Click on this photo to view it full size. Here are the ladies at the book club in Marseilles. As Agnès (in black, third from right) said, it is a privilege to have girlfriends like these! After agonizing in today's story (the subject is "becoming une dame... when one still secretly believes she's une fille"), I had a good chuckle reading Agnès's group email, in which she unwittingly addressed the ladies in this photo as grils. "Dear grils," she wrote, after sending us this photo souvenir. We forgive Agnès for the coquille, or typo--and I thank her for the needed synonym for "female". Grils works just fine for me! Read on, in today's story.... (Left-to-right: Baby Stella, Cris, Kristi, Julie, Christiane, Olivia, Anne, Agnès, Cari, Lisa, and Andrea. Thanks, Pierre Casanova, for the photo.)
la dame (dam)
: lady; married woman
Dame Pipi = the woman in charge of the restrooms (in a restaurant) don't miss the wonderful video at the end of this post!
la dame nature = mother nature
faire la grande dame = to put on airs
le jeu de dames = game of checkers
la dame d'onze heures = star of Bethlehem
Tu connais la dame qui est mariée avec le vigneron?
Do you know the lady who is married to the winemaker?
A Day in a French Life… by Kristin Espinasse
How Old is Une Dame?
I was sitting in the swivel chair at our local salon when the name-calling began. To be fair, the so-called insults were unintended—perfectly innocent. The hairdresser was only stating a fact. Mais quand même!
As it was, my hair shot out in all directions, triggered by a couple dozen sheets of aluminum, which held these dishwater blond locks in place during the quarterly balayage. That my hair stood on end had nothing to do with my emotions; it was just a comical coincidence, and not a reaction to what the hairdresser had said.
Specifically she had said, “la dame….” Only, as she said it, she motioned to me! She had been talking to another client about the quick passage of time. “Comme ça passe vite!” she marveled. “Yes, la dame and I were saying the same earlier.”
La dame? The new label struck like a gavel! Then again, was it so new? Maybe I had not listened before? Surely by now I had been called une dame? I’ve probably been in denial for some time. I looked into the salon mirror….
The only thing worse than a salon mirror is a dressing-room mirror! But trying on a swimsuit is a walk in shallow waters compared to judging one’s reflection in a poorly lighted salon mirror. The light, if there was any, filtered in from the window at the side of the room. The result was similar to the effect one gets when standing in the dark with a bright flashlight held beneath the chin. Enough to scare a 44-year-old girl at heart!
But une dame? Fair enough! I was no longer une fille. That realization came suddenly in my late 20s, when, as if overnight, the French quit calling me mademoiselle. I’ll never forget the wake-up call as ticket agents, the postal clerk, and the gray-haired woman at the market began referring to me as Madame. (Funnily, the gray-haired men continued calling me Mademoiselle. But I knew the truth, my mademoiselle days were over, from now on I would answer to the call of Madame.)
But la dame? The word was so… hard. Gone was the lightness of la nana or la demoiselle. As for la dame, it sounded more like la damnation.
It probably just meant “woman”. I suppose I might have felt the same way, in America, the day strangers quit referring to me as “young lady”, and began saying "here you are, Ma'am." Only, I wouldn’t know, for I never became a woman in America! (I moved to France as a mademoiselle, to later become une madame—a sensitive one at that!)
After the hairdresser washed the chemicals out of my hair, she called over to a new arrival who had snapped up my chair, “Could you please move,” she said to the man, "la dame was sitting there.”
I shivered once again, and not from the cold water trickling down the back of my neck!
Surely my reaction to the dame label has to do with my ignorance? After 20 years in France, I still don’t understand the nuances of the language. Maybe la dame is not so damning after all? To be sure, I would need to look up the word in a good dictionary.
As the hairdresser combed my wet hair, she pointed out that I seemed to be losing a lot of it. “It must be a lack of vitamins,” she guessed. It was odd, she said, usually people lose a bit of hair in the fall or in the spring (but here we were the 5th of July). I was left to the realization that only une dame could experience thinning hair.
At home, rushing towards my dictionary, I passed my husband. “La coiffeuse called me a dame. Isn’t that for women of a certain age?”
Jean-Marc snickered, amused at my naïvety (more fuel for which to tease me with!). “It’s just a general term for une femme,” he explained. His grin widened when he mused, “You mean she didn’t call you une mamie?”
Seeing I was not amused, he changed his tune. “She should have called you la bombe!” With that, he tugged on my renewed bottle-blond locks.
One thing’s for sure. I’m not gray yet. Thanks to la dame at the hairdresser’s!
mais quand même!
but even so!
hair highlighting (to balai or brush the hair with blond highlights)
synonym for girl
the (blond) bombshell
Now for a little comic relief!
Don't miss this wonderfully funny video "Dame Pipi" -- a commercial for Vittel filmed in the 70s. Anyone who has ever visited a French restroom will appreciate it. (If you are reading this via newsletter, you'll need to click here to see the video, near the end of the post. Trivia: The restaurant in the video reminds me of a famous place in Paris? Can you name it? Click here to share your answer.
That's me, the dame on the right, talking about the writing life—including the joys and freedom of self-publishing. (That's Cris and her baby Stella. Cris should write a book! Her tales of moving to France from Texas are priceless!) To comment on any items in today's post, please click here. (Thanks, Agnès, for the photo)
Forward this edition to a girl or a woman or une dame or une femme or une mademoiselle or to someone who loves females of every age!
A Message from Kristi on this blog's 19th anniversary
Thank you for reading this language journal. In 2002 I left my job at a vineyard and became self-employed in France. "French Word-A-Day" has been my full-time occupation ever since. 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.
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