A couple of Max's cahiers from 4ème (8th grade). More than in the classroom, cahiers are used in many French establishments...  

 le cahier (keye yay)

    : notebook, exercise book

(from the Latin "quaterni" or "set of four": the first cahiers had four pages... from the pliage, or folding, of one page)

le cahier d'exercices = workbook
le cahier à spirale = spiral-bound notebook
le cahier de textes = homework notebook 

Audio File: The sound files will return soon... now that Chief Grape is back (I'll get him, shortly, at the airport in Marseilles).

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

The Art of Bookkeeping

I am at the bank trying to deposit a royalty check (made out in US dollars). I watch as the mademoiselle behind the counter is overcome by a look of doubt.

"Et qu'est-ce que c'est comme société?" she interrogates, pointing to the name at the top of the check.

Mademoiselle's question sounds like an accusation in the ears of the homebody who is hearing it. Standing there in muddied boots and an unironed chemise I wonder whether my appearance has anything to do with things? No, I reason. You are once again reading too much into it (besides, it's impossible to see my boots from where she is sitting). 

Meantime, Mademoiselle is waiting for an answer...

"C'est une maison d'edition," I point out.

I am instantly ashamed of the smug feeling I have just enjoyed in announcing that the check has been issued by a publishing house! But any puffed-uppery is short-lived when, like soiled clothes tossed into a laundry chute--I am abruptly released from Pride thanks to Truth. (Truth is, the young teller makes more money in one month than I have made in six months of book sales... and the exchange rate sure doesn't help things!)

I watch as Mademoiselle Money-Maker reaches for a thin spiral notebook; inside, I see handwriting scrawled across les pages quadrillées. Next the bank teller practices what I have come to know as "French Data Entry". Forget, for a moment, France's history of being on the cutting edge of data processing (remember Le Minitel?), the French still revert to ink when it comes to documentation.

I stare at that flimsy cahier. Will she note the check information in there? Will my money be safe?....

Since moving to France, I have seen and been intrigued by the modern-day uses of scholastic notebooks by the likes of dentists, secretaries at town hall, the local garagiste, and, now, the banker. Record-keeping at its French best! In the flip of a curlicue-covered page (French longhand is unmistakable), my dentist can tell me my children's oral history. (Note: the same dentist also has the latest Mac with which to view those cool tooth diagrams on the big screen... I guess cahiers are more for documenting than for drawing). 

Such old-fashioned ways and means for information recording are a breath of fresh air in this technologically chetchy society. But I have to admit that it comes as a relief when I notice the bank teller doing a backup (...and typing the check information into a computer database).

All that scribbling in the cahier seems like a lot of extra work... but then again... if Mademoiselle's computer ever gets fried as mine once did... then I am grateful knowing it's all been documented--my not-so-smug salary--via dotted I's and crossed T's.


Le Coin Commentaires
Have you, too, noticed the French tendency to use cahiers to record data? Is it just me? Or do the French have a tendency to note... and to note encore!? Share your experiences... and ask/answer questions in our community corner (aka the comments box!)

French Vocabulary

la mademoiselle = young lady

Et qu'est-ce que c'est comme société? = what kind of company is it?

une chemise = shirt

C'est une maison d'edition = it's a publishing house

le Minitel = in the early 80s, pre World Wide Web, the Minitel (picture a small computer terminal) was an online-information resource (users could look up telephone numbers, reserve train tickets, do online banking... way back when!)

les pages (f) quadrillées = the cross-ruled, checked pages

le cahier = notebook

le/la garagiste = mechanic 

Flower Charm (c) Kristin Espinasse

"Fanfare on the Front Porch" Thanks again and again to the Dirt Divas for coloring up our world. These flower arrangements were created by Doreen. She gave them to me at Malou's house, after tea and a "books-n-gardening" meeting. We loaded the freshly planted pots into the trunk and I drove wildly, excitedly home. So much so that when I opened the trunk there was dirt everywhere. I tucked the clumps of plants back into their upended pots... and followed Doreen's instructions: put the two outside (in any weather), and the others indoors until the threat of frost passes.

I could not imagine, then, that from the clumps of dirt and scattered greens... up would come this jubilant scene! P.S.: Doreen had apologized for the plastic containers, suggesting I set them into something a little more eye-catching. I hope these boots will do the trick! Many thanks encore, Doreen and Malou. I hope to see you here again very soon! To comment on the flowers or to share your own gardening notes, join us in the comment box, click here.

You will find more stories and photos of the Dirt Divas in the "Garden" section


Exercises in French Phonics Exercises in French Phonics is... 
" a great book for learning French pronunciation"
"useful and practical"
"high quality material, good value for your money" --from Amazon customer reviews. Order your copy here.


