Rebelote. Another burglar? When the sonnette rings after dark and you are all alone....

BookCover_EightMonthsinProvenceCC (1)

Eight Months in Provence, A Junior Year Abroad, 30 Years Late
For thirty years, Diane Covington-Carter dreamed of living in France and immersing herself in the country and language that spoke to her heart and soul. At age fifty, when she set off to fulfill that yearning, she learned that a long-cherished dream can become even more powerful from the waiting. Order the book.

Today's Word: le flouze

    : cash, dough, moolah

A DAY IN A FRENCH Kristi Espinasse

Last night I was startled to hear our doorbell ring at an unusual hour. The sonnette, which is located at our front gate, was buzzing with insistence and its shrill coursed through my body like a bad vibe.

The first thought that came to mind was, Oh no! This can't be happening! Not again! 

All alone in the house, I feared a prowler was using The Doorbell Scam--a way of checking if anyone is home before attempting a break-in. This happened to my neighbor and when she did not come to the door (or so much as turn on the porch light) the unwelcome guest entered her home! It was only when she called out for her petit-fils (believing it was him walking down the hallway) that the robber fled.

Having come face-to-face with an intruder last March, it seemed the same nightmare was happening all over again. Rebelote! It was, again, pitch dark outside and, once again, my husband was 45 minutes away in Marseilles (watching le foot just like the last time!).

And, pareil, I was tucked into bed watching a video on YouTube! But this time all the shutters were latched and secured--and a light was purposely left on in the downstairs bathroom (experts [criminals...] say an indirect light is best--it leaves burglars guessing). And there was my fearless mom--even if she was in the room below me (accessible only from the outside of our house. But Mom wouldn't have heard the doorbell and so I was on my own).

When I heard that buzzer I was chilled, but wasted no time in letting whoever was out there know that somebody was home! 

That somebody hurried down the stairs in her mismatched pajamas, floppy socks, and some Nike pool slides (I lost my pantoufles. Borrowed these from my daughter). Summoning our groggy golden retriever, I threw open the front door and, over Smokey's menacing barks, demanded to know who was out there. QUI EST LA?! 

C'est les pompiers, came a meek voice from behind the metal portillon.

Yah, right! Just this morning another neighbor shared a theiving tactic wherein the bad guys throw on a fake municipal shirt and act like they are here to inspect or to help in some way....

Charging up to the front gate, a limp in my stride (those loose socks and pool slides...), I narrowed my eyes: Les pompiers?Pourquoi vous êtes là? I demanded, scrutinizing the man on the other side of the fence (whilst Smokey was suddenly a ball of docility. Where'd my killer dog go?). 

C'est pour le calendrier... the stranger answered.

Oh...The annual Firemen's Calender....wherein the firemen go door to door for donations. I stood on my tiptoes to look over the gate, and get a good view of a nametag and uniform. Well, it looked legit... And the young man looked so kind and innocent.

Don't fall for it! I reminded myself. 

C'est très tard pour sonner chez les gens. It's very late to be ringing doorbells, I growled--unaware it was only 8 pm, but when the sun goes down in winter, it seems like midnight to me.

Oui, the young man replied. But I've just now finished my shift. Sorry to bother you. In addition to looking innocent, he was very humble. I followed my gut which was telling me to chill out, all's well you can let down your guard.

Well, I said, my legs still shaking in fear as they had the last time, sorry for being so aggressive--c'est juste que je me méfie. I thanked him for his service (un grand merci to all the firefighters out there!!) and hurried to the house to look for some cash--or flouze (a funny word at this point in the story to lighten things up), feeling kind of floozy myself barely dressed in my PJs waving a tip. 

Helecopter firefighters


la sonnette = bell
le petit-fils = grandson
rebelote = same story again
le foot = soccer
pareil = the same
la pantoufle = slipper
qui est là? = who is there?
le pompier = firefighter
le portillon = gate
je me méfie = I'm cautious
collecte = fund-raising
flouze = cash

Related stories:  to have sea urchins in your pockets.



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

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety

avoir des oursins dans les poches

Sea urchin oursin sea hedgehog
A sea urchin, or oursin, is very prickly. You wouldn't want to step on one while wading out to sea! Today's popular French expression has a funny take on these underwater creatures...

avoir des oursins dans les poches

    : to be stingy ("to have sea urchins in one's pockets")

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

The other day, while allowing myself to soak in a hot bath (instead of taking another one of those speed showers, this, during the 21 Day Publishing Challenge), my daughter ran into the room:

"Maman, someone is knocking on the door!"

"Then why aren't you answering it?" I snapped. How ironic that the minute you allow yourself a reprieve, Life's whirlwind suddenly picks up again!

"Oh là!" my daughter scolded, unwilling to be anyone's stress scapegoat.

I softened my tone. "Hurry over to the fenêtre and see who's there."

Jackie took her sweet time to glance out the window, to the cours below. "C'est les pompiers."

The firemen? Zut! That could only mean one thing: Calendar Sales! I felt the urge to slip under the bath water and disappear... Instead, I had another of those inspirations.... 

Don't be stupid, I thought. Now's the time to get to know these local rescuers. For so many years I never needed anybody... and then I ran into a health scare that made me wake up to my very weakness and my need for others.

I felt a little guilty about my sudden motivation to greet the pompiers. After all, my automatic response had been to get out of paying for another calendar (by hiding from the pompier-salesmen), until it occurred to me to turn the "invasion" into an opportunity.

