Alarming news at the Dentist's + Jackie applies for Fashion school in Marseille

Impasse gagliardo rochas blanc
Thursday we went to Marseille for a few appointments. Jean-Marc took the opportunity to drive us through our old neighborhood, in Le Roucas Blanc (our first home was there on the left, behind the house with the blue shutters--at the end of the Impasse Gagliardo. On the hilltop, you are seeing the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde). We also passed the church in which we were married...see it at the end of this post.

Today's words: "sans dents"

    -- without teeth

French Slang: Do you speak the real French? Essentials of French Slang book, order here.

Example sentence and sound file: 

Click here to listen to the audio file

L'homme naît sans dents, sans cheveux et sans illusions, et il meurt de même, sans cheveux, sans dents et sans illusions. --Alexandre Dumas

Man is born without teeth, without hair, without any illusions, and he dies the same way: without hair, without teeth, without any illusions.


by Kristi Espinasse

I am sitting next to a pile of clothes on my bed, trying to wrestle my foot into a high-heeled espadrille, the third pair of chaussures I've tried this morning. "You are only going to the dentist," Jean-Marc points out.

"Yes, but...she's so chic!" My behavior perplexes me as much as my husband, but I can only shrug my shoulders: I am a chameleon, most comfortable disappearing into the background. The neighborhood where Sylvie, la chirurgien-dentiste, is located is in a fashionable quartier in Marseille, and all my efforts to fit in will be en vain. In vain--such is vanity! I end up pulling on a pair of cowboy boots as old as my firstborn. I know the women in Marseille will be wearing ballerinas or sandals, but the women back home in Arizona...well what do I know about Arizonans anymore?--I've lived in France half my life!

And it is showing. At 50, I soon learn my teeth are in grave danger of le déchaussement: loosening and eventually falling out!

"You have beautiful-looking teeth," Dentist Sylvie (who I met at Flavia's) assures me, but beneath it all la maladie parodontale is underway. Sylvie shows us (I've dragged Jean-Marc along for a consultation, too) our radios. "Do you see those tâches noires? Evidence your bone mass is diminishing!"

Having worked on the American military in Italy, Sylvie's assistant, une hygiéniste dentaire (also named "Sylvie"); chats with me about my countrymen until I am relaxed. She lowers the examination chair to get a good look at my pearly-whites (or pearly-wrecks?). A few flicks with a sharp metal probe and she runs right into inflamed gencives. "Not good!" As she alerts the other Sylvie, I am remembering past warnings, from my own belle-mère (Lynne, in Seattle, who lectures internationally on dental health), and another favorite dentist, Robert, back in Les Arcs-sur-Argens, who warned that if I did not begin wearing a mouthguard, for bruxism, I'd be in trouble down the line.

Here we are 20 years down the line and it seems this inflammation is, in part, related to tooth grinding (which may be related to anxiety). Stress has indeed been linked to periodontal disease! And gum disease is linked to everything from heart disease to erectile dysfunction (i.e. not flossing your teeth could lead to trouble below the belt). If that, dear reader, isn't motivation to floss your teeth and brush twice daily what is? 

I leave Sylvie's office with an estimate for something called surfaçage radiculair (tooth planing and scaling) and something called "les Inlays-Onlays" (ceramic tooth fillings) which are designed to repair all those holes in my teeth, from nightly grinding. Overwhelmed, or dépassée, from all the information (and the cost estimate...) I wish I could just go home and gargle with salt water--like my wise Uncle Tucker! Wouldn't that, eventually, clear out all that bacteria living up underneath my gums? Or is something more radical (scraping around the roots...the "tooth planing") needed? One thing is sure, this dentist appointment chez Sylvie has been a wake-up call and I am grateful for that: I promise, from here on out, to brush my teeth twice a day, floss, rinse my mouth after every meal and to once and for all quit being such a worrywart! Stress seems to be at the root of every illness, doesn't it? More than gargling with salt water, I'd do well to take a chill pill!

Jackie vintage gucci belt
Our daughter who turns 21 in September.

From the dentist's office we headed to Le Cercle des Nageurs--the oldest swim club in Marseille--and where Jean-Marc and I had our wedding reception back in 1994. We were here to meet our daughter for lunch, and then take her to her meeting at IICC (Institut International de Création Et de Coupe). What a coincidence! 23 years earlier, pregnant with my son, I tagged along with my friend Suzanne who, like Jackie, had an appointment at this very same fashion school.
Kristi and suzanne at bagatelle mariage
That's Suzanne, to my right. This was our Town Hall marriage. The church wedding was a few months later (church picture below)

I vaguely remember walking up La Canebière, searching for the building which was located beside a cathedral. And I can almost see Madame Ortega, with her shiny auburn hair who is presently greeting us...but not before chewing out her assistant (who up until now had done a smashing job showing us around) for leaving the door wide open.

