A Beautiful Escape via the French word échapper belle

Mediterranean pebble Beach at Plage Mugel La Ciotat France
Today's story takes place in La Ciotat, not far from the beach. 

ECHAPPER BELLE

(ay-shap-ay bel)

    : to have a close call, a lucky escape; to let off the hook

L'ECOUTE: Practice your French Listening Skills. To hear the French in today's story, click below. Next, check your comprehension by viewing the vocabulary list (farther down).

Listen to the vocabulary list, click here


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Is there a word in French or English for when you are avoiding your To-Do list... by shopping instead? And does going grocery shopping count? En milieu de semaine, there were a lot of things I could be doing instead of hanging out at the supermarket, such as:

  • applying for French citizenship (but it's so much easier to renew my titre de séjour every ten years!)
  • completing the colorectal kit offered by the French government when you turn 50 (as I did 3 winters ago...)
  • working on Mom's bureaucratic papers before she is deported!

Ah well, as Scarlett O'hara famously said, Après tout, demain est un autre jour! Today, there's Monoprix--France's grocery/clothing/home store all wrapped up into one! But before rushing over to les allées de tentation, better exercise un tantinet of delayed gratification and shop for food first.

Touch screen and french produce scale for weighing fruits  vegetables

In this supermarché you weigh the fruits and vegetables yourself, using une balance and its accompanying touch screen (with photos of all the produce). Searching the screen, I could not find the picture of the onions. But it was there a minute ago! It even reminded me I needed onions. So where was the picture now that I was back with my sack full of oignons? The universe was playing tricks again. I looked around hoping for a Good Samaritan. Finally, I marched over to the only other scale.

An elderly man with a hunched back stood weighing a small bag of abricots. Glancing into his chariot, I saw a dozen more bags of unweighed produce and a battered cane he had tossed inside. The Man Sans Canne looked so calm and peaceful as he took his time at the self-serve station. A flash of admiration erased any memory of The Onion Dilemma, and I quietly returned to the other scale (where, incredibly, the onion was back on the screen!). Leaving the produce department, I kicked myself for not having the courage to say something to the man, to this last bastion of le bon sens. Here was more than a man--here was an inspiration. I hope to be eating like him and solo shopping like him (my own cane tossed into my chariot) well into le trosième âge!

Studying my family's grocery list I saw "ice cream, raspberry jam, and another quatre-quart (kids love this rich, buttery poundcake for the 4 o'clock goûter. No more kids in the house, but Grandma loves this treat!). Having gotten some eggs I rounded the bend and.... Chariots of Fire! There he was in the dairy aisle! Alas, I missed a second chance to say something, anything, to The Man Sans Canne. Instead, I hurried off and, rounding the corner, the handle of my own chariot (a smaller, two-wheeled poussette de marché) slipped and the cart fell, its contents tumbling out.

(Ouf, the carton of 12 eggs was intact!)

"Vous avez échappé belle!" another shopper exclaimed. 

"Oh, oui!" I smiled, quickly making a mental note to share with you, dear reader, the wonderful French phrase which literally means "a beautiful escape". Echapper belle also means to be let off the hook, which reminds me of hooky.... We'll end with that: the reminder to play hooky de temps en temps. Why not play at the grocery store? It might lead to a beautiful escape and some meaningful encounters, too.  

FRENCH VOCABULARY
en milieu de semaine = midweek
un titre de séjour = residence permit (see la carte de séjour...)
Après tout, demain est un autre jour = after all, tomorrow is another day
les allées de tentation = aisles of temptation
un tantinet = a smidgeon, tad, wee bit
une balance = weighing scale
un abricot = apricot
le chariot = shopping cart, trolley
le bon sens = good sense, common sense
le troisième âge = later life, old age
le goûter = snack, afterschool snack, afternoon tea
la canne = cane
ouf! = phew!
échapper-belle
de temps en temps = from time to time, now and then, occasionally
Caddie grocery cart in french chariot
It's amusing, isn't it, to read a stranger's grocery list. And judging from the crossed out item, it looks like they finally found the onions, too! :-)

Highlights from the archives:
Review the five senses in French: la vue, l'ouïe...
Check out The Most difficult French words to pronounce (and add your own in the comments to that post)
A family vacation in Queyras (the French Alps), pictured below.

Queyras France Alps

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


Two brothers at Aldi and riots in France

The Green Island
L'Ile Verte. The green island, here in La Ciotat, for a peaceful image to begin today's post.

