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Ratiboiser & Cafi: Two Fun Words from The Olive Harvest

Le Beausset
Our story begins in Le Beausset... just over the hill from Bandol.

TODAY'S WORD: Ratiboiser

    : to chop
    : to plunder, pinch, swipe 

Ratiboiser also means "couper à ras" (to cut very short). When you return from the hairdresser's and your locks were cut too short, you could say, "Ils m'ont ratiboisé les cheveux. They completely cut my hair!"

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

This weekend was full, plein, rempli, like the olives trees we picked samedi. "Ils sont cafis !" my friend Sophie remarked, arriving at the field with her bucket and olive rake. Cafi! now there's a cool slang word to add to our repertoire, dear reader! Follow along and we will gather a few more…along with a ton of olives.

Saturday's olive harvest would've been another chance for our new dog to adapt to a different environment, but we decided to leave Ricci at home with Grandma Jules. Une bonne décision as several cats showed up to the oliveraie to check out all the activity.

At Vava and Laurent's in Le Beausset, some 300 olive trees were waiting to be picked for this year's récolte d'olives. Jean-Marc and I were the first volunteers to arrive to la cueillette. We helped to spread out a net on the ground to catch the olives, then we each grabbed a hand rake to comb the olive branches, a technique that is easy on the trees and saves time. The wet ground was already soaking my sneakers and it was chilly out, making me wonder if things were going to get uncomfortable fast. With only 5 pickers, the picking was slow so we eased the pain by joking about when our friends—les renforts—would finally arrive (this happened around 11 a.m., suspiciously close to l'heure de l’apéro…). At that point the sun finally made its way over the hill and the group livened up thanks to some new helpers qui a la tchatche--who have the gift of gab.

Seated on an upturned bucket, raking the cut branches for more olives, I listened to the conversations going on around the olive grove. Topics ranged from age-gap marriage to Japanese toilets (the estate had a "Boku" bidet. The popular brand is a saucy play on the words "beau" and "cul" or "beautiful butt," which refers to the desired outcome after using the fesse-cleaning apparatus). As you can imagine, such talk leads to innuendo--something the French excel at. Even if I didn’t understand all the words lingering in the air above me, there were others up for grabs along with all those olives.

”What do you call this?” Vava's sister, Geraldine, asked, waving a peignes à olives.

"A rake," I answered.

“Rake….” Geraldine repeated, making a few associations to drill the new word into memory. “Rake…Rateau…. Ratiboiser... “

Ratiboiser—that one sounded familiar. It means “to pilfer, plunder, or “to make off with.” After we'd plundered or made off with 200 kilos of olives, it was time for lunch. Jean-Marc headed to the BBQ, to cook some merguez and chipolatas, while Vava beelined over to the kitchen. The long harvest table began to fill with food, including a plateau de charcuterie (featuring sliced salami, rillettes, and pâté. Wine was passed around and my friend Sophie surprised me with a special non-alcoholic drink in a beautiful sangria glass decorated with lots of fresh mint. What a treat! Next, we sat down to homemade eggplant lasagna, sausages, and baked chicken. One of the friends, Jean-Michel, brought along a prized magnum from his collection—a bottle of Jean-Marc’s “Zero Watt,” a wine my husband made “without electricity,” when we moved to St. Cyr-sur-Mer in 2012, to our own olive farm and future vineyard. That wine and today’s olive harvest brought back bittersweet memories, but volunteering at our friend’s harvest helps in its own way: for one, we get to use what skills we gained in the 10 years we harvested our own fields, and one of those skills is, simply, the ability to show up early and prepared.

One thing about arriving first to the olive harvest is... less guilt when leaving early and missing the grueling afternoon shift. As mentioned, we had a full agenda Saturday. It was time now to get ready for a birthday party. So after we plundered the buffet we kissed Vava and Laurent goodbye and waved au revoir et bon après-midi to our friends, the olive-picking crew.  “See you next year, bright and early!” 

To leave a comment or a correction to this post, click here. I'd love to know which city you are writing in from!

Kristi and Vava olive harvest Le Beausset France
Kristi and Vava. There is one of the hand rakes used to harvest the olives.


Click here to listen to all the words below in French and in English

rempli = full
plein =
= full of
une bonne décision =
a good decision
une oliveraie
= olive grove
un peigne
= comb
la récolte d’olives
= olive harvest
la cueillette
= harvest
le renfort =
the backup crew, the reinforcement
l’heure de l’apéro
= cocktail hour
qui à la tchatche = who has the gift of gab
les fesses = butt 
ratiboiser = to pilfer, plunder
rillettes = a kind of pâté 

Thank you for the most lovely comments following this blog's 21st birthday. Your words are deeply touching and will remain in my heart forever! And sincere thanks to the following readers who sent in a blog donation this past week!