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une pantoufle

Three Characters in the Vaucluse (c) Kristin Espinasse
This week we reunite with three characters from the archives, French personnages who have touched me in one way or another. I hope they will touch you, too.
Note: a sound file for today's word, and more, can be found at the end of this letter.

*     *     *



noun, feminine

  : slipper


The man in line in front of me wore pantoufles two sizes too small. His swollen calves, riddled with eczema, hung over his ankles, which disappeared into his shrunken slippers. As usual, he wore sweatpants that rose mid-calf.

I often see the man in pantoufles hanging out of a village poubelle. He is passionate about garbage and is forever reaching for it. His backside, with the vertical line peeking out from the center of his waistband, is a familiar sight in our village. When he isn't dangling (and flashing) from a trash barrel, he is hunched over, collecting litter from the street, careful to put the waste where it belongs. We have a tidy village thanks to this man, who appears to both love and abhor trash.

Standing in line at the Crédit Agricole, the man wearing pantoufles waited for his turn to visit the bank teller. He had that same blank look on his face, the one he wears while hunting for garbage: expressionless, transfixed by trash—or troubled by it, you never know.

From behind the counter, the pretty guichetière inquired:

"How much today, Jean-Pierre?"

J.-P. stepped forward and replied, "Vingt euros."

"Il n'y a pas. You don't have that much," she answered. "How about fifteen?"

Jean-Pierre nodded, fixing his eyes on a ballpoint pen chained to the comptoir.

"Here you are. And don't spend it all at the Bar des Sports, okay?"

Jean-Pierre remained unresponsive to the guichetière's charm and humor. Though the carefree cashier and the catatonic garbage-picker had this same exchange every day, I stood there, ill at ease about overhearing the limits of J.-P.'s fortune. Not that I didn't know even more about him—and his family (everyone knows everything about everybody in this village. Or so they like to think they do).

Take, for example, J.-P.'s sister, Agnès, who hangs out the clothes to dry along their apartment's tiny 2nd-floor balcony. She does housework in her underwear. The only time she is dressed is in the winter or when she walks her dilapidated dog. She has the exact same corpulent frame as her brother and looks identical to him; only, she wears teal-green eye shadow, caked black mascara and red lipstick when she drinks. Drunk or sober, her hair is a nid d'oiseau. When she's not hanging out clothes, she can be heard a kilometer away, barking orders to their elderly mother.

"J'en ai marre! Mange! Mange! I'm fed up! Eat! Eat!" she says, waving a spoon before her mother.

My own mom, Jules, who lived for a while in a third-floor studio across the street from Jean-Pierre and his family, encouraged me to not be so quick to judge Agnès (pronounced ON-yes).

"She has so many worries," Mom explained. "Poor thing. She has to spoonfeed her mother, who sits there, mouth clamped shut, stubborn as can be. When she does get a spoonful in, her mother just spits it right back out! Then she's got all that laundry. She never stops!"

I tried not to judge Agnès, but I did find myself avoiding her, and I crossed the street at the sight of her and her porto-enflamed cheeks. Something about her seemed déséquilibrée.

One day, while walking to my mom's studio, I saw Agnès slumped over her doorstep. I noticed she was dressed. From her eyes poured two black rivers, down her face, across her red lips and onto her thin, soiled shirt. My mom sat next to Agnès, her arm around the sad woman's shoulder. In front of the women there was a flurry of French paramedics, beyond, a narrow stretcher covered with a long white sheet. My eyes locked on the bundle in the center, beneath le drap blanc.

That evening I saw Agnès' brother snapping up litter from the uneven cobblestone paths of our village. His pants were on straight, and the unsightly crack had disappeared. Gone were his predictable pantoufles. He wore white, canvas tennis shoes, his puffy heels hanging out the back. His face remained expressionless, though his lips sunk a bit at each end. His hair was combed, parted. And just like the garbage collector's shoes, the village was pristine the night they carried Agnès's and Jean-Pierre's mother away.

The trash man may never understand the beautiful bank teller's humor, but Life's comedy is something he knows: as with the never-ending reach of litter, the trick is to keep moving, to keep after it. Life, that is.

*     *     *

Feedback and corrections are always welcome, appreciated, and helpful! Thank you for responding to my story in the comments box.

Not sure how to respond to today's story? Maybe you'd rather answer this light-hearted question, instead: Do you, like Agnès, do housework in your underwear? Answers, here.

