memorable: "Remember the time when..."

Philip Hicks

I screamed when you wrote that the waiter suggested turbot. It is an exceptional fish with an equally exceptional price. We had magnificent fresh prawns followed by turbot in Istanbul. The price was set BEFORE we even took a table. Fantastic meal worth every penny. There is a restaurant in Sonoma, CA that offers turbot at $140 a fish for two. Yep, pricey fish. Happy anniversary! I worked at Ravenswood and helped set up your CA winery tour.

Barbara Stephano

Chère Kristi, bravo pour Jean-Marc donner son avis!
Mais il serait triste de gâcher une occasion si joyeuse!
Souvent ici les restaurants exigent aussi des frais supplémentaires pour partager les entrées.
Tchin , tchin 🥂


A slang translation in English for "la douloureuse" is "the bad news" which can also be painful....

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Joan. This is just the translation I was looking for! 

gary mcclelland

I noticed this fall that in French restaurants, at least those outside Paris, diners are increasingly casual.
even in Burgundy. When asking for the bill, I tried a few times using "la douleureuse" and didn't get much reaction. I did hear some use of "le note." We leave for home tomorrow, so I won't be able to try any of those ways for asking for the bill until, probably, next June.

and happy anniversary! newbies!

Marianne Rankin

"Turbo'charged" is a great way to explain what happened to you!

I didn't know about the eye surgery. Was it in a message maybe I missed? In any case, I am so glad it went well.

In spite of the expensive meal, it seems you enjoyed it. And once in a while it is worth splurging to have something special. I think your 28th anniversary (congratulations!) is a good time.

Kristin Espinasse

Good to see your note, Philip. And thanks for the confirmation that turbot really is a pricey one! Glad you enjoy your meal in Istanbul.

Kristin Espinasse

Good tip! Thanks, Derin. 


I always love your posts. When I click on your email I can actually feel the tension leave me and my shoulders relax. You have such a way with words and storytelling! You are a gift each week. My husband and I visited Sardinia about six years ago. It was our last trip together to Europe. And was fantastic. He is still well and healthy but determined not to travel that far again. I'm glad that we have the memory of Sardinia to live on with us. And I enjoy your couple's time vicariously. Turbo charged made me laugh out loud!


Another English phrase is to ask for the damages. That attempt at humor suggests that there were problems with the meal, etc. Lame, gauche, a smart ass in my opinion.

Patricia baker

I think it’s “Real Men drive backward” printed on Jean Marc’s T shirt.

Kristin Espinasse

Hi Patricia,
I had to go and double check the photo. It does look like *backward* but it is actually “tractors”. Real Men Drive Tractors.

Kristin Espinasse

Hello, Gail, Thank you so much for your kind words, which really encourage me to keep on keeping on with this journal. I appreciate your taking the time to write these uplifting words. 
I understand your husband’s decision not to travel so far. Warmest wishes to you both. 

Maureen McCormick

Bon anniversaire, Kristi et Jean-Marc !

In the U.S. we say "What's the damage?" usually when one person is looking at the bill and the others are waiting to hear what they owe.

I hope you enjoy many more years of marriage and meals!

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