Today's Word: chercher ses mots*

    : to be at a loss for words

*I settled on this "word of the day" following the struggle in writing a story in these sad, scary, and emotionally-charged times. Thank you for reading with open hearts.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

In the parking lot at Aldi I was loading our groceries, Mom's, then mine, into our car, when I saw two familiar faces. It was the funny duo behind us in the checkout line. Turning to the brothers (who were twins?), I smiled:

Je voulais vous remercier pour votre bonne humeur. Ça fait du bien--surtout en ce moment. I hope they understood my French, and my appreciation for their funny commentary back in line, when they were snapping each other's face masks and reminding one another to keep at a safe distance from the next customer. They were regular Laurel and Hardys in the age of coronavirus!

The short, gray-haired men, so full of antics back in the store, suddenly grew shy, in a French version of Aw, Shucks! "Well," one of the guys offered, you've got to have a sense of humor in times like these!"

"C'est sûr!" I agreed, adding, "Are you from La Ciotat?"

"Oui!" 

"My mom and I are from Arizona," I shared.

The men grew thoughtful. "A lot of upheaval in the US right now..." one of the brothers reflected.

"Here in France, too..." I said, mentioning the riots breaking out in Paris and beyond.

"Non!" The brothers replied, in a possible misunderstanding (were they unaware of the émeutes?).

"Non!" They affirmed. "We are not racist!"

I think the brothers were referring to themselves--or possibly to our region? Either way, they echoed the feelings or beliefs or ideals of many.

Our conversation ended in awkward silence, one that lingered. Later that day the brothers' words returned to mind. "We are not racist." I understood what they meant. I believe they were sincere. I know I am too! My last thought came as a surprise: But is that enough? Is it enough not to be racist?

 

FRENCH VOCABULARY
Je voulais vous remercier = I wanted to thank you
bonne humeur = good humor
ça fait du bien = it does one good
surtout en ce moment = especially at this time
une émeute = uprising, riot

The coast in la ciotat
I leave you with a peaceful image taken here in La Ciotat. Thank you for reading.

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


Peuchère or What Not to Say to a Disabled Person

Mom (c) Kristin Espinasse
I'm having the time of my life with my wonderful mom! I love this innocent, serendipitous photo with Mom and her little fish purse. The sign says: "You are at the right place. Look no further." Vous êtes au bon endroit. Ne cherchez plus


peuchère (peuh-sher)

    : poor dear, poor thing

Peuchère is a Provençal expression of sympathy, used to indicate compassion for someone: Peuchère elle doit avoir mal au dos! Poor thing. Her back must ache!

Peuchère may also rank among the top Ten Things Not to Say to A Disabled Person. Can you list some others? Comment... or read on in the following story.


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

I was standing in the supermarket checkout line with my daughter when I saw a man approach in a motorized cart. A familiar dilemma returned: did I offer him my place in line--or risk making the man feel pitied?

Over the years I have struggled with the subject--ever since watching a man in a wheelchair open the door of his car (driver's side). A friend and I were across the street when we noticed the wheelchair-to-car transition--only each of us had a completely different reaction.

My instinct was to wait and see how the transition unfolded. If the man needed help, we could then offer it. But my friend fumed. "WHY ISN'T ANYONE HELPING HIM?" She shook her head angrily as she stood watching.

Her outrage made me feel ashamed. Had I not reacted fast enough? Would I have reacted in time? But I hadn't wanted the man to feel pitied. I hadn't been sure how to respond, I only knew I would be there if the man needed help. Meantime, the man managed to hike himself up into his car, taking with him the folded wheelchair. No assistance had been needed after all. But could the man's experience have been smoother had my friend and I intervened? Or might we have slowed or even put a snag in his familiar routine?

Fast forward ten years. Youtube. I happened upon a rant wherein a middle-aged man in a wheelchair complained about how people over-respond to his condition. "Can I get the door for you?" said the man (paralyzed from a bike accident), and the cynicism in his voice as he mimicked the modern-day good Samaritans made me even more uncertain of how to assist--or how NOT to assist--a disabled person. It seemed you were damned if you did, damned if you didn't.  But how to get past the poor them/poor me (all I wanted to do was help) syndrome in time to help out when needed?

Standing there in the checkout line I tried to be discreet while figuring out whether the man-on-wheels needed help. The answer came swiftly and easily when I looked up and noticed the sign depicting a pregnant lady. Aha! This was the caisse prioritaire line. It would be perfectly normal for me to offer my place in line without making the man feel pitied.  But the woman in front of me was about to fall into the same trap I had hoped to avoid.

"Peuchère!" she declared. "Il me fait de la peine!" she said, explaining why she had just given up her place in line, too. I wanted to shush her up so that the man wouldn't hear her "I feel so sorry for him!" remark... but who was I to shush another's expression of compassion? Her sympathy was sincere and mimicked my own sentiments as we watched the hard-of-hearing senior hand over his thread-bare change purse to the cashier so that the latter could fish out the somme due.

That's when we watched the cashier turn the purse upside down and shake it. Oh no! The man was 4 euros 36 cents short! Suddenly the "peuchère" woman went silent, opting to arrange and rearrange her pile of groceries along the tapis roulant. It didn't mean she was indifferent to the man's dilemma; she was probably doing what many do, French or otherwise: allowing the man privacy as he settled his finances.

But, given the purse's upturned state, it didn't seem likely that finances would settle on their own accord! I looked around nervously, and finally whispered to the woman ahead of me. "We ought to be able to rustle up the rest?"

The French weren't stingy, they just didn't seem to have the "pay it forward" reflex. "On doit pouvoir trouver ça," We've got to be able to come up with that," I hinted to the other customers in line. Next, I watched as wallets flew open and French fingers went to work rifling through the contents of their money purses. The collective reaction was so touching that I didn't notice, right off, how the contents of my own purse were as spare as those of the man we were trying to assist....

"Jackie!" I whispered, "do you have any change? I can't believe it," I said, searching through my wallet, "I don't have enough!" And there I'd gone suggesting that "we" pay the difference! Only, as things were, I'd given the job of debt-paying to the others in line! No matter how many times I rooted through the change purse, all I could come up with were pennies. The ten euros I'd been searching for was in my jeans pocket... back at home!

"No worries," the woman in front of me said. "I think I've got it!" I watched as she handed over enough coins to pay off the man's modest debt. I noticed the relief and happiness on her face. Whereas she had initially frozen up allowing the man to deal with his dilemma in privacy, she now had unwittingly experienced the "Pay it Forward" principle--and the good feelings it brings to all involved! The movement was gaining ground in other countries, but I'd yet to see strangers paying for strangers in France.

I watched as the senior-on-wheels gazed up at his lovely benefactor. "You are an angel," he said to the woman. And by the way his face beamed with light you'd think he was the very same.


FRENCH VOCABULARY

peuchère = poor thing
il me fait de la peine = I feel sorry for him
la somme due = amount owed
le tapis roulant = conveyor belt, carousel
on doit pouvoir trouver ça = we should be able to come up with that

Colorful patina in Sospel

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


How to say discount card in French: Carte de Fidelite

French pigeon bird oiseau bis address sign
Name this photo (taken in the nearby village of Suze la Rousse)


la carte de fidélité (lah kart deuh fee del ee tay) noun, feminine

    : rewards card, discount card (loyalty card)

Audio File and Example Sentence: Download Wav or Download MP3

Avec votre carte de fidélité, vous recevrez dix pourcent de réduction.
With your rewards card, you receive a ten percent discount.

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

Waiting in the supermarket checkout line, I overhear the man in front of me flirt with la caissière.

"Non, je ne suis jamais fidèle!" he boasts, and his eyes brighten like a predator having zeroed in on his proie. Those same self-satisfied eyes leave the young cashier, to fall upon the forty-something femme in line behind him. Hands in his pockets, his heels lift, then touch the ground, lift, touch the ground with one, two, three counts of immodesty, baby.

Next, Monsieur I'm Too Sexy for this Supermarché, swings his big ego eyes over to the cashier—then back to forty-something me—for a conspiratorial glance. I look away, no conspiratorial glance receiver am I! 

The adolescent boy, standing next to his flirting father, looks as if he'd rather be passing the dreadful BAC, cleaning out his closet, or sitting through a six-course meal with the former monks at his private Catholic collège—he would rather be anywhere but here, listening to his father drag la caissière.

Eventually, the caissière responds to the shopper-seducer's comment, by an abrupt handing over of the credit-card receipt and a sarcastic smile. With that, our playboy trots off.

When it is my turn to be greeted by la caissière, I receive another conspiratorial glance.
"Ils disent tous ça!" the cashier complains. "All the guys that come here say the same thing: 'Je ne suis pas fidèle'!"

'Ce n'est pas tellement original!" she says, referring to all the customers who have come up with the same recycled retort. I nod, sympathetically, but our conspiracy is short-lived when the caissière switches swiftly back to business mode and fires off the same question that had, only moments ago, caused her such a hassle:

"Vous avez une carte de fidélité?"

***
Post note: Just like Mr I'm Too Sexy for this Supermarket, I realized, soon after, that I, too, had forgotten my carte de fidélité... only I didn't trot out of the store, as he did, but was a bit bummed to not get credit for all those groceries.

French Vocabulary

la caissière (f) = cashier; non, je ne suis jamais fidèle = no, I am never faithful; la proie (f) = prey; la femme (f) = woman; le supermarché (m) = supermarket; le BAC (baccalauréat) = French exam / school leaving certificate (high school diploma); le collège = junior high school; ils disent tous ça = they all say that 

***

DSC_0076
Mediterranean Island Life (c) Kristin Espinasse

A Day in a Dog's Life...
by Braise and Smokey

DSC_0048
Day-old baguettes just hit the spot... a step up from those sticks, anyway.

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!