French Vocabulary

le personnage
= character
la pantoufle = house slippers
la poubelle = garbage can
le Crédit Agricole = the "largest retail banking group in France"
la guichetière = the bank teller
vingt euros = twenty euros
le comptoir = counter
le nid d'oiseau = bird's nest
déséquilibré = unbalanced
le drap blanc = white sheet


More about today's French word pantoufle...

un(e) pantouflard(e) = a homebody

The verb "pantoufler" means to leave a government job to work for a private corporation (speaking of a civil servant).

passer sa vie dans ses pantoufles = to live a secluded life
raisonner comme une pantoufle = (to reason like a slipper) to reason foolishly

And a charming old expression (sadly, not used anymore): "Et caetera pantoufle" or "Etc. pantoufle" used to end an enumeration. "In our refrigerator we have milk, eggs, butter, sour cream, etc. pantoufle."


Shopping: two books  
 1. French dictionary:  Acclaimed by language professionals the world over, the Oxford-Hachette Dictionary has long been the market leader.  
 2. Barron's How to Prepare for the AP French Advanced Placement Examination



Citation du Jour:
Il y a de grands voyages qu'on ne fait bien qu'en pantoufles.
There are great journeys that are best traveled in slippers.

--Jean Sarment

Audio File by Jean-Marc: listen to the French word pantoufle and the example sentence, above: Download "Pantoufle" Wav File . Download Pantoufle MP3 file

In Books & Music:
Chasing Matisse: A Year in France Living My Dream
I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany
In French music: Serge Lama

Songs in French for Children including Alouette, Sur le Pont d'Avignon, Claire Fontaine, Prom'non Nous dans les Bois...


More characters on the way, in the Wednesday and Friday editions! Meantime, don't miss some of my favorite personnages in my book: Words in a French Life. You'll meet "Madame Richard," "La Petite Souris", and one persnickety priest ... among many other French characters. And if you already have a copy of "Words", why not buy another copy for a friend? You might just ignite the love of French life in another, and there's no telling where this language adventure will take them. I still can't believe where it has taken me!

Three Random Words:
desseller = to unsaddle
empoté,e = awkward, maladroit, clumsy
fâcher = to make angry, to vex

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.


Though we still don't know if our loan has been approved, or if our home will be mortgaged, Jean-Marc has gone ahead with the plans for his wine cellar.

hypothèque (ee-poh-tek) noun, feminine

Une dette flottante est un navire hypothèque.
A floating debt is a mortgaged vessel.
--Jean-Charles (French humorist)

At the Crédit Agricole bank I tugged on the perfect green leaf of a benjamin ficus tree. The plant looked real enough but just as I was about to stick my finger into the terracotta pot to check, the banker returned.

"Thanks and we'll be in touch," the banker said, handing us back one French and one American passport, just-copied documents to be added to a five inch thick folder full of information on our vineyard project.

Jean-Marc had spent the last hour trying to convince Monsieur Thomas to lend us the money for the viticole* property. Though we have signed promise papers to buy the vines and handed over the five percent down payment, we are unable to write a check for 95% of the purchase price, due sometime in March.

"If we find a buyer for our own home in the next week, will you reconsider the hypothèque?"* Jean-Marc asked, trying to avoid the short-term mortgaging of our home and the astronomical fees involved. Considering our house had been on the market almost two months it wasn't likely to sell anytime soon, certainly not in off-season. I stared at the hopeful expression on my husband's face, surprised by his wishful thinking. The banker seemed positively amused.

Not five days later, as Bacchus is my witness, a man and a woman walked onto our property and offered to buy our home. On December 30th we signed papers promising to sell it to them.

Until the ink begins to dry on the final contract, the bank loans having come through, we won't know if this vineyard dream is for real or if, like the perfect green leaves of the banker's tree, illusory. Only Bacchus, god of vine and wine, grinning up there in the Ste. Cécilian heavens beyond, knows who will collect those sweet grapes come harvest time.

References: viticole (adj.) = wine, wine-growing; une hypothèque (f) = mortgage

:: Audio clip ::
Hear the French word for mortgage in the following expressions: Download hypotheque.wav

lever l'hypothèque = to take away the obstacle
prendre une hypothèque sur l'avenir = to mortgage the future
hypothèquer = to mortgage, hypothecate, to secure (by mortgage)
une hypothèque à taux variable = variable rate mortgage
une hypothèque de deuxième rang = a second mortgage
une hypothèque sur les biens mobiles = chattel mortgage
un contrat d'hypothèque = mortgage deed
purger une hypothèque = to pay off a mortgage

In books and gifts:
Monet's House: An Impressionist Interior

Travel accessories: silk money belt for travel.

Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal. If you find value in this website and would like to keep it going strong, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! A contribution by check or via PayPal (links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!

♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

To purchase our memoir, THE LOST GARDENS click here.