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Congratulations- your insights and humor add value to each of our lives. Jo-Anne

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Congratulations, Kristin! Your blog is a source of happiness for me! Thank you! Here's to many, many more years! Catherine L.,  San Diego, CA

Bonjour Kristi! Congratulations on your 21st! I’ve been enjoying your journal since long ago I can’t remember when. Loved your book, too. Just wanted to send my Gratitude and lots of Love and Light to you! Thank you for being beautiful YOU! Kazuko


Olive picking in le beausset

In this vintage Land Rover, which the brothers-in-law share, the morning's olive harvest is stacked in les caisses de récolte, ready to be pressed at the olive mill.

Kristi and Ricci graffiti
Kristi and Ricci. Sunday marks 4 weeks since we brought 3-year-old Ricci home from Aveyron. Her appetite has grown, she now barks when strangers come to her home, and she loves the beach. It's a joy to see her personality unfold. 

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

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


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Leslie Layton

Bonjour! We planted three little olive trees last year here in Newberry, South Carolina. Supposedly they will grow in our climate zone!
That meal sounded scrumptious!


It’s so nice to be able to bring us to the harvest! Vividly described ! Thoughtful friends & inquisitive group!!
In the beau (cul) toilettes (mine called Tushi).. just returned from middle eastern countries! What a great idea! They are in every (public, private) bathroom ! Just bought one for mine!! Love it!!
Bonne journée ! Et merci encore !!

Suzanne Dunaway

Yes, show up early to an olive picking and sweet is the non-guilt of leaving early, uh, just after a nice taste of the table’s riches! Pot-au-feu was always served at our olive-picking friend’s house and the proverbial a good time was had by all. We just adore your new doggy with the eyes, the beautiful eyes…ll

Suzanne in Monroe, NJ

A lovely account of the olive harvest. Your déjeuner sounds fabulous especially the eggplant lasagna! Hopefully you will get some olive oil that will bring back memories of the day spent with friends. So glad Ricci is settling in with your family.

Susan Willliams

Merci, Kristin, pour ces toujours nouvelles interessantes!

Just a quick FYI - in your caption for the Land Rover, you mention brother-in-law's. The plural of this should be brothers-in-law (no apostrophe, which is reserved for possession and contraction).

Bonne journee (can't add the accents here and above!). C'est toujours un plaisir de lire ce blog!


Susan (from Black Mountain, NC)

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Susan. So helpful! Off to fix it now. All the best, K.


Kristi, It is such a treat to read your blog. I look for it first when my daily list of emails arrive in my Inbox. Every time one is there I sit and read and imagine your life there in France. Today is no exception. Such a nice community you have.
After the pressing are you able to enjoy the fruits of your labor? I hope so.
A faithful reader,

Concord, MA

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Anne! Your note motivates me to keep sharing and describing these scenes and the wonderful characters that we are lucky to call friends! And, yes, Laurent and Vava kindly offered to set aside a bottle of olive oil for us. 

Janine Cortell

Bonjour Kristi
One ofcthe most fun events of my one year
sabbatical in France was olive picking with my neighbors who owned an olive grove near Nimes. My children at that time were 8 and 12
and it was such forcthem as well.
Happy memories.


Our dear Kristi ,
What a(nother) wonderful post! Such beautiful pictures,such vacabulaire tre utile....oh!,your exphrasis(!!)
has once again given your fortunate readers an incredible day ,incredible meal, and all the pleasure of watching you help where help was so appreciated!!What a day to remember!! ( although ma chere,I have to be honest: my back aches even thinking about participating in all this activity!)
Always,blessings to all of you
Arms around you
Natalia. Xo

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, chère Natalia! If you ever come to an olive harvest, you can sit beside me on an upturned bucket (that is the secret to saving your back! xoxo) 

Ron Cann

Clicking on to the link to your mother, and seeing the picture of you, your sister and her at your wedding, was a poignant reminder of how much you have shared with your readers over the years. Running through your blog is an underlying deep revelation of you, your thoughts, hopes, and feelings that few of us learn about most others. It's quite genuine and moving!
Thank you for sharing with us!

Frances in Napa, CA USA

What fun that must have been to harvest the olives - and then to all have lunch together. I love seeing photos of you with Ricci - such a happy story. Are you going to cure the olives yourself?

BTW - I have connections in New Zealand, if Jean-Marc is still looking for some.


You can always be counted on to lend a helping hand and to make the time pass more quickly with your sense of humor! How good to be with friends and share your expertise with the harvest. It looked like a lovely day and a bountiful meal shared with everyone. Another interesting account - I have never done anything like that. Thank you 😊

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Ron! Your comment really touches me! I am blessed and honored to have thoughtful readers, such as you, who have become friends.

Scott Brotherton

Kristi -am currently in Matthews, NC but am in the process of ‘retiring’ to Black Mt, NC in a few short months. I first started following you when my young daughter had an interest in French when she was quite young. She is now a Senior in college. I very much appreciate what you do. I love following your adventures & am always looking forward to my next trip to France. Best !

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Scott. So enjoyed learning about how you came to read my blog! All best wishes for your move, and for your daughter’s upcoming graduation.

Sharon (Prescott, AZ)

I highly recommend article and especially the 15 minute documentary (video) in today's New York Times.

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