"What do you want--all of our computers to be swiped? GO CLOSE THOSE DOORS!" Having put her cohort in his place, Madame took her seat. My eyes took in every inch of this colorful personnage, all the way down to her red-lacquered toes. Jackie was as intimidated as the rest of us, and vowed after the meeting never to be in the crosshairs with Madame.

For the second time that day (after the dentist's) we were given a rundown of fees.... and my mind reeled with it all. I looked over at my daughter (who was still agonizing over the school workload she was about to commit to) and I said, "What if we just chuck it all and go live on a horse ranch in Montana?"

What with these cowboy boots, one of us would fit right in!


Notes: Chirurgien-Dentiste Sylvie Bensoussan offered me a bilan, or dental check-up, in her state of the art office at 7 Parc Jean-Mermoz. More info at her website.

I am now using and loving this toothpaste and have bought soft-bristle toothbrushes for JM and me. It's a start! On my goals list: to get an oral irrigator. Would love your thoughts. Do you use one?

Update: Thanks to your recommendations I have ordered the Electric Rechargeable Sonic Toothbrush 


les dents = teeth
les chaussures = shoes
le chirurgien-dentiste = dental surgeon
le déchaussement = receding of gums, loosening of the teeth
la maladie parodontale = periodontal disease
la radio = X-ray
la tâche noire = black spot
la gencive = gum
hygiéniste dentaire = dental hygienist
la belle-mère = mother-in-law, stepmother
surfaçage radiculaire = root planing
dépassé(e) = overwhelmed
personnage = character
le bilan = assessment, appraisal, check up

Jean-Marc and Jackie in the office at IICC marseille
Jean-Marc and Jackie, at her rdv at IICC Fashion School. I wonder if my friend Suzanne is reading, today, and if she remembers her own interview in this historic room!

Saint Antoine de Padoue church eglise marseille
Saint Antoine de Padoue, the church in Marseille where Jean-Marc and I were married in 1994.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Holiday progress report: I haven't begun to look for the santons (pictured last year)--and the box of ornaments is still waiting to be unpacked. Doubtful things will come together this season, but I do know where to find the recipe for this cake! Meantime, a story for you today about writing... and how to tell all those stories you've got up your sleeve--in one fell swoop

laquelle (lah-kel)

    : which

  • Laquelle is the feminine form of "lequel."
  • la raison pour laquelle = the reason for which
  • dans laquelle = in which

Audio File: listen to this sentence:  MP3 or Wav

Il faut écrire une histoire--mais laquelle?
(I) need to write a story--but which one?

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

Some nights I am badgered by that old foe, Angoisse. I know I'm not alone, that all over the world people are anxious about tomorrow. For some that may be a school exam, for others, a nagging problem at work or a visit with the doctor. For me, it is the blank page. What will I write about tomorrow?


I've trained myself to not think too much about the next day's effort. Why cut short today? Tomorrow will take care of itself! This is especially true regarding creative pursuits: best not to plan too much, otherwise you are forcing the scene. For what if--instead of your sled of huskies--a team of reindeer comes dancing onto the stage? IN A SLEIGH!

One must always be open to reindeer!

Still, I like to have a few tricks up my sleeve before firing up my computer and facing a giant and empty screen. So in the middle of the night I sometimes wake up--nagged by my familiar tormentor. Her name is "Laquelle" and her mission is to turn me back into a wall-starer, instead of the writer I've become.

Laquelle (or "which" in French--and boy is she ever one of those!) likes to taunt me with her namesake question, "Which one? Which story you gonna tell today, Big Shot?" She snaps her gum and waits for my answer.

And I fall for it every time. "I... well I could tell the story about Sunday's photo outing in the town of Céyreste! I could write about how scary it is to point my camera at the buildings after being chewed out by French homeowners. And how, pushing past this fear--lifting my camera to a decorous second story window--I glanced a scene just beneath it: there behind the glass doors of a senior center, a room full of elderly people were smiling sweetly at me--amused by the scene outside their window.  

 "Cute..." interrupts Laquelle, in her sarcastic way. "Anything else up your sleeve? Haven't you got a better story, Ms. Writer?"

"Well, there's the one I've been meaning to tell--tentatively titled "Five Bucks"--about losing my mouth guard in Phoenix. I was sure my sister's sheepdogs ate it... But, giving the dogs the benefit of the doubt, I offered my niece and nephew "5 bucks if you find my tooth guard anywhere in the house!"

Driving the kids to school the next day, my sister inquired about the hunt. "Any luck?"

Hopeful, I turned to have a look at the little faces in the back seat, but all I saw were shaking heads.

"No worries," Heidi said, a mischievous grin on her face. "I'll check the crottes when I clean up the yard!"

"Ew! Yuck! Beurk!" The kids and I cringed.

"Hey," said my sister. "Five bucks is five bucks!"

*    *    *

"That's a disgusting story," Laquelle says, twisting her face. No one wants to hear it--especially at breakfast time!"

"But my sister was only kidding!" I argue. 

Laquelle points to the clock on my nightstand: 2:36 a.m. "Maybe you'll get your act together by tomorrow?"

"Aha! I know one! I could tell about my 16-year-old's good news! As a part of her fashion school curriculum, Jackie was required to find un stage, or internship, at a fashion designer's--one who manufactures their own line of clothing. What luck it was when a good friend put her in touch with a hip boutique in Marseilles. She'll begin her 6-week training this spring!" 

"Is that all you got?" Laquelle, puffed, blowing on her just painted fingernails--and looking horribly bored.

"Well, it's just a sketch--I'd have to fill in all the details. Like how beautiful Jackie looked in her black and white equestrian themed top (a steal at the second-hand shop!), black pants, a thick knitted scarf--her hair tied up in a floppy bun!"

"No one likes a braggy mom," countered Laquelle, who had quit drying her nails in time to catch a great big yawn.

Gosh, it had to be 3 three a.m. by now. As I tossed and turned in bed, haunted by fragments of stories, an idea came at last.

"Knitting! I haven't yet talked about how I relearned to knit on the cruise last month! Another passenger--Celia--and I stopped into a cozy yarn boutique in Rouen, picked out several skeins and a pair of those circular needles. "These will make it easy for you," Celia said, agreeing to teach me. 

This began a series of knitting sessions--held in the ship's cocktail lounge. Julie and Nan joined us and--while other passengers were toasting with champagne--we were clinking needles!"

"But knitting's not cool," Laquelle said, patting me on the head with her still-wet nails. "Why don't you take up silk-screening like your sister-in-law. Now that's cool!"


My questioning put the little devil on my shoulder in defense mode: "Look," Laquelle said, "you want to share a story tomorrow but all you have are a bunch of scraps! Besides, you can't even decide which one to work on. And how do you know that you'll choose the right one?"

For once, Laquelle had a point. Which experience was worth recounting? To answer this question, it would take another, more meaningful question. The Big Question:

Why do you write?

I'm not sure of the answer. For one, I write to entertain--myself and others. In this case, any of the above story fragments could work....

And then I write to record my life. For this, I should choose the story of my daughter's first internship--a milestone! And also the story of "delivery"--in which a room of white-haired spectators smiled and, unbeknownst to them, encouraged a wayward photographer.

The dog-eats-mouthguard and knitting stories are more whimsical. They aren't for everyone, but they are fun and challenging to write. (Yes, for the challenge--perhaps this is one more reason to wake up and face the blank page each day.)

Perhaps it isn't so important to know why we do what we do. What's necessary--truly vital--is to follow that creative urge, to take it to wherever it leads you.

teddy bear window in Ceyreste
What encouraging looks were waiting, inside the senior center just below, as I trained my camera on this window!

To respond to this story, click here. Can you think of more reasons to practice an art? How do you push past your resistance to get started with a project? Which of the above stories would you most like to see developed? Add to the discussion here.

Selected Vocabulary
la crotte = dog doo
beurk! = yuck! 


I'd like to plant some cabbage beneath our window today. Oh, and I'd like the dogs to stop barking at the sheep--they have barked during this entire writing episode! WHOOF WHOOF. WHOOF WHOOF! I can't hear my thoughts! But one more thing I tell myself about writing is this: to persevere amidst the noise and chaos and incessant interruption is a writer's badge of courage! 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

How to say a "check-up" in French?

The golden light to the left is the sunset hitting the coastal fence. The golden light to the right is Smokey, enjoying our late afternoon walk.

une visite de contrôle

    : an inspection, check-up, follow-up visit

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or 

Chez le dentiste, j'ai passé une visite de contrôle.
At the dentist's, I had a check-up.

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

"Rendez-vous Chez Le Dentiste"

On the telephone, trying to communicate with my new dentist, I was once again at a loss for words.

"J'ai besoin de faire un.... un... un check-up!" I felt confident the tooth doctor would understand my request, seeing how so many English words are smuggled into France.

"Very well," he said in French, "une visite de contrôle."

The dentist's voice was younger than expected and he seemed friendly too. I had gotten his number from a stranger when we moved to town.

"Is he good?" I'd asked.

"Yes, but he's not very personable."

Fast forward to the contrôle. I am lying in the chair beneath a great big plastic bib. Every inch of my body is clutching the seat beneath me. My eyes are watering but I keep focused on the shiny equipment or the popcorn ceiling or the corner of the doctor's mask--anything to avoid an eye-lock with the dentist (which would be embarrassingly intimate--not to mention dangerous). Hopefully the doctor's eyes were trained on that pin-thin drill. Is that what the French use to remove plaque? 

Aïe! I didn't remember a détartrage being this uncomfortable. I thought back to my favorite dentist in Les Arcs-sur-Argens. "Robert" was retired now. But what a gentle manner he had. And I loved how he used a salt-water rinse as he worked. I would close my eyes and imagine the seaside.

But this was not the beach. As the new dentist dug into my gums with the whirling metal toothpick my eyes traveled past the edge of his mask.... Perhaps an eye-lock was appropriate about now? Could Doc read my dilated pupils which screamed STOP!

His soft brown eyes were gentler than his touch. He looked peaceful yet highly concentrated on his task. Assured now, I began to relax. Until it came time to rinse...

Whoah! Ice cold water! If my teeth had not cracked by now from the détartrage, this would do it! I made a mental note to never again visit a French dentist in December when village pipes were nearly frozen.  

I began to think up a list of improvements for my dentist, whose chair-side manner seemed lacking. In fact, so was his chair! This was the first dentist I'd known who operated standing up. For this, I was kept in an upright position, making it easy for the dentist to dash back and forth.

I wished he'd dash over to my left, to readjust the spit-sucker tube. Presently it was swallowing the inside of my cheek! Shouldn't it be resting on the bottom of my mouth? A pool of saliva was collecting there! Could I swallow it? Or would my mouth contract from the effort, sending that sharp drill toward my tongue. Eeek!

I reached up and unhooked the suction tube, using it to vacuum the floor of my mouth. I hoped not to offend the dentist, and acted as quickly and discreetly as possible before returning the tool to its hook--my inner cheek. Where else to put it?

Couldn't he use an assistant? But I remembered that dental care was different in France--where it isn't unusual to have an office of two: the dentist and the secretary. (In this case, my new dentist was the secretary.) 

I began to think about my first visit chez le dentiste--back in the north of France, in Lille--in 1989. I was an exchange student then, used to a rigorous schedule. So when my I realized I was due for a check-up (it had been six months since I'd visited the dentist), I automatically made an appointment. 

"What can I help you with?" the dentist wanted to know.

Well, he could begin by telling me where his office was. We seemed to be standing in his living room. Looking around, there were Persian rugs and antique furniture. The television blared from a far-off corner... and was that the delicious scent of pot-roast wafting over from an open door? A kitchen?

I still wonder if I am making this up, or if I really did traverse the dentist's living room to take a seat in the reclining chair (it was an authentic dentist's chair, and how it contrasted with the decor!). 

The dentist fired up his drill...

"But shouldn't I have a shot?"

"What for?"

"To numb my mouth?"

"This won't hurt," he chuckled. 

Amazingly it didn't. Maybe it was a small cavity? I don't know, but the experience remains a surreal memory and I feel somehow privileged to have seen what may have been the end of an epoch: bygone days when dentists did indeed work from home.

*    *    *
Back now in my new dentist's office, I am able to appreciate the modern surroundings. The equipment is clean, the room is tidy. No Persian rugs not even a Persian cat!

I decided to quit focusing on what was wrong with this visit, and, instead, to consider what might be wrong with the patient. I wasn't 20 anymore--back in the days when my teeth were strong enough to chew on beef jerky or tear into that classic French candy le carambar.

If I felt more pain than usual, it might have to do with how sensitive my teeth have become. Worse, after years of nocturnal teeth-grinding, the surface of my pearly-whites were, as the dentist noted, usés.

The good news was, Doc could replace my mouth guard (the one I lost in back in Phoenix). And so I held on tight for the last phase of the visit: the fitting.

The dentist disappeared into the lab behind me. Returning, I saw the gluey tooth mold. It had to be the size of a Smartphone.... 

"Whatever you do, don't bite down!" The dentist said. "Now breathe out of your nose."

...Or gag! I tried to relax as the giant mold--brimming with a thick gluey substance--filled my mouth. The back of my throat fluttered menacingly.

I focused on my breathing but the process ticked on and on. And then... was the dentist's hand shaking? Had I transferred my anxiety onto him?

No, I would not give in to the gag reflex! This was no time to panic or else we would both be mortified. (Just picture the mess!)

 *    *    *

Those last 10 seconds really tested my mettle. I'm stronger than I think I am. I just won't go testing this theory on a tooth-shattering carambar

How often do you go to the dentist? Or, are you like the French--only going for an emergency? To name today's cat photo, skip to the last picture... Thanks for your comments, here.

French Vocabulary

chez le dentiste = at the dentist's
= ouch!
le détartrage = teeth cleaning, descaling 

Window panes
Some of you asked, "How are the dogs getting along with the cats?" Here's a hint. (Note: Smokey is not sticking out his tongue. The hanging tongue is a sequelle or legacy from his accident years ago


Here's Poncho and Lily. Want to name this photo? Click here.

A Big Favor...
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Order a copy of Blossoming In Provence here. Your aunt may enjoy it and so might your colleague at work!

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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brosse à dents

A view in Villedieu (c) Kristin Espinasse

Brise-bise is not the word of the day... but it is the name for these kinds of "half curtains", the ones you see every so often while strolling through a village in France.

brosse à dents (bros a don) noun, feminine

    : toothbrush

brosse à dents jetables = disposable toothbrush
brosse à dents électrique = electric toothbrush

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Tu as à ta disposition des brosses à dents jetables, ainsi que du dentifrice, pour te laver les dents. You have disposable toothbrushes at your disposition, as well as toothpaste, to brush your teeth.

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
Bumming toothbrushes at the orthodontist's

As always, there is a long line at the orthodontist's. I take my place at the end of the queue and prepare to wait a while. Max and Jackie stand beside me, their mouths glimmering metallic.

"Ça fait plus que deux ans!" Jackie begins.
"I thought we'd get them off today!" Max seconds.

I begin to feel a little annoyed that the kids are complaining about their braces, given how much les bagues have cost their parents! I have an urge to point this out; instead I hold my tongue. If I remember correctly, my own mom never complained or pointed out to me just how much my dental work cost her; instead, she made the necessary sacrifices, including juggling her work schedule in order to get me to my monthly appointments on time. If it weren't for her care and diligence, I'd be walking around today with a mouthful of teeth that only a woolly mammoth—and not a dashing Frenchman—could appreciate (thanks, Mom, for the braces—and for helping me to attract a husband!).

With renewed humility, my annoyance disappears. I turn my attention over to the goings-on around me, watching anxious parents scribble out checks while their teenagers look off in boredom.

On the comptoir, beside the secretary, I notice a jar full of toothbrushes. Every so often, I see the secretary hand one of the brosse à dents to a patient. I wonder, why haven't my kids ever brought home a free toothbrush?

My humility is short-lived and, once again, I am back to calculating and sweating about the cost of putting two kids, simultaneously, through orthodontics!  I study the other teenagers and parents in line, and I wonder how anyone can afford braces these days? How can anyone balance a budget when braces factor into the monthly debit? I am immediately filled with appreciation for my husband, who manages our compte bancaire. The least I can do, on my part, is to try to save when and where I can.

Suddenly I remember the jar full of toothbrushes! Last I checked, a good toothbrush cost almost 3 euros... It occurs to me that a couple of those brosse à dents could slightly offset the coût faramineux of this current visit...  At 6 euros (one 3 euro toothbrush per kid) we might begin, ever so slightly, to diminish our liste de dépenses.

I study the secretary, who is overworked and distracted. This might be the perfect time to request our toothbrushes, the ones she has once again forgotten to offer us! Surely it was an oversight on her part and I shouldn't be embarrassed to ask for what is rightly mine.

When my turn comes to pay I hand over my carte de crédit and casually mention the free toothbrushes.

The secretary looks confused. 

If the parents waiting behind me are staring now, and I suspect they are, it is only because they have never thought, as I have, for the first time, to outwit the pricey French dental system by asking for the freebies! Perhaps these parents will take my example and we can all begin to reclaim what is rightly our own, namely, complimentary toothbrushes! As grandiloquent as my thoughts are, in reality I am shaking in my boots after having asked for the paradental perks. 

Noticing the lingering look of confusion on the secretary's face, it occurs to me that I may have made some sort of mistake. But it's too late to back down now. I point out the jar with the brosses à dents gratuites

"Oh, those," she says. "Well, if you like..."

"Go ahead!" I say. "Pick out your toothbrushes!" Only, when I turn to look for the kids, they have disappeared. This time I am the one wearing the look of confusion.

The secretary hands me the jar to pick out the toothbrushes.
"They are only good for one use," she explains. "Normally we give them to kids who have not had the chance to brush their teeth before an appointment. Ce sont les brosses à dents jetables...."

As the saying goes "pride goeth..." or rather "La fierté précède la chute" and with that, I select two colorful brosses à dents before my confidence quickly falls to the wayside—along with all of those flimsy, disposable toothbrushes!

French Vocabulary

la queue = line

ça fait plus que deux ans! = it's been over two years!

les bagues (f) = braces

le comptoir = counter

le compte bancaire = bank account 

la brosse à dents = toothbruth

le coût faramineux = astronomical price

la liste de dépenses = expenditures list

la carte de crédit = credit card

gratuit = free

Ce sont les brosses à dents jetables = they are disposable toothbrushes


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Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

haut les coeurs!

"Heart in Burgundy" (c) Kristin Espinasse
Current events have us wearing our hearts on our former façades... and it's a good thing, n'est-ce pas?

haut les coeurs (oh lay ker)

    : lift up your spirit, take heart, be brave! have courage!

Thank you, Carolyn Foote Edelmann, for today's French expression: Carolyn writes, in response to Monday's seisme post:

Small thought - watching their dignity and fortitude, I think [the Japanese] may not want to be called 'victims'.

My Provencal neighbors had a phrase which sounded to me like "o, liqueurs!" - but was, in fact, HAUT LES COEURS! - [High the hearts]... I love it that this word, in France, implies "to infuse with courage".

Thank you for linking those of us who love France with a country I am taught to love (having lived through Pearl Harbor) as I never thought I would, watching their fortitude in the face of the impossible.


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

Universal Love

I am rooting through the medicine chest, looking for the small blue box that contains my mouth guard. I haven't worn the protective shield in over a month, but I need it now. Teeth grinding is up, along with that ticky tremblement just beneath my eyelid. Twitching and grinding - it is the body's way of responding to those things that are out of its control: like our dog's destructive behavior, like Japan, like Mother Nature.

I grab the small blue box and pry it open... when something flies past me... landing with a TING!  I bend over, narrowing my eyes, ignoring the annoying tremblement de la paupière. 

I see a heart lying there, on the floor... t'was a heart that had fallen out of that toothbox...

Suddenly it all comes rushing back to me...

I see myself back in Mexico, packing my bags. I see my mom reaching to hug me. I hear her voice: "I've put a little surprise in your toothbox... open it up when you are on the plane."

I'm on the airplane now... reaching into my backpack for the blue box. I open it up and there, beside the plastic tooth guard, is the tarnished locket-heart.

I hear Mom's explanation when I call her that evening to thank her.

"It was a gift," she says.  And she tells me the story of the bus ride, when the Mexican "street man" stepped on board. 

Listening to the poor passenger who had taken the seat behind her, Mom sympathized, pointing to her own losses: she took off her hat and pointed out her thinning white hair. Then she pounded on her chest, pointing out her missing breasts!

When she put her hand on her hip, the man could not possibly know about the once broken bone. Mom didn't have the Spanish words to tell him.

And so, without translation, the odd couple on the bus shared their rotten luck, without drama, without fuss. And when Mom stood to get off the bus, so, too, the Mexican man stood up.

Humblement, the street man reached into his frayed pocket and pulled out the little tarnished heart-locket. He closed Mom's hand over the gift, before sending her off with a mutual heart-lift. 


Standing there in the bathroom looking down at the treasure in the palm of my hand... I feel the quiet peace that has swept in all around me. The world outside the bathroom door might be in a state of chaos. But I no longer feel swept up in it, shaken or tossed. 


 Le Coin Commentaires
To comment on today's word or photo--or to ask our cozy community a question--click here to access the comments box. Corrections to French/English text most welcome.


  July2005 039

Mum's the word! Jackie (pictured sans maquillage, age 7) thanks you for your feedback on her story! She's written three more articles... one of which is très "edgy". (She doesn't seem to have a problem with self-censorship, as her mother does!) I warn her that posting the story might get her kicked out of school. Her roll-of-the-eyes response? "Et alors, la liberté d'expression? What about freedom of speech?" 

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.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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composite dentaire + toothy expressions in French

                                               Chez le dentiste in Morocco. 

 composite dentaire (kom poh zeet dahn tair)

    : a type of dental filling made up of composite materials

Audio File hear these French words via Wav or MP3

Un composite dentaire. J'ai perdu un composite dentaire.
A filling. I lost a filling.

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

I was flossing my teeth the other day when the minty thread caught... and something disengaged. An ever so slight ting! had my eyes following sound down into the sink....

I bent over to study the object. Was it a composite? Forlorn, I reached for the jagged form (no bigger than a peppercorn). 

Was it a tooth or a filling? The thought had me faint, heart reeling.

Staring at the little lost limb (or so it might have been!) I wondered about age, loss, and whether or not to give a toss? 

Hair, belly, teeth, and all that striving to keep them neat! Brush after every meal! Careful what you eat!

I looked into the palm of my hand where all those lifelines meet... There sat the toothy thing, menacing like middle age, haunting like hormonal heat.

 :: Toothy Expressions ::

croquer la vie à pleines dents = to fully live life
 avoir les dents longues  = to have long teeth = to be ambitious
faire ses dents = to cut teeth (new teeth emerging from the gums)
œil pour œil, dent pour dent  = an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
avoir une dent contre quelqu'un = to hold a grudge against someone


Exercises in French PhonicsExercises 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.

 Words in a French LifeBut however imperfectly, I can speak French! I can chew out and rattle off; I can small talk, sweet talk, and even talk back; I can crack a joke and, if need be, lay down the law, in a language that once intimidated me to the point of silence. -from Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France. Read more, here.

Paris France Shower Curtain - featuring the Eiffel Tower. Order one here Paris shower curtain  


        Paris shopping bag

I Heart Paris Shopper: made of recycled material. A percentage of sales will support the nature conservancy. Order one here

Dog in Seguret (c) Kristin Espinasse

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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Jackie. This is my daughter and she tells the best stories, just like her grand-mère, Jules. (photo taken in 2010)

"It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horse, the leaves, the wind, the words that my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes."

-Gustave Flaubert (thanks to Jim Fergus for sending me this favorite quote!)

le beurre (bur) noun, masculine

    : butter

Please jump right in and share your butter/"beurre" terms and expressions here. I'll begin...

beurré(e) = plastered
avoir un oeil au beurre noir = to have a black eye
le beurre de cacahouètes = peanut butter
(your turn. Get out your dictionary then click here and share beurre terms and idioms)

Audio File : Listen to the following sentence: Download MP3 or Download Wav

Il était une fois un philosophe qui aimait les jeux de mots. Il appelait, par exemple, le butterfly: le beurre qui vole. (translation below)

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

(On the Origins of Flying Butter)
This morning my daughter scrubbed down, head to toes, with Betadine. Next, she said she was hungry but did not eat, nor did she drink so much as a drop of water.

We were running late to the Clinic de Provence after Jackie took extra care with her hair, blow drying it, straightening it, exercising all her control over it. Finally she shut off the sèche-cheveux, and voiced her little heart out: "J'ai peur, Maman."

"Did you take off all of your nail polish and jewelry?" the nurse quizzed.

"Oui," Jackie replied. Next, my 12-year-old was given a pill that made her eyes droop until she turned over in the hospital bed, from her back onto her side.

I wanted to brush my hands across her face, but wondered about the iodine/detergent surgical scrub that she had showered with earlier. Would I just be putting germs back on her face? My hand reached for her hair, instead.

"Can you remind me of the story you told me last night?" I asked my girl. "About the butterfly...."

My daughter nodded her sleepy head and said...

Il était une fois un philosophe qui aimait les jeux de mots.... Il adorait aussi les butterflies dont il renommé "Le Beurre Qui Vole"...

Once upon a time there was a philosopher who loved to play with words. He also loved butterflies which he renamed "flying butters"...

As Jackie told me her story my mind wandered back to the simple surgery: only two teeth to remove. But why the need for an anesthesiologist? Why put her completely to sleep—was it necessary? Couldn't we have waited for the teeth to grow and push past the gums before having them extracted?

The door to room 103 burst open and two infirmières collected my daughter, as one collects an umbrella while rushing out the door, late for work. I wanted to shout "be careful!" Instead, I stepped out of the nurses' way.

As the gurney careened down the hallway on the way to the bloc opératoire, I overheard one of the nurses assure my daughter, "Ce n'est rien". Just a little operation. With that the trio disappeared into a sterile chamber.

As I stood there staring at the empty hall, a little old man in a bathrobe hobbled by, slowly, softly, like a butterfly.

Butterfly in france


French Demystified...simple enough for a beginner but challenging enough for a more advanced student.

I Know How To Cook The bible of French home cooking, Je Sais Cuisiner, has sold over 6 million copies since it was first published in 1932. It is a household must-have, and a well-thumbed copy can be found in kitchens throughout France. Its author, Ginette Mathiot, published more than 30 recipe books in her lifetime, and this is her magnum opus. It's now available for the first time in English as I Know How to Cook. With more than 1,400 easy-to-follow recipes for every occasion, it is an authoritative compendium of every classic French dish, from croque monsieur to cassoulet.


Still itching for stories from France? You will ADORE Lynn McBride's blog It’s called Southern Fried French ( and it’s about living the good life at the 14th century Château de Balleure, with her friends  and chatelains Nicole and Pierre.


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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coup de dent

What is love? Photo taken yesterday, outside our kitchen window. 

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un coup de dent (koo-deuh-dahn)
    : a nip (a little bite)

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

I received an email this morning that had me shaking my silver-templed head. It read:

Pourquoi protéger les dents de son animal ?

Pourquoi indeed!  Yes, "Why protect the teeth of one's animal?"...when your doors are now dent-ed, your halls hacked, and your books bouffed?

The French words appeared in the subject line of a newsletter that I receive from a French pet-supplies store. I'm not sure how I got onto their list-server (so far I haven't un-subscribed).

Now if only I could un-subscribe to the daily "updates" that our 7-month-old Golden delivers:  little mordant messages left hither and thither 'round the house, chewed into the chairs, tooth-torn into the sofa, munched across the mur, and bitten into the baseboards.

The dry-walls in our kitchen are coming apart at the seams, evidence that our puppy has been sinking his teeth into more than the croquettes and the home-made doggy terrines.

Néanmoins, I can't help but feel sympathy for our little chewing machine.  Because he was attacked and left for dead as an 8-week-old, I wonder whether the hither and thither damage is his way of getting back at the attackers, and ending up the victor?

And--chew! gnarl! crunch!--take that! Smokey says to the door, to the magazine rack, to the leash to which he is attached.

My husband has a different theory... and a tough-love solution that will have us biting back: it has to do, tout simplement, with nipping this bad behavior in the bud!


Update: Recently, the véto examined Smokey's teeth and discovered that many of them (way in the back) had been broken during his attack. As to "Why protect an animal's teeth?" how about "because our furry friends would ask us to, if only they could speak."

:: Le Coin Commentaires ::

This forum is now open for any comments about today's story -- or for general questions. Looking for the French word for something? Need an answer to a French / France related question? This is the place to ask. This is readers helping readers at its best! Comment here.

Here are some questions to get the ball rolling: Chris writes:

What does "tirer a ses quatres épingles" mean? .... I think it means to play one's role well, or know how to play the game.   But I don't understand how we come to this conclusion using the literal meanings of these words. Answers here, please.

And here's another inquiry, from Paula:

Do you have any suggestions for car rentals (in France)? We usually rent from (....) but it gets expensive for the 4 weeks.

Thank you for using this link to access/answer where to Rent a Car in France



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French Vocabulary and Sound File: Download Wav or MP3

Smokey a donné un coup de dent au canapé.
Smokey nipped the couch.

Pourquoi protéger les dents de son animal ? Why protect your animal's teeth?
bouffer = to eat
le mur = wall
la terrine = terrine or pâté
néanmoins = nevertheless
tout simplement = quite simply
le véto (vétérinaire) = vet

Chasing Matisse: A Year in France Living My Dream

In French music: France Gall

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

Caudalie: vine therapy for the skin!

France Magazine subscription


Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
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another time device: le cadran solaire - sundial (c) Kristin Espinassele sablier (sah-blee-yay) n.m.
hour-glass, sand-glass; egg timer

L'amour tue l'intelligence. Le cerveau fait sablier avec le coeur. L'un ne se remplit que pour vider l'autre.

Love kills intelligence. The mind forms an hour-glass with the heart. One fills itself only to empty the other.
--Jules Renard

A Day in a French Life...

"Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq*..." my daughter gurgles, brushing her teeth and counting under bubbly breath. She is taking her brother's advice which he, in turn, has taken from the dentist: to brush for three minutes, three times a day.

As we don't have un sablier* to mark the passage of time, the kids have come up with the counting idea. If his sister fudges, Max reminds her: "Trois fois soixante, Jackie!" three times sixty! If she prefers, he tells her, she can just count to a hundred and eighty.

Jackie's dad tells her to "bien frotter!"* and that twirling on one's heels while brushing one's teeth won't help to loosen any more plaque.

At the next sink I take a few grains of my family's advice. "Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq..." I count and scrub, pirouetting just for the heck of it.

*References: un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq = one, two, three, four, five; un sablier (m) = hour-glass; bien frotter = brush well

Listen to sound clip: hear Jean-Marc pronounce the word 'sablier': Download sablier.wav

If you are looking to say "hour-glass figure" then leave 'sablier' out of the equation and use "silhouette de rêve" instead!

And finally, does your charm bracelet have the sablier pendant?:

Language learning in books: Tune Up Your French: Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Spoken French

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to help keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.