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.




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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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety