A Christmas story filled with French words

Pointu boats in Bandol, decorated in Christmas lights (c) Kristin Espinasse at French-word-a-day.com

I have a little gift for you today. The gift of language. Today's word of the day--make that "words" of the day, for there are many here--is in the story below. You'll also learn about this photo--snapped December 19th in the town of Bandol.

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

Driving round and round the seaside town of Bandol, I heard a faint mumbling beneath my breath: 

"But of course there's no parking--everyone's set out to do their gift shopping just like you!"

Stalled at yet another crosswalk, herds of shoppers passing by my car, coats and purses scraping against my headlights, I looked up at the giant Santa. He seemed as troubled as I (just look at those eyes!).

Claras war

Troubled and nervous! With the rain pouring down on my windshield, I proceeded to the next stop--and yet another crosswalk. It was tricky to see the pedestrians--given their knack for appearing from behind dark corners and landing in the middle of the street! 

With stress and frustration mounting, I had an urge to peel out of traffic and head for a quiet place to wait things out. I had one hour until my daughter's school bus arrived. Instead of using it wisely (to hunt for presents), I could use it indulgently (to pout!).

Now was a good time for a pep talk!

Look, there's a fishing and tackle store! You'd never have seen it if it weren't for this parking dilemma! You're sure to find something for Jean-Marc in there... One less thing to worry about! See what happens when you consider the bright side of things? GOOD happens!

My emotions jumped from despair to the very heady feeling I had now--that of espoir! Hope born of humility--for isn't that how it works? Put aside doubt (Will I ever find a gift?) and pride (And not just any gift--the perfect gift!) and intolerance (why am I not finding parking NOW)--and experience grace!

Grace indeed! Not only did a parking spot appear, but so did a peaceful and inspiring scene! I locked my car door and hurried over to the dock, just a few feet away, to snap a photo of some old fishing boats. Pointus! Their little masts were lined with Christmas lights.

The scene! And the colors! That blue, that gold. It was right out of a Van Gogh Starry Night painting.

I pulled my new Smartphone out of my coat pocket and approached the line of boats. Clicking on the camera app I knew chances were slim, this time, that a grumpy homeowner would pop out of one of those port windows and scold me for filming

With my umbrella teetering on my shoulder, my hands were free to take several pictures before turning toward the boutique-lined streets, opposite the port.

My former cares had completely fallen away as I marched down the street to collect Jean-Marc's gift. I still had no idea what the gift was, but felt confident of finding it in the tackle shop I'd spotted while stuck in traffic. And to think what a pathetic doubter I'd been! All it had taken was a slight tweak to my attitude. How well I'd handled that! How wise I had become! 

Rounding the corner I stopped dead in my hi-falutin' tracks. Oh no! The tackle store was closed!

C'est pas vrai! Now what to do? That old familiar grumbling returned, a little more colorful than before--as echoed in the words of the grumpy shoppers who passed me by: "@$#! Why are shops closing at 5pm, days before Christmas?!"

 Yes! Dagnabbit! Why indeed? Now what was *I* to do?

As I stared at the cobblestone pavement, watching puddles form where pavers were missing, a little inkling came along--hoppity hop hop--like a one-legged bird.

The little inkling said: "Excuse me, Mam, but maybe you need to retake The Test?"

"The Test?"

"Yes, Mam," Little Inkling said, reaching for the toe of my boot to balance his one-legged self. "See, so far it's been easy. You remembered to slow down, to breathe. You readjusted your attitude. You gleefully snapped up that parking spot and enjoyed the impressionistic scene just beyond it... but somewhere between there and here you--if you don't mind my saying--somewhere along the line you got a little sidetracked.

Distracted?

I thought back to all those shoppers I'd skipped past... and that smug feeling I had at being the one person around here who knew just where she was headed! How impatient I'd become when that slowpoke (the one back there with the sagging bonnet and cane) dawdled in front of the chemiserie, blocking my way to the tackle store! 

A tackle store that was now closed! Shoot! If I'd only sped it up a bit, I'd have made it in time!

"No!" said Little Inkling, hopping excitedly around my foot. "That's not the answer."

"Well, what IS the answer?" 

As Little Inkling and I stood debating, the one towering over the other, SlowPoke--with her saggy bonnet and noisy cane--had eclipsed us! She hobbled up the street, the picture of perseverance.

Looking back down to Mr. Inkling, I laughed. "Well, I thought I'd learned to trust in the outcome. But now that this store is closed, it's true--I'm riddled with doubt again! How will I ever finish my Christmas shopping on time? I guess now's the real test--to trust another opportunity will soon appear."

(Here, Little Inkling cleared his throat...)

"Oh yes," I remembered, "And, meantime, to be patient with others along the way!"

"Très bien!" the little one-footed creature said. And, turning his beak up the path, my eyes followed his gesture until I saw a glowing light in the quincaillerie, or hardware store.

"Aha! I have just the idea for Jean-Marc! Oh, thank you, Little Inkling! Thank you!"

I hurried up the street, pausing cautiously at the crosswalk. As I stood looking left, right, and left again, ever the prudent American, someone leaped off the curb from behind me, landing right in the middle of the street!

I shook my head in appreciation, watching as SlowPoke traversed the rue, just like any French pedestrian worth her salt. Crippled or not, they sure know how to stop traffic!

Post note: the names of the characters in today's story have been changed, in respect of their privacy. But I can share with you their professions:

  • "Little Inkling" is a spokesperson for the non-profit "A Fish's Rights!" (spends his weeknights in front of the tackle shop, distracting would-be shoppers!).
  • "SlowPoke"-- she's a B-movie stuntwoman and a seamstress at the chemisier. 
  • The character known as "Kristin" goes by "The Birthday Girl" in real life--or at least on Sunday--when she'll turn 46! 

All three wayward souls wish you happy holidays--may the coming week bring you peace and joy! Thank you for reading and for all the encouragement you have sent me in 2013. I hope these stories encourage you, too.


FRENCH VOCABULARY

la quincaillerie = hardware store
l'espoir = hope
un pointu = classic Mediterranean fishing boat
c'est pas vrai! = No way!
la chemiserie = shirt shop


Listen to A French Christmas and "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 

1-IMG_20131219_165709

Picture taken up the street from the tack shop. My perfect birthday gift would be for all those chairs to be filled with those who read and enjoy this blog! Let's see about a meet-up here, in the new year!

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


Faire le Sapin, "la flemme" and The Spirit of the Season

Christmas tree sapin de noel in the port of Bandol France
A giant sapin de noël in the Mediterranean port of Bandol, south of France.

TODAY'S WORD: la flemme

    : laziness, reluctance 

Consider all these translations for "j'ai la flemme":
I don't feel like, I'm too lazy, I'm not motivated, I can't be bothered, I don't even care, I haven't the courage

Audio/Listening: Click the link below to hear Jean-Marc pronounce the French words in the following story. Then scroll down to the vocabulary list to check your French comprehension.

French pronunciation MP3 file

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse
“For the joy it brings”

As I look up to the highest cupboard in our house, guilty thoughts permeate my mind: What if we skip the tree this year? Would anyone notice or care? Is it a crime not to deck the halls at Christmastime?

Recognizing the lassitude as one big bout of holiday flemme, I had a little pep talk with my inner flemmarde:  It's time to prendre du poil de la bête! Time to pep up, se requinquer! and the only way to do it is to move it. Move that energy. Start by moving the tree!

Ni chaud ni froid?
Dragging a bistro chair over to the mile-high cupboard, I retrieved our sapin artificiel and began decorating it, beginning with la guirlande lumineuse. I began to think about why I had been so reluctant to trim our tree: Was it indifference (ça ne me fait ni chaud ni froid?) Or lack of novelty? (Our Christmas tree lingered until Easter last year...) Or was it because no one was participating this time—does my family have la flemme too? I tested the theory when my son returned from work: "Max, help me put some ornaments on the tree?" 

"Désolé. Trop occupé!" Jean-Marc was busy, too, with les cadeaux de fin d’année (delivering wine to Toulon, to Aubagne, to Marseilles...) and Jules was in her studio, keeping warm under a pile of blankets (Smokey being part of that pile). Jackie would have helped faire le sapin, but she moved out last week--which brings me back to Pourquoi?

Pourquoi faire? What's the point in decorating? Who am I doing this for anyway?

From flemme...to flamme!
Once the fairy lights were on the little tree I stepped back and, Holy Flamme! There it was: une étincelle. A spark in my heart...and then another. I hurried over to get Mom and drag her with me into The Spirit of Christmas, as it moved through our home--an Eternal Flamme overcoming la flemme.

"I'll be there in a minute," Mom said, putting on her lipstick.

I ran back to the house to put on some Christmas music and light a pine-scented candle (the best friend of a faux sapin). When I turned I saw Mom at the glass door. Those same sparks in my heart were now in Mom’s eyes which were lit with excitement. Even Smokey had the spark, bark! bark!

The mixture of surprise and delight on Mom's face as she discovered the lighted Christmas tree put an end to a nagging question—Pourquoi?

The answer was so simple now: for the joy it brings! Pour la joie que cela procure!


FRENCH VOCABULARY
la flemme = laziness, reluctance 
J’ai la flemme = I don’t feel like it
le (la) flemmard(e) = idler, lazybones
prendre du poil de la bête = to bounce back
se requinquer = perk up, pep up
le sapin = fir tree, pine tree
artificiel = imitation, fake, ersatz
la guirlande lumineuse = Christmas-tree lights
ni chaud ni froid = indifference
Ça ne me fait ni chaud ni froid = I don’t mind either way
désolé = sorry
je suis trop occupé = I’m too busy
le cadeau de fin d’année = year-end gift clients give each other
faire le sapin = to put up a Christmas tree
pourquoi? = why?
pourquoi faire = why do it
pour la joie que cela procure = for the joy it brings

...a few words missing from the soundfile
une étincelle = spark
une flamme = flame
un faux sapin = fake tree
Smokey and the Christmas tree Noel 2021
Bark, bark! 12-year-old Smokey beneath the fairy lights, doing his best impression of Le Flemmard, or Lazybones.

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


Mangeoire: a most meaningful French word

Christmas dinner in France family window seat
One year ago, looking in the window at my French family who joined us here for le repas de Noël.

TODAY'S WORD: une mangeoire

        : feeding trough, manger


EXAMPLE SENTENCE:

Là, dans la saleté et entre les animaux, elle mit son bébé au monde. Puis elle l'enveloppa chaudement et, comme il n'y avait pas de berceau, elle le déposa dans *une mangeoire* pour qu'il puisse dormir... There, in the dirt and among the animals, she brought her baby into the world. Then she covered him snugly and, as there was no cradle, she put him in a feeding trough. --from the book "Grande Bible Pour Les Enfants," Chantecler edition


ECOUTEZ:
Listen to our son Max pronounce today's French word and example sentence: Download Mangeoire



A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE   by Kristi Espinasse

(Story written years ago...when the kids were little)


Reading to my Francophone children in their native tongue is a humbling, sometimes humiliating experience. Not only for the pause pronunciation—child-issued breaks in which I must stop reading in order to repeat a French word that I have tripped up on—but also for the words that I still do not know: both French... and in English.

Thankfully, not all "readings" are cause for reprimand. De temps en temps, there are eye-opening moments when suddenly, more than a word making sense, the world seems to take on new meaning as well.

It was while reading a chapter called "The birth..." or La naissance de Jésus to my daughter that I felt a lump in my throat and a sting in my eyes. An English word with which I've had but a yearly encounter—usually during the holiday season—suddenly defined itself as its French counterpart moved up my vocal chords and exited in a French chorus of sound and meaning. The text preceding the word (indicated between asterisks, below) only served to set the dramatic stage:

Là, dans la saleté et entre les animaux, elle mit son bébé au monde. Puis elle l'enveloppa chaudement et, comme il n'y avait pas de berceau, elle le déposa dans *une mangeoire* pour qu'il puisse dormir...

There, in the filth and between the animals, she brought her baby into the world. Then she wrapped him warmly and, as there was no cradle, she put him down in a *feeding trough* so that he could sleep.


Replacing the word "manger" with "feeding trough", its equivalent, gives the account an even more heartrending effect; "manger" is poetic, while "feeding trough" effectively evokes the brutal bed that was the only resting place for the delicate newborn.

Nativity
Nativité par Federico Barocci

As for those instances of humiliation—whether in fumbling through French text before a ten-year-old... or in the stories that I have lived that will never be told—my mind now calls up a peaceful bergerie, wherein an unspoiled baby would come to suffer all humility -- Him, instead of me.


FRENCH VOCABULARY
une mangeoire = feeding trough
le repas de Noël
= Christmas dinner
de temps en temps
= from time to time
La Naissance de Jésus = The Birth of Jesus
la bergerie (f) = shelter (sheepfold)

French-yogurt-cake

MERRY CHRISTMAS! Je vous souhaite un joyeux Noël. And in case you were looking for it, here is the recipe for a classic French cake. (If you cut it into thirds--and stuffed it a bit--it could almost pass for the famous bûche de Noël. That's 3 cakes in one! :-)

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


The Carpenter's Gift: A Christmas Story

French Village Christmas tree Sapin in France
Christmas lights in our village of  St Cyr-sur-Mer, South of France

TODAY'S WORD: le menuisier

    : carpenter

ECOUTEZ/LISTEN: hear Jean-Marc pronounce the following sentence: 
Download MP3 or Download Wav

    Le menuisier. Le menuisier a donner à Kristi un cadeau de grand signification.
    Carpenter. The carpenter gave Kristi a meaningful gift.


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Today, in the seaside town of La Ciotat, I received a gift from a complete stranger after I wandered into his workshop... which turned out to be an antiques store.

"What are you looking for?" he asked with a warm welcome. But there was nothing I could think of. On my way through the shop, packed with intricately-carved armoirs and gilded mirrors, I saw a cross so forgotten that it was camouflaged right into the cold stone wall--a threshold between the showroom and the carpenter shop.

"What about this?" I said. The antiques dealer plucked up the dusty crucifix which was mounted on a threadbare wooden cross.

Gazing at the worn and tattered relic, he suddenly handed it over to me. "It's been here forever. Have it, it's yours.”

The stranger's words lingered in my mind all day, throughout the chaos and the rush before Christmas. Tonight, I finally see the meaning in those last two lines, and I am so grateful for this gift and for the mystery behind it.

***
Carpenters-cross
Sideview of the crucifix: ripped, frayed, tarnished and long-forgotten.

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


Pin: A Provençale Christmas story

Braveheart (c) Kristin Espinasse

Just back from a doctor's appointment in Marseilles (Youpie! No need for elbow surgery--just a lot of kiné, or physiotherapy visits to repair my coude. Today's photos , and the following post, are from 2 years ago. Meantime, it is not too late to enter the drawing for a one week stay in this Provençal village home.

PEACE ON EARTH - LA PAIX SUR LA TERRE
The other day, while Smokey and I waited in the school parking lot for Jackie, kids filed past our car, occasionally stopping to point and laugh: "Mais regarde sa langue! Just look at his funny tongue! Ahahahaha!"

Laisse tomber! Don't worry about it, Smokey. They don't know your story and there are so many stories out there. The holidays are a time to open up our minds and our hearts. Joyeuses Fêtes.


le pin (pahn) noun, masculine 

: pine tree

Also:

le pin d'Alep = Provencal white pine
le pignon de pin = pine nut
la pomme de pin = pine cone
le code pin, le numéro pin = pin code, pin number

AUDIO FILE:  listen to Jean-Marc read todays word, phrase, and example sentence: Download MP3 or Download Wav

Cette année, notre sapin de Noël est un petit pin d'Alep.
This year our Christmas tree is a Provençal pine.

 

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

When Jean-Marc suggested hunting for this year's Christmas tree in the forêt behind our house, our daughter wrinkled her nose. Now there was a grimace I could translate in French or English: it said that all her friends probably had REAL Christmas trees, the kind on display at the mall!

Our daughter's reaction made my husband even more determined. It was high time to lift the consumer veil from our children's eyes: A true arbre de Noël didn't always come from the checkout lane! Not this year anyway--not when a forest dense with pines crowded our back yard.

Allez! Jean-Marc persisted, dragging our Christmas tree snob off the couch.

I hid in our room, where I'd taken refuge from all the holiday frenzy. There, in the quiet, I heard the crunch of leaves as my husband, our teenager, and the dogs crossed over the boules court on their way to la chenaîe

Not 10 minutes later and they were back. Strange.... They must have encountered les chasseurs and had to postpone their search. I sank deeply into my bed, wondering just when the tree chore would get done! Why didn't I keep the ugly plastic tree of yesteryear? It had been so easy to part with it, while cramming the contents of our lives into two economy trucks last September. What a bad decision that was! (the tree, not the cheap movers. Not one lamp broken in the deal!).

But what was the deal with our tree? I threw back the covers and got out of bed. In the living room I found Jackie back on the couch, watching TV. 

"Well, what happened?" 

My daughter smiled. "Rien". 

"But did you find a Christmas tree?"

"Oui..."

"Well, do you like it?"

"Oui," Jackie nodded, and the stars twinkling in her eyes were proof of that. I felt a bit star-struck myself, bewildered by the peaceful atmosphere. Wasn't tree-shopping supposed to be chaotic? Et bien, we had skipped the commercial venture this time!

My daughter followed me into the entryway to our home, where a rustic fireplace and two felt-covered fauteuils have become a favorite resting spot.

There stood our Christmas tree, between the cozy sas and the dining room. Jackie knelt down on the ground to arrange the area beneath the tree. "Papa collected some mousse in the forest," she explained, as she borrowed some of the characters from the crèche, setting them on top of the deep green ground cover.


The door opened and Jean-Marc came in, his arms full of firewood for the cheminée. "Alors? Ça va l'arbre? Your daughter cut it down."

"It's beautiful!" I admitted. "What kind is it?"

"Un pin d'Alep."

I ran to my dictionary to look up the term. Un pin d'alep is a Provençal pine. What could a hopeless Francophile want more than a French Christmas?

Un Noël Provençal

And what more could our daughter want than a real arbe de Noël? From the sparkle in her eyes, it was clear: this year she got her wish.

*** 

Bonnes fêtes! Happy holidays dear reader. May the spirit of the season grab you... filling you with peace, love, and forgiveness. 

Amicalement,

Kristi

 

French Vocabulary

allez! = come on!

la forêt = forest

un arbre de Noël = a Christmas tree

allez! = come on!

la chenaîe = pin oak grove

les boules = the game of Pétanque, read Gary's story

le chasseur = hunter

rien = nothing

le sas = (a synonym for sas is chambre, or room, but here it refers to a small entry way)

le fauteuil = chair

le papa = dad, father

la mousse = moss

la crèche = nativity scene

la cheminée = fireplace

amicalement = warmly

 

    French christmas music
French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Sainte Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 
Order CD here.

 P1120500

Smokey has taught himself how to eat, despite his handicap. And he has a trick or two for keeping his nerve-damaged tongue in place.... So if you see him walking around town like this, he's not snobbing you--he is only trying to hold himself together!

May you, too, hold yourself together this time of year--doing whatever you need to do to enjoy the moment. Not everyone will understand your position (just look at Smokey's!), but that's not your problem. Ce n'est pas ton souci :-)

To comment on this post, click here.

Thanks for sharing today's post with somebody, and see you next week!

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


French Word for pine tree

Braveheart (c) Kristin Espinasse
The other day while Smokey and I waited in the school parking lot for Jackie, kids filed past our car, occasionally stopping to point and to laugh: "Mais regarde sa langue! Just look at his funny tongue! Ahahahaha!"

"Laisse tomber! Don't worry about it, Smokey. They don't know your story." So many stories out there... how little we know of the "strange" looking people we pass on the street. The holidays are as good a time as any to open up our minds and our hearts.

le pin (pahn) noun, masculine 

: pine tree

le pin d'Alep = Provencal white pine

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read todays word, phrase, and example sentence: Download MP3 or Download Wav

Cette année, notre sapin de Noël est un petit pin d'Alep.
This year our Christmas tree is a Provençal pine.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

When Jean-Marc suggested hunting for this year's Christmas tree in the forêt behind our house, our daughter wrinkled her nose. Now there was a grimace I could translate in French or English: it said that all her friends probably had real Christmas trees, the kind on display at the mall!

Our daughter's reaction made my husband even more determined. It was high time to lift the consumer veil from our children's eyes: A true arbre de Noël didn't always come from the checkout lane! Not this year anyway... not when a forest dense with pines crowded our back yard.

Allez! Jean-Marc persisted, dragging our 15-year-old Christmas tree snob off the couch.

I remained hidden in my room, where I'd taken refuge from all the holiday frenzy. There, in the quiet, I heard footsteps as my husband, our teenager, and the dogs crossed over the boules court on their way to the forest. 

Not 10 minutes later and they were back. The brisk foray seemed a bad sign... they must have encountered les chasseurs and had to postpone their search. I sank more deeply into my bed, wondering just when the tree chore would get done! Why didn't I keep the ugly plastic tree of yesteryear? It had been so easy to decide to part with it, while trying to cram our entire life into two economy trucks last September. What a dumb decision that was! (the tree, not the cheap movers—not one lamp broken in the deal!).

But what was the deal with our tree? I threw back the covers and got out of bed. In the living room I found Jackie back on the couch, watching TV. 

"Well, what happened?" 

My daughter smiled. "Rien". 

"But did you find tree?"

"Oh, oui..."

"Well, do you like it?"

"Oui," she nodded, and the stars twinkling in her eyes were proof of that. I felt a bit star-struck myself, bewildered by the peaceful atmosphere, when it was chaos I had anticipated.

My daughter followed me into the sas, the cozy entryway to our home, where a rustic fireplace and two felt-covered fauteuils have become a favorite resting spot.

There the tree stood, between the cozy sas and the dining room, punctuating the two spaces like a semi-colon that joins independent clauses—in this case santa clauses!

Leave it to that delicate, sweep of a tree to join all our Christmases of yesteryear, to the one just before us, the one I had tried to steer clear of!

Jackie knelt down on the ground to arrange the area beneath the tree. "Papa collected some mousse in the forest," she explained, as she borrowed some of the characters from the crèche, setting them on top of the deep green ground cover.

The door opened and Jean-Marc came in, his arms full of firewood for the cheminée. "Alors? Ça va l'arbre? Your daughter cut it down."

"It's beautiful!" I admitted. "What kind is it?"

"Un pin d'Alep."

I ran to my dictionary to look up the term. Un pin d'alep equalled a Provençal pine. What more could a hopeless Francophile want than a French Christmas? This year it would be un Noël Provençal

And what more could our daughter want than a real arbe de Noël. From the sparkle in her eyes, it was clear this year she had one.

*** 

Bonnes fêtes! Happy holidays dear reader. May the spirit of the season grab you... filling you with peace, love, and forgiveness. Thank you for reading these missives and for your encouragement to continue writing them. 

Amicalement,

Kristi

To comment on this post, click here

 

FRENCH VOCABULARY

la forêt = forest

un arbre de Noël = a Christmas tree

 allez! = come on!

les boules = the game of Pétanque, read Gary's story

le chasseur = hunter

rien = nothing

le sas = (a synonym for sas is chambre, or room, but here it refers to a small entry way)

le fauteuil = chair

le papa = dad, father

la mousse = moss

la crèche = nativity scene

la cheminée = fireplace

amicalement = warmly (is "friendlily" a word?...)

Metro cuff
Paris Metro Cuff! It also makes a wonderful conversational piece -- to wear on your wrist.  A wonderful "conversation piece" for your wardrobe. Order one here.

    French christmas music
French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Sainte Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 
Order CD here.

 

P1120500
Smokey has taught himself how to eat, despite his little handicap (we won't go into details, but he may have learned the trick from a mama bird...). And he has a trick or two for keeping his tongue in place. Name this photo--your thought bubbles are most welcome! To comment on any item in this post, click here.

SHARE THIS SITE
If you enjoy these words and photos, thanks for sharing them with a friend or classmate or teacher--anyone who loves France!

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


How to say "party animal" in French?

Hang on Santa! (c) Kristin Espinasse

Do you feel like this Santa, during the holiday rush. Just hanging on? Waiting for it all to pass? Read on.

fêtard(e) (feh-tar, feh-tard)

    : party animal, someone who likes to party

Audio File: Listen to the following sentence in French Download MP3 or Wave file

Dans ma jeunesse, j'étais une fêtarde.
In my youth, I was a party animal.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

Last weekend the pressure was on to begin decorating our home for Christmas. Have you got your tree up yet? my Anglophone friends wanted to know. Feeling worse and worse for procrastinating, I clung to the thought that most French homes wouldn't have a tree up by now... but a quick trip to the supermarket, for a few staples, revealed another story. 

There at the checkout line, Christmas trees were selling like hotcakes! I dragged my feet over to the display, to check out the stock of cellophane-wrapped trees.

There were two sizes and two prices : 35 euros ($45) or 45 euros ($60). I examined the two models that were on display (all the other trees were wrapped tighter than a bound umbrella, measuring not much longer than one either!). I noted the large gaps in branches, as well as the crooked aspect of the arbres. If these were the display models, surely the ones in cellophane were a sorry lot! I collected my groceries, and left the supermarket. I tried not to look at the other cars in the parking lot, as the drivers packed their sapins de Noël into their trunks. But averting my eyes wouldn't avert panic: Now even the French were on time for Christmas!

What had been worry, or guilt, quickly turned into grumpiness and finger-pointingness. I began to lash out, in my mind, at all the goody-two-shoes who were early to Christmas—with their goody-two-shoes trees and their goody-two-shoes decorations (by the way just where were our decorations? Having moved homes a few months ago, not all of our boxes were unpacked... which meant they could be anywhere! Now on top of finding a tree—we had to find the damned decorations! *&@!!!).

Shoving the groceries into the fridge, I hurried to my room to take refuge at the bottom of my bed. I began counting the days. It would all be over before long. Christmas would come and go... but then there would be New Year's Eve to deal with... and then Paques! And then What are your plans for Bastille Day? and What are you doing for Thanksgiving?

And to think that some of these celebrations are not even sacred observances. To the French, they are no more than traditions! This last reality made me even more frustrated.  

As I sank lower into my bed, I feared the unthinkable: was I, deep down, no more than a grinch? If not a grinch, perhaps a spoil sport? If not a spoil sport wasn't I, at bottom, just one big party pooper?

...or just pooped?

Worn out or not, it is peace I am after ... and, after all, it is peace we can share.


FRENCH VOCABULARY

un arbre = tree (story here)
le sapin de Noël = Christmas tree (click here for the story)
Paques = Easter (story here)

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


How to say Christmas Tree in French?

cadran solaire, sun dial, lamp post, lampadaire, pine tree, france, frenchSapin (c) Kristin Espinasse
I'm getting ready to film the first in a series of videos about our home renovation. Don't miss a clip! - subscribe to our YouTube channel. Forward this and tell a design savvy architecturally-minded friend about the channel. They might have fun following us on this project in the sunny South of France (...meantime we are freezing in this heat-challenged home). Photo taken in Serre Chevalier, near Briançon.

Sapin (sah-pahn) noun, masculine

fir tree, Christmas tree

Blossoming
Today's story is from Blossoming in Provence. Please keep my book in mind for your gift-giving needs! Your book support helps to keep this word journal going. Click here to order. Merci beaucoup!

 

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

When Max came into the kitchen announcing, "Papa a acheté un sapin," I folded the dishtowel, set it down and took a deep breath. I knew the Christmas tree would be trunk-size—all the better to fit into the back of our economy car—and not tall, like the spruce my mom used to whisk home (space limits were not an issue... Mom had the tree tied to the top of her '68 Camaro). 

"Cela suffira," I reminded myself, hoping to have finally learned a lesson. The tree, whatever it is, will be just what we need, and failing that, it will at least be real! Only, when I saw what my husband, The Nonconsumer, brought home this time, every nerve in my body became a live wire. 

There in the center of the salon stood the most abominable tree that I had ever laid eyes on. I knew better than to open my mouth lest the bassesse of language, French or English, should spew forth. Meanwhile my nerves began to short-circuit, and it was only a matter of time before the sparks reached my tongue, causing it to ignite.

"How much did you pay for it?" I questioned, teeth clamped.

"Twelve euros," Jean-Marc answered, jaws relaxed.

Twelve euros! That's 15 dollars... about how much he would spend on a decent bottle of wine—one that we might share in a single night. But a Christmas tree—that's something we could have spent a little more on, as we would enjoy it for an entire month! 

After a moment of silence so thick you could hang tinsel on it, Jean-Marc challenged me: "You can take it back if you don't like it." His remark was delivered with the coolness of a peppermint candy cane.

"It is not for me to take back. YOU take it back!"

My husband's next response was to slam the door. I watched the ripple effect as the tinsel fell to the floor. 

My attention drifted back to the artificial arbreA Christmas tree should be at least as tall as a child! I reasoned. Staring at the sapin de Noël, I noticed its mangled branches and its missing foliage. It was a fake fir, one so cheap that it came with its own styrofoam ornaments! And was that "presto tinsel" stuck to the branches? 

I thought about the nine-foot-tall Colorado spruce that was Mom's joy to decorate. The ornaments were not automatically glued to the branches. They were handmade! One year Mom covered the tree with white colombes and pheasant plumes. She took the ordinary blue boules and dressed them up with peacock feathers (using only the fancy tops, or  what she called the "eyes" of the feathers). Her zeal for holiday decorating didn't stop at the giant tree—she had those doves "flying" from the branches to the front door!

My eyes returned to the bedroom door, which had just been slammed shut. I looked back down at the Christmas tree. The longer I stared, the uglier it appeared. 

"It is the ugliest tree that I have ever seen!" I grumbled, pulling off what decorations Jean-Marc and Jackie had put up. I yanked apart the tree and shoved it into the stupid bag from which it came. Still smarting, I returned to the kitchen and slammed the dirty pots and pans around in the sink, the sink without a garbage disposal! Only in France!

"You're so complicated," my Frenchman used to say as I struggled to adapt to his country, to his ways, to his small-treed holidays. Over the years, I began to suspect that he had a point. Indignation turned to industry as, little by little, I began ousting the surplus and the superflu—learning the difference between want and besoin, all the while simplifying, simplifying

The sum of all that effort now stood before me, concrete in form, via this, the simplest tree.

"But I want a COMPLICATED Christmas treeeeeee!" I cried out, shoving the sponge back into the pan as I scoured and glowered. "I want a showy, superfluous, SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIC spruce!"

Just then I heard the rustle of faux branches and a whisper....

"Il est beau!" Max was saying to his sister. 

"Oui, regarde," she agreed, softly. 

I listened to the clanking of aluminum bulbs.... Peeking around the corner, I witnessed the scene. Max had pulled the tree back out of the bag and reassembled it. The branches, still tordues, now had a colorful array of bulbs, some chipped, some dusty, some new—all carefully hung. There were so many decorations that the empty parts, where branches seemed to be missing, were now filled in.

Jean-Marc was on his knees searching for an electrical outlet. Finding one, he plugged in the tree lights, but when he turned to reach for the switch.... my hand was already on it. Our eyes locked. 

My husband smiled as I flipped the switch. When the tree lights went on, the room came to a swift hush. In the silence she appeared: La Joie—an étincelle here, a sparkle there—happiness filling the room, its presence so real, so palpable, you could hang tinsel on it.

 ***

.
P.S. Special thanks to the readers who helped edit today's story! You can see their comments in the original post, from the archives.
. 

FRENCH VOCABULARY

Papa a acheté un sapin = Papa's bought a Christmas tree
çela suffira = that'll suffice
le salon = living room
la bassesse = baseness
un arbre = tree
le sapin de Noël = Christmas tree
la colombe = dove (read about the kind-hearted "dove man" I met in Sicily! click here.)
la plume = feather
la boule = ball
le superflu = superfluity
le besoin = need
il est beau = it is beautiful (tree)
oui, regarde = yes, look
tordu(e) = twisted, bent
la joie = joy
une étincelle = spark, sparkle

Expressions:
sentir le sapin = to have one foot in the grave
passer un sapin à quelqu'un = to dupe someone

Also:
le sapin de Noël = Christmas tree
*sapin also = coffin
*sapin is a color (vert sapin)

Proverb:
Avec un morceau de pain, on trouve son paradis sous un sapin. With a hunk of bread, one finds his paradise under a fir tree. 

Listen to French: hear Jean-Marc recite today's proverb:
Avec un morceau de pain, on trouve son paradis sous un sapin. Download sapin4.wav

 

Metro cuff
Paris Metro Cuff! It also makes a wonderful conversational piece -- to wear on your wrist.  A wonderful "conversation piece" for your wardrobe. Order one here.

    French christmas music
French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Sainte Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 
Order CD here.

 

*   *   *
Our garage and kitchen door.
We'll begin our home tour with the door to the left... it leads into the kitchen. Would you be interested in following a video tour of our home? Any ideas on what to do with the space you are seeing here (garage + stairs leading to Jean-Marc's office + future guest room. The stairs to the right lead to the soon-to-be kitchen garden.)

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


How to say lop-sided in French: de guingois

Clothes-line
The scene was so classic that I wondered, as I snuck up to snap the photo, if it wasn't staged! Notice the underwear: one per "hook"... Photo taken in Nyons (just next to a chichi restaurant. Well, that oughta show 'em!).

de guingois (deuh-gehn-gwah) adverbial and adjectival phrase
   
    : askew, lop-sided

marcher de guingois = to walk lop-sidedly
tout va de guingois = everything's going haywire

Audio File & Example Sentence: listen to the French word "de guingois" and to this expression: "marcher de guingois":Download Wav or MP3

"The Marais, says Jacob Berger, a film director who lives and works in the neighborhood, is de guingois--that is to say, slightly askew."

--from the National Geographic article:
"Bohemian rhapsody: on the right bank of Paris history and hip embrace..."


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


Another odd Christmas tree this year. I should have taken Mom's advice: get an artificial one! Apart from being good for the environment, those faux firs come in perfect shapes: full-bodied and symmetrical; especially, they're kilter—and not helter-skelter!

If I weren't such a procrastinator, I'd have gotten the tree I wanted: Super Sapin! (Not a bird, not a plane.... ) Though our tree may not fly or save lives (it certainly won't save the earth), it does look as if it is set for take off, what with its long and HORIZONTAL arc... like a Boeing 747.

"It's lopsided!" I point out to Jean-Marc, after he has placed the tree. "Wait a minute..." I remark, suspiciously. "Didn't it come with a stand?"
"No. It didn't."
"You mean the nursery didn't have stands for sale?"
"They did, but the stands weren't any good."

They never are! He was just trying to get out of buying a stand! Next, I discover his solution: our umbrella stand. He's swiped our umbrella stand to use for a tree brace. Pas vrai!

If it weren't so amusing, to see that tree stuffed, de guingois, into the umbrella stand like a wet parapluie, I'd scream! But I am learning to laugh at these peculiarities. Take, for example, our bathroom light fixture, the one just above the mirror. When the screw fell out, we might have replaced it. Instead, a box of aspirin was set between the light and the mirror (now, when the box of asprin pops out, all we have to do is pick it up off the floor (easier to see than a small screw) and stick it back in its place). Ta-da!

Chez nous, it's always a balancing act... a regular circus we are! From time to time, I find myself lamenting, "Why... why can't we just be normal?" Why do I have to lean to the side in order to see our tree as it "should" be? Why can't we have a tree stand like other normal French families? Why do we have to treat our pine as a parasol? Still grumbling about my husband's eccentricities, I gather the fresh laundry which I have strewn around the house on every free hook, chair back, or table (any freestanding structure will do). Other housewives may have hung out their clothes on the line to dry today, but I don't trust the northern wind: sacré Mistral!

Collecting some dry underwear from the fire stoker rack beside the cheminée,* and reaching for some chaussettes sèches*—slung over the candelabra, I notice the look on my husband's face... but I am quick to put him back in his place; after all, HE is the oddball!

However different, there we stand, united in silence, our heads leaning to the same side as we study our Christmas tree.
"It's lop-sided, you know."
"Yes dear," my husband replies. "Il a pris un sacré coup de Mistral!"

French Vocabulary
le sapin (m) = fir (tree); pas vrai = it can't be true!; de guingois = lop-sided; le parapluie (m) = umbrella; sacré Mistral = blasted Mistral (wind); la cheminée (f) = fireplace; chaussettes (f) sèches = dry socks; il a pris un sacré coup de Mistral = it was hit by a mighty gust of wind

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


sanglot: Christmas time and tears

French Christmas Pere noel santa claus holiday in france
Feeling harried this season? A little Christmas story you may relate to in the column below.

sanglot
(sahn-glo) noun, masculine
    : sob

verb: sangloter (sahn-glo-tay)
    : to sob

Listen to my daughter read today's word and the following quote: Download Sanglot . Download Sanglot

"Dieu entend mieux un sanglot qu'un appel."
  --Saint Augustine

A_day_in_a_french_life
"Mama said there'd be days like this... "
(or Maman a dit qu'il y aurait des jours comme ça....)

Ever wake up "plein de bonnes intentions*?" Your heart is full and you might just save the world... with your patience, your lessons learned, and that little bit of resilience that you have painstakingly re-affirmed? ...only to crawl into bed, at the end of the day, depleted, defeated, nerve-endings astray?

Such was last night.

As for the bundle of sensitivity, located somewhere beneath stilled sanglots* and a rapid heartbeat... I do not know whether it was those capricious Christmas consumers at Carrefour,* who were ahead of the rush by three weeks or more, or whether it was the evening meal, when I looked across the table to my children...growing, growing, growing still!

These days I feel like Chicken Little, running hither and thither with my shopping cart, trying to catch the sentimental sky, before childhood or Christmas pass me by.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~References~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
plein de bonnes intentions
= full of good intentions; sanglot (m) = sob; Carrefour = the name of a mega supermarket chain in France

Christmas market in France santa claus

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


croire

Christmas in Provence Noël en Provence (c) Kristin Espinasse

croire (krwar) verb
  1. to believe, to trust  2. to think

Citation du Jour:
Etrangement, on en veut souvent à la personne qui vous dit une vérité difficile à entendre, impossible à croire. Strangely, you often resent the person who tells you a truth difficult to hear, impossible to believe. --Marc Levy

...............................
A Day in a French Life...

Max, Jackie and I are seated at the table, drinking sirops de fraise.*

"Maman,* do you know what 'si' means in Italian?" Jackie says, sharing another language lesson from class today. When Max perks up, his sister's brow furrows.
"Bouche cousue, Max!" Don't tell! Jackie warns.
"'Si' means 'oui'," he answers, anyway.
"Non," Jackie replies. "'Si' means 'yes'!"
"C'est la même chose!" It's the same thing! Max complains. When Jackie ignores him the subject turns to Christmas and to the news that "le Père Noël n'existe pas," Santa Claus doesn't exist.

"Since when don't you believe in Santa Claus, Jackie?"
"Depuis que Max m'a dit qu'il s'est caché sous le sapin et qu'il vous a vu avec les cadeaux," since Max told me he hid under the tree and saw you guys with the presents. "Impossible. Our tree has never been big enough to hide under!" I answer, evasively. "Besides, I know only one person who believes in le Père Noël and she is in first grade," Jackie adds. It occurs to me that so many little
French lips have been flapping around the schoolyard, questioning the existence of Papa Noël.

I study the non-croyants,* who seem to share a secret about Santa. My daughter is wearing lopsided pigtails held in place by mismatched hairbands. I think about the French expression she has unwittingly taught me during the Italian lesson when she told her brother to shush--"bouche cousue!"--and how delightful its literal translation is: "mouth sewn!" My mind then wanders to the party poopers who decided the jig was up for Père Noël. I pull out my letter to Santa and note "spools of thread" and "a truckload of big-eyed needles" -- my last two requests for L'Homme en Rouge,* along with the strength to sew so many French mouths shut so that the next time my daughter inquires, "Et toi, t'y crois?" And you, do you believe? French têtes* may shake, but one American mom will shout out: "SI!"

................................................................................................................
*References: sirop de fraise = strawberry syrup (drink); la maman (f) = mom; non-croyant = non-believer; L'Homme en Rouge = The Man in Red; la tête (f) = head

Listen: Hear Max pronounce the word "croire": Download croire.wav

Expressions:
faire croire = to persuade
   faire croire à quelqu'un = to brainwash
croire au père Noël = to be naive
c'est à n'y pas croire = it's unbelievable
en croire quelqu'un = to take someone's word for it

Conjugations:
je crois, tu crois, il croit, nous croyons, vous croyez, ils croient

Notes:
croire is from the Latin, "credere" which is also Italian for "to believe."

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