I threw on my robe and ran over to the window, careful not to slip across the wet floor. In my most welcoming voice I shouted: 

"Bonjour, Messieurs! J'arrive! Désolée de vous faire attendre!"

"Prenez votre temps!" the firemen replied.

This time I threw on my jeans, a t-shirt, a sweater, slippers, and hurried down the stairs. There was no time to cover up the surgical wound on my forehead, so I simply assured myself it didn't matter; after all, here were the firefighter-saviors. They had seen much more than this!

That said, I felt the need to explain the "double cross" or "H" mark on my forehead, which looked, at best, like an accidental calf branding and, at worst, like some sort of freaky occult symbol! Surely the pompiers would think we sacrificed more than grapes here at our so-called "vineyard"!

"Bonjour!" I greeted the pompiers. Pointing to my head, I made what might have been a very bad joke: "I've been burned!" I laughed off the uncomfortable moment, explaining that it was the sun that had made a bad spot on my forehead and that la mauvaise tache had recently been taken off.

The firefighters looked genuinely sympathetic. I quickly switched subjects. "Alors.... voyons... qu'est-ce que ça donne, le calendrier deux-mille-douze?"

The pompiers handed me their calendar for inspection. Remembering my kiss-up-to-the-firemen agenda, I took the time to peruse the calendar, making a point to linger over the scenes of bravery featured in the months of "Mars" (a car fire) and "Juin" (a forest fire).

Still, no matter how self-motivated I was to kiss up to the firefighters, in the hopes that they would remember me in my day of need, I felt that familiar resistance to fork over the cash for the calendar. I guess I was experiencing another attack of les oursins dans les poches, in which those prickly, figurative "sea urchins in my pocket" were preventing me from reaching in for the money just beyond.

I sucked up and reached in any way, in time to finger the 50-euro note that I had grabbed on the way down the stairs. Jean-Marc had just given it to me the day before, and I had high hopes of holding onto it for a while... and then the calendar salesmen arrived!

A new dilemma presented itself: combien donner? Firemen's calendars are not priced. Kind of like restaurant tipping, each citizen gives what he or she feels like giving. This French concept has always been much too vague for me, so I asked the pompiers to spell it out, clearly:

"How much is your average donation?" I inquired.

"Les gens give anywhere from ten to twenty euros," one of the firemen answered. 

Determined not to be a cheapskate (and keeping firmly in mind my agenda...) I began to hand over the 50-euro note, and to ask, politely, for thirty back. Still, I noticed how heavy my arm felt while reaching for the cash... 

That's when I had another inspiration. Couldn't I get a little more value for my money? More than a 16-page calendar? I was a little ashamed of this devil-on-my-shoulder-inspired thought, but it didn't keep my inner radine from acting on the idea.

"Un moment, s'il vous plaît!" I hurried into the house and rooted through the pantry for a couple of unopened smoke alarms. It had been four years since I bought the détecteurs de fumée. I still hadn't installed them... I think I was waiting to buy batteries or something.

I watched as the firemen cut open the dusty boîtes and freed the alarms from the industrial-strength plastic packaging. The men checked the batteries (which, it turns out, came with the units...), showing me how to do the battery test.

I asked the firemen's advice about where, exactly, to place the alarms, and how would I know whether they really worked (again, they pointed out to me the battery-test button...). With each question, the pompiers responded with patience and encouragement. They even praised me for my foresightedness in buying the alarms (graciously overlooking my failure to install them), informing me that in 2012 such alarms would be required by French law.

Fully satisfied with the transaction, I finally handed over the cash for the calendar and the service. I figured I had gotten a lot of value out of the deal.

I did feel a little guilty about wanting to get my money's worth at the pompiers expense, but if it took stinginess to get those lifesaving smoke detectors working, then so be it! 


It's no fun to face up to one's own flaws and so I'll try to be more aware of my tendency to hold on to things (my cash? my time? my ice cream?) and be more open to occasions to put Mom's words into practice: Give! Give as much as you can at every chance! Give, give, give! Though I have literally watched my mom give away her last $20 (to a stranger), I will try to find the balance between keeping and giving. What is that balance? Does anybody know? 


Le Coin Commentaires
To leave a comment on this post, click here. Please take a minute to note what city you are writing in from (my dear dad loves to know!)


Surgery wound update! Some of you have written in, asking me to post a more updated photo of my forehead. Click here to view a photo taken just two days ago.

Book update: today Erin at TLG Graphics will receive the manuscript and begin working on my book's interior! Wish her bon courage!

French Vocabulary

la maman = mom

oh là = hang on a minute there!

la fenêtre = window

la cour =courtyard

c'est les pompiers = it's the firemen

zut! = darn!

Bonjour, Messieurs! J'arrive! Désolée de vous faire attendre!
Hello, gentlemen. I'm on my way. Sorry to make you wait! 

Prenez votre temps = take your time

la mauvaise tache = the bad spot

Alors.... voyons... qu'est-ce que ça donne, le calendrier deux-mille-douze?
So, let's see... what does the 2012 calendar look like?

mars = March

juin = June

avoir un oursin dans la poche = to be stingy, miserly; literally "to have a sea urchin in your pocket" (preventing you from reaching past it to the money just beyond)

combien donner? = how much to give?

le radin/la radine = cheapskate, skinflint

les gens (mpl) = people

un moment, s'il vous plaît = one moment, please

un détecteur de fumée = smoke detector

une boîte = box

Sea urchins oursins prepared rose wine
Jean-Marc loves sea urchins, "les oursins." Do not miss this funny story about the lengths he will go to in order to hunt them off the popular southern island of Porquerolles.


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

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety