la dame (today's word too easy? Read the story-vocab section!)

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 

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

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!

    Read another age-related essay here.


French Vocabulary

mais quand même!
but even so!

le balayage
hair highlighting (to balai or brush the hair with blond highlights)

une fille

la nana
synonym for girl 

la demoiselle
young lady 

la mademoiselle
young lady

une femme

la mamie 

la bombe
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.


  Cris and stella

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!)(Thanks, Agnès, for the photo)

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Hair Trends (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Ruff Ruff Rasta" A couple of curly-haired characters encountered over the weekend. Never miss a word or a photo - click here to receive the free word-a-day newsletter

s'amuser (saah moo zay)

    : to have fun

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce these French words:
(Download MP3 file or Wav)

On s'amuse bien avec les amis. We have a lot of fun with friends.

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

The Comparison Trap

Around eleven or twelve years ago, a group of childhood friends began to meet yearly, for a four-day retreat, so as never to lose touch with each other - or with reality. It didn't matter if the flurry of the everyday threatened ("You are too busy - this year you cannot get away!") and distance might try--but could not succeed--in keeping the longtime friends from meeting.

The wives of these French friends were, for the most part, enthusiastic complices, game to hike, swim, and shimmy alongside their men, to go where the sun, the sea, and the sheer thrill might take them. All the wives, that is, but one....

"But this year will be different!" I listened to the voice of reason cheering in my mind. "You are no longer that complexed, still-trying-to-fit-in non-citizen. You can now cook, speak, and even manage to run a family..."  Yes, but I still cannot get into one of their French bikinis!

And so it was that I joined my husband's friends and spent the weekend trying to keep up with their fit and fun-loving women. The lieu: a family-friendly, all-inclusive, seaside club, just a four-hours' drive from our farm.

"Tu nous rejoins pour l'aquagym?" or "Allez! On va danser la Zumba!" The wives encouraged, and I stared back, doubtfully, at the athletic-looking ladies.  I wondered about things like swimsuits and sportsbriefs - did we really have to wear these tightish things? Why couldn't we just go to the movies? 

"Allez! On va s'amuser!" The women assured me. We needed not follow the dancers in step - the goal was to unwind! In the end, I set aside any complexes... in time to shimmy with the best of them. I tried to ignore the curious bystanders (mostly our husbands, who were piled up at the door to the dance class), and I told myself that it didn't matter that I'd forgotten my glasses -- just follow the woman ahead of me (who followed the one ahead of her, and so on... each moving in the opposite direction). 

In the evening, I tried not to be too envious when, at dinner, the women arrived the best dressed. I wore the same pair of cargo pants each evening, having recently grown out of my slacks, my jeans, and other things.  And when another bout of doubt threatened to steal the moment, I quietly reminded myself of the privilege that was mine -- to be here listening to these French voices after all this time. Tuning in to the foreign hum.... I could quiet the inner critic in time to join the fun-loving ones.


Le Coin Commentaires
How about you? Do you ever find yourself comparing yourself with others--after all these years? And in what areas?: intelligence or career or physique or speaking or cooking abilities? Do you compare yourself to other parents? to other spouses? to colleagues? Or simply to others in your same age group (wondering whether you or they look their age)? What ways have you found in which to overcome "the comparison trap"? Is it selfish or dim-witted or useless to compare -- or is it "only human"? Click here to comment.

And what if dogs self-compared? What if they compared their hair?

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French Vocab & Expressions

la/le complice = accomplice

l'aquagym (f) = aquaerobics

Tu nous rejoins pour l'aquagym? = Meet us for aquagym?

Allez! On va danser la Zumba! = Come on! We're going to dance the Zumba!

Allez! On va s'amuser! = Come on! We're going to have fun!

Thank you for visiting today's sponsors

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"A breath of bougainvillea" in Costa Brava, Spain. All photos (c) Kristin Espinasse

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Eagle (c) Kristin Espinasse

When vines talk... the "Eagle" (left) is being told by the "Shusher" (right, finger on "mouth") to be quiet, "It's not the end of winter yet... nature is still sleepy." And you, do you believe that vines are more than wood stalks? The characters in today's story do... and they make wine according to the moon!

le caissier (kay-syeh)

    : cashier, teller

feminine: la caissière (kay-syehr)


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

When your husband asks whether you would like to volunteer for Friday night's professionals-only dégustation, smile and reply "tout ce que tu veux, cheri"... never mind that you aren't active in the local wine scene, that you won't recognize names or faces, that this dernier détail could lead to embarrassment.

Capture plein écran 07032011 083603 Request, quand même, not to be in charge of the caisse.

Arrive at the mind-blowing Domaine Viret. Ascend the massive stone stairs to the mind-blowing cave. You have never seen anything like it! If this is a biodynamic's cellar, then the Egyptian-inspired reaching-towards-the-galaxy "wine cathedral" must be a tribute to la Voie lactée!

Be amazed by the floor-to-sky vats, the ancient amphorae, and the 20 walkin'-to-their-own-(and-to nature's)-beat winemakers who are busy setting up shop.

Search for the woman who has been helping your husband with PR... Check her out: assess any threat as she strides up and listens to your husband's introduction: "Voici ma femme".  

Wonder whether to kiss or to shake. Notice how the other woman is studying you: were you what she expected? Older? Younger? Bolder? Weaker? Chopped liver?

Study Other Woman, who is wearing that secret magic glittery powder that all beautiful French women wear. Regret the pharmacy "flour" that now feels like dough on your own face. Wish that you'd worn a skirt, as she has done, and black-heeled boots, as she has done... and earrings and a pretty barrette in your thick brown hair! 

Feel like chopped liver for two-seconds flat, in time to pull the full length of body skyward. Nod like a princess when you feel like une grenouille.

Spend next half-hour worrying whether Other Woman likes you or not, sees you as competent or not, would rather you be here or not....

Then get over yourself! After all, you are here to help!

(From this point on refer to Other Woman as "Colleague". Much better. Plus, hope that if she's reading she's not offended by your carefree reporting...)

Follow Other Woman, or "Colleague"... over to cellar entrance, where a small table is set up. Notice cagnotte. Cagnotte!!! Be eternally grateful when Colleague says she'll handle the money.

Nod head enthusiastically when given the easy-peasy-French-cheesy task of distributing the wine glasses. One per paying customer. You can handle that.   

Listen to lowdown: five euros for guests who've reserved (whose names are inscribed on The List); ten euros for those who have not reserved. Wonder why you are listening to The Lowdown, after all, you are only in charge of easy-cheesy glasses-distribution... n'est-ce pas???

Watch Colleague in action: "Sorry, sir, but you have not reserved. That will be ten euros."
Observe as Colleague uses her charm to save a sale "but it is only ten euros for the tasting and the dinner! C'est quand même pas mal, non?!"

Back up Colleague, chirping "Quelle bonne affaire!" ("Affaire"? Attention to word choice, which comes back to haunt you!)

Watch Colleague as customer hands over a 20-euro note. "Vous avez de la monnaie, Monsieur?" "Do you have anything smaller, Sir?"

Be impressed when Colleague gets customer to hand over two fives. Smart woman. Realize we'll need all the fivers/change we can get.

Stare, stunned, when Colleague leaves you to man the stand, with a breezy "I'm off to try some wine..." Regret that you are not a wine-trier, then quickly get over it...

Jump into action!: greet customers, request fives/change, defend the ten-euros entrance fee to those concerned...

Watch, amazed, as the line piles up, with everyone suddenly being related to the winemakers. "Sorry, yes, perhaps, but the entrance fee is still ten euros!... or five, depending!).

Feel mortified when you attempt to charge the owner's wife the 10-euros fee....

Swear you will never again assume that a cashier has shortchanged you... when three times in the evening you accidentally cheat a customer! (Listen like a thug to the reprimand and the tsk-tsk of "Madame, je vous ai donné un billet de vingt!") 

Wonder where in the Milky Way did your Colleague stray? On second thought, be glad for the chance to man the stand. You've learned a lot: for one thing, you are not the pushover you thought you were. Just look at how you plucked up those line-cutters who tried to steal behind you in time to swipe a glass and sneak into the tasting room! Boy, are their butts going to be sore!!!

Learn to decipher journalists (remember what Colleague taught: journalists are not used to paying. Let them by -- just remind them about a write up... hoping one of them will eventually write an article...

Be the One of Them to eventually write the damned article.


Le Coin Commentaires
Join us here, in our community corner. Respond to today's story, offer a correction, or ask each other questions about French or France! Click here to enter the discussion or simply to learn from it.


French Vocabulary - Click one of the following links to listen to this vocabulary list: MP3 file or Wav file

-> la dégustation = tasting

-> le dernier détail = last detail

-> quand même = even so, nevertheless, all the same, really

-> la caisse (money context) = the till, cash register

-> la Voie lactée = the Milky way

-> une barrette = a hair clip

-> la grenouille = frog

-> la cagnotte = the kitty (in a different context -> the jackpot)

-> une bonne affaire = a real bargain!

-> de la monnaie = some change

-> un billet (money context) = a bank note

-> un billet de vingt = a twenty Euro note

-> ..... "n'est-ce pas"? .... isn't it so?
used at the end of a sentence as an expression of affirmation after a statement - equivalent of 'tag question' in English.

-> "Tout ce que tu veux, chéri"... = 'whatever you want, darling'...

-> "C'est quand même pas mal, non?!" = It's not bad really, is it?!

-> "Vous avez de la monnaie, Monsieur?" = 'Do you have anything smaller, Sir?'

Chief Grape.

Check out these helpful France guides--filled with travel tips by our readers:


A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety