Pancarte: A Funny Sign Taped to the wall of our W.C.

Valentines Day in Rome
Valentine's Day is past but an unusual love note lingers in today's story....
Also, a book you might love: Amour: How the French Talk About Love. Find it in the "Books" section" here.


    : banner, sign

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

The last moments before Jean-Marc flew to New Zealand for his wine mission were spent fixing our plumbing--or trying to. Ever since we moved to this 1960s villa in 2017 we've been walking a fine, crooked line with our abominable système d'évacuation WC. It all boils down to the snaking path of our canalisations, the stubborn corners of which create blockage from a build-up of papier toilette. Repairing the problem could involve ripping out our floors to locate the crooked pipes and reroute them. The demolition involved could be extensive and I don't want to destroy our floors. So we have remained as stuck as our bouchon as we tiptoe around the problem, being soucieux with we put in the toilet. Easy for us, but try getting family and guests to behave...

(While we are here, dear reader, and just to add to your French vocabulary....Here are eight things not to toss in the toilet: lingettes humides, cotons-tiges, serviettes hygiéniques, cheveux, préservatifs, mouchoirs en papier, couches jetables et emballages de produits hygiéniques.) 

"I think one of the kids' friends tossed a tampon in here," Jean-Marc suspects after our pipes become clogged again (as evidenced by water rising unnervingly close to the toilet rim). 

"Well, we don't know that," I say, defending la coupable. I like to think people think before tossing just anything into a toilet, but my husband is right: the truth is many don't! We have discovered everything from plastic Q-tips to chicken bones in our toilet bowl! (Regarding the bones, for years I pinned the blame on a senior family member but, come to think of it, the latter happened when several workers were renovating our house, stopping at noon for lunch...poulet rôti???).

While we know better than to flush feminine products, I was astonished when our plumber advised us not to put le PQ in the cuvette. Well then, what did he expect us to do?
"Prenez une douche," he suggested. "You might take a shower after. It's what I do...."

I tried very hard not to picture our plumber following his own advice. Meantime, our toilet is located in a separate room from our salle de bains, did he really think we were going to hop on over to the shower to rinse off? Honestly! Sometimes I think France is still living in le Moyen Âge.

What with this non-flushing fiasco, Jean-Marc and I have become part-time plumbers in the 7 years we've been here, with one of us manning the garden hose and the other on standby beside the toilet. Removing a heavy metal grate from the back porch, my husband feeds le tuyau as far into our pipes as possible then releases a jet of water whilst inside the house I listen for the familiar glug, glug, glug of I'm not sure what. Then comes the call, VAS-Y! TIRE! With that, I flush the upstairs toilet. then hurry down the stairs to pull the chain on the other WC. (Ideally, one person is stationed at each toilet, but often there are only two of us here. Even so, I don't like to ask guests for help with this particular chore...)

When my sister and the kids visited last summer, Jean-Marc reminded me to tell my family NOT to put TP in the toilet. “But they'll think we are barbaric!” I argued. (For being so anti-barbaric I was rewarded with a grizzly midnight shift during the family visit as Jean-Marc and I snuck out to the backyard and pumped the pipes when all the toilets became stopped up!)

As the years passed, and our pesky plumbing problem persisted, I began dreaming of one of those Totos or Japanese toilets with the built-in water jets. But at 3000 euros a unit (and not all plumbers know how to install them) I researched other options. As stressful as this situation is, it's brought forth a few discoveries. For one, I've found The HappyPo--a portable douche that allows you to skip toilet paper altogether. And let me tell you, even if we move on to another house and the perfect plumbing system I will forever have my HappyPo with me in the WC! And you should too! This douche à fesses portable is especially helpful for those suffering from petits soucis (such as hemorrhoids).

At D-12 hours until his departure for New Zealand, we hang up the towel and agree, whether we believe it or not, that the plumbing is somewhat fixed again. So while Jean-Marc finished packing his bags, I had a nap. No sooner did my head hit the pillow than I heard my husband ripping piece after piece of tape... a familiar sound! Noooo.... He can't possibly be using duct tape (his solution to everything from broken bumpers to ripped hammocks) to fix our plumbing problem? My mind was alive with images and scenarios of our duct-taped toilet (???) until, exhausted, I fell to sleep.

When I woke up I'd forgotten all about the tape until I entered the bathroom. And there, taped to the wall and also to the door, a handwritten pancarte. (So that's what he was doing...) The first word was giant and in red: "ZERO" and the next words were in his characteristic cursive: ZERO papiers, serviettes...dans le WC. Merci d'utiliser la poupelle. Sorry. Merci." ZERO toilet paper, pads…in the toilet. Sorry. Thanks.

I found the all-caps, red-lettered note jarring (not to mention it riled my aesthetic sensibilities to see a sign like that at home). Finally, deep down, I didn't want this to be the last message I see before my man leaves (to think we once exchanged love notes!). But my emotions were overcome by amusement on noticing a slight error in the text. In the haste to tie up so many loose ends before his departure, my husband had scribbled a "p" instead of a "b" that poubelle (garbage can) read "poupelle".

(Pardonnez-moi for all this toilet talk, dear reader, but I can't stop laughing over the accidental exactitude of poupbelle--for isn't that where the plumber was suggesting we put the toilet paper? And didn’t it all add up to that?)

Back to the handwritten pancarte. Ah well, it wasn't the love letter of times past. And though I planned to rip it down as soon as my husband left, I've decided to keep it posted on the bathroom wall, that all-caps plea in Valentine-red ink. After all, it is a lively, caring, and protective sentiment all the same, one I can hold on to. Now if only our WC could learn to let go....  


Your comments, corrections, and shared experiences are appreciated. Click here to leave a message.

Bernard and Jean-Marc bike tour New Zealand
After 48 hours port à port, door to door, Jean-Marc landed in Christchurch. I leave you with a few pictures from his bike tour with longtime pal Bernard. Bernard and Jean-Marc began their biking adventure on the West Coast of New Zealand

Mille mercis to readers sending in a donation for the first time, and to those of you who regularly contribute to my journal. Your support means a lot and keeps me on track posting this weekly letter.

Mary S.
Gaby & Steve T.


Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the French and English

la pancarte = sign (read a 2008 entry from the healing village of Lourdes, France)
le WC = toilet 
les canalisations = pipes
soucieux, soucieuse = careful, mindful
un bouchon = a blockage
le coupable, la coupable = the guilty party
le PQ (le papier Q) = toilet paper
le poulet rôti = roast chicken
prenez une douche = take a shower
le Moyen Âge = the Middle Ages
le dépannage = fixing, repair
la cuve = tank (of toilet)
la cuvette = toilet bowl
le tuyau = pipe
vas-y, tire (la chasse d'eau)! = go ahead, flush (the toilet)!
la poubelle = the garbage can


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River in New Zealand
Thanks Bernard and Jean-Marc for these beautiful pictures! This must be the river they swam in.

Glorious New Zealand! Do you think Jean-Marc will ever want to return to France? 

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

Retrecir: A Suprise in our Renovated Bathroom....

roulotte gypsy trailer caravan wheels france tiny home (c) Kristin Espinasse
While filming Smokey (trotting the flower-flanked trails at a nearby calanque), my video recorder broke! For now there is a grand total of three clips at my YouTube channel. Thanks for taking a moment to view them and to subscribe to the channel. (Photo of Jean-Marc in a gypsy trailer we once tried to buy. Wish we hadn't let this one pass us by!)

rétrécir (ray-tray-seer)

    : to shrink

A popular film, Honey I shrunk the kids, was translated by the French: Chérie, j'ai rétréci les gosses.

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

Arrivant dans notre salle de bain, j'ai realisé que tous les éléments avaient rétréci. Arriving in the bathroom, I realized that all of the elements had shrunk!


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

I'd just as soon park a trailer at the edge of our property—and live there—than go through the tortures of renovation. Such flighty thoughts consume me, lately, as I watch giant tractors blaze past Mas des Brun, with a grumbling preview of what's to come. 

But fleeing from the chaos is not the solution. Last time I avoided a chantier I returned to find our bathroom had shrunk!

Two or so years ago, back in our former vineyard in Sainte Cécile, most of the major renovation was past us. We were now putting in wood floors in our upstairs bed and bath. The project was my husband's idea, after he could no longer look at the floor tiles there (I kind of liked them, and grew convinced they were some sort of Provençal classic—even if they were pink and flourishy, and even if you risked spraining an ankle each time you walked over the loose ceramic squares).

One day Jean-Marc breezed into the small guest bedroom where I had been holed up for the duration of the floor project (I secretly hoped to live there forever, and not have to deal with the towering mess down the hall. In fact, couldn't we just board up that side of the house, and forget about it? Just how much room did we need anyway? Besides, I wasn't getting a good vibe from the former bedroom... which was a wreck, what with the furniture piled high and wobbling with books, lamps, and whatever could be tossed up there so as to make room for the floor boards to go in. On occasion, I would venture into the room, take one look at the dusty heaps, and run out again).

When the work was nearly done, Jean-Marc was excited to tell me that the last floor board had been hammered down and would I like to see the results? 

Entering our bedroom, I had to admit the place looked much warmer minus the white and pink tiles. So far so good....

But I'll never forget walking, like Alice in Wonderland, into our newly finished salle de bain. Stepping past the carpentry tools, over the saw-dusted threshold, an astonishing new world appeared. Crossing the small and narrow bathroom, it seemed as though I was walking through another dimension.

Soon the spell broke and I realized this wasn't some sort of other world, something was seriously off, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

Then, when I went to turn on the faucet, I didn't feel the knobs right away. On close examination, the knobs were there, only they were a foot lower than before. Le lavabo was now below my hips!

Quickly I spun around and, just as suspected, I saw how les w.-c. had shrunk, too. If it were any lower to the ground it would be a turkish toilet!

Alarmed, my eyes darted over to the tub. Rushing up to it, I saw how la baignoire now reached below my knees! My eyes swept back over to the sink, where I now noticed how the foot of sink had disappeared beneath the wood planks.... Looking around in a daze, I realized what had happened, but it was too late to go back now—the floor of our bathroom and all that was attached to it had been submerged!

Jean-Marc, who now towered over the sink like a giant in a doll house, didn't seem fazed by the petit error.
"Well, what do you think?" my husband smiled, eager for a rewarding word.

What did I think? What did I think?

"I think the plumber forgot to unbolt the toilet... and the sink, and the tub before the carpenter raised the floors!"

"I couldn't get a hold of the plumber," Jean-Marc snapped, quickly growing defensive. "And if you are not happy with the results, then why don't YOU organize these projects!"

With that, the disgruntled giant stomped out of the room. I watched as saw dust flew up from beneath his heels, adding another dusty coat to all our junk that was crammed, stacked, and teetering in the corner of the room. I wanted to close my eyes and believe that on opening them, presto!, everything would be back intact—including our standard-sized sink.

Instead, I went to sit down on the edge of the tub, to collect my thoughts.... only the tub edge was not where it used to be!

As I sat sore on the floor, shaking in frustration, I had to admit he was right. If I wanted things done to my standards (or at least standard sized), I had better get off my butt and participate.


Post note: here we are now, two years later, faced with another renovation project. You'd think we'd have learned from experience, but it seems we're off to a "passionate" start, what with our first project (talked about in the previous post).

French Vocabulary

le chantier = building site, a place that is under construction

la salle de bain = bathroom

le lavabo = sink

les w.-c. = toilet

la baignoire = tub



  roulotte gypsy trailer caravan wheels france tiny home

 While we'll probably not move to a trailer at the far end of our lot, my mom, Jules, would sure like to! Look at the cozy bed in the back. She could read her novels and peek out the back window... to see how the arm-flapping, mouth-flapping, couple in the house on the hill is doing during renovation.

roulotte gypsy trailer caravan wheels france tiny home (c) kristin espinasse
The slow life near the sea... Wouldn't this roulotte be a cheerful addition to the olive field?

roulotte gypsy trailer caravan wheels france tiny home
Happy trails! See you very soon. If you have enjoyed this edition, please forward it to a friend.

Metro cuff
Paris Metro Cuff! It also makes a wonderful conversational piece -- to wear on your wrist.  A wonderful "conversation piece" for your wardrobe. Order one here.

  French christmas music
French Christmas Music: "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". 
Order CD here.


basal cell carcinoma post op photo forehead skin cancer
One year ago... the fur is fake, the scar is real. Wish me luck for this Friday's dermatologist appointment in Marseilles. (The other spot on the tip of my nose seems to be growing.)

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


Funny-faced faucets, or robinets, in Brignoles, France.

After 30 years in the computer software industry, Michelle and Paul Caffrey relinquished their careers determined to reinvent themselves. The fifty-something couple sacrificed everything they owned to buy a converted 1906 Dutch barge. Click here for more about their French adventure.

le robinet (ro-bee-nay) noun, masculine
  tap, faucet

La créativité, ça ne s'ouvre pas comme un robinet, il faut l'humeur adéquate. You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. --from Bill Watterson's comic book "Calvin and Hobbes"

The dialogue, from which this quote was taken, continues:
  Hobbes: "What kind of mood is that?"
  Calvin: "Last-minute panic."

Arriving in Avignon, I notice the colorful wooden péniches* lined up "à la queue leu leu"* along the Rhône river. Jean-Marc and I may be on the scenic route, but we are not in France's windy city to see the pont,* or even the Pope's Palace, we are in Avignon for plumbing purposes. And we are plumb lost.

At a stoplight my husband drives over a concrete lane divider and, presto, we join north-bound traffic. I try not to complain about the roller coaster ride when I can't be of much help with the directions. Before long we are in an industrial zone, pulling into the parking lot of a home improvement store. I reach up to the dashboard and take the contractor's estimate sheet where items are listed and priced--items the plumber will choose for us unless we intervene. Intervening we go...

The sales lady, Corinne, stands two heads above me in her spiked heels and tall hair the ends of which mingle with the plunging neckline of her frilly form-fitting frock. It will be Corinne's job to turn my request for "something simple" into something concrete. She wastes no time.

"Simple," she says, "ça ne veut rien dire."* I appreciate her hiding any impatience that she must feel in assisting clueless clients like me. Bon,* specificity is needed. Did I want modern? Classic?

I notice a "retro" theme in one of the displays. The water taps, with their four-prong handles and porcelain tops, read "chaud" and "froid" and are as charming as the delicate scalloped vasque* beneath them. On display alongside the sink is one of those old-fashioned French toilets where the water tank is located high up above the bowl; to flush the toilet one pulls on a chain. (The French still use the expression " 'tirer' la chasse"* though most modern-day toilets require a push and not a "pull".)

I study the retro toilet. What character! How fitting for a farmhouse. With Jean-Marc's approval, I believe we are about to tick two items off our shopping list. Then we notice the tiny price sticker in the base of the vasque: "778 euros." I take out our estimate sheet to verify our budget for the powder room sink: "120 euros." Chérot.* It must be those scallops.

The toilet with "character" costs 2,200 euros. For amusement's sake, I compare the sticker price with our plumber's estimate: "219 euros, hors taxe."* We skip the retro throne.

When I mention that the retro line doesn't match our current budget, Corinne, with the clack-clack-clack of her high-heels, tactfully whisks us to the recesses of the store where she is no longer uttering a one-syllabled stylistic sales pitch ("chrome," "mode,"* "chic") but using phrases like "bon rapport qualité prix"* terms that suddenly sing to the word-lover (and wallet-watcher) in me.

References: la péniche (f) = barge (boat); à la queue leu leu = in single file; le pont (m) (d'Avignon) = famous bridge; ça ne veut rien dire = that doesn't mean a thing; bon = okay; la vasque (f) = basin, bowl; tirer la chasse = to flush the toilet; chérot = pricey; hors taxe = not including tax; la mode (f) = style, fashion; le bon rapport qualité prix = good price/quality ratio

                :: Audio File ::
Here French pronunciation: Robinet: La créativité, ça ne s'ouvre pas comme un robinet, il faut l'humeur adéquate.
MP3 file: Download robinet3.mp3
Wave file: Download robinet3.wav

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