How to say "cleaning frenzy" in French! + photo vocabulary!

Old wooden boat in Giens, near Hyérès (c) Kristin Espinasse

Gone fishing! I'll see you in a week, when the next post goes out.
Meantime, keep up your French vocabulary by visiting the French word archives. Thanks for reading and for sharing our language journal with friends and family. See you soon--with more photos and stories from a French life! Bisous, Kristin 

la frénésie de ménage (fray-nay-zee deuh may-nazh)

    : cleaning frenzy 

... and if you are one of those loves-to-organize types, here's another term for you: la frénésie de rangement = organizing frenzy. Share this one with a neatnik!


    by Kristin Espinasse

The Quirky French Household

After a house full of guests leave today and Saturday, I've got a bit of time to get this boat in shape. My sister is arriving this weekend!!

The past week has been full of excitement, with a lot of bed schlepping and sheet wringing. The flurry began after one of the teenagers (there were 6 sleeping here this week) woke with welts up and down her legs. Next, my brother-in-law complained of the same--only in a different place (he hasn't been able to sit down since.) Mosquitos?

Bed bugs! I tore off all the freshly laundered sheets and began rewashing everything. Saperlipopette! We could have used a machine dryer for once! Meantime, Jean-Marc vacuumed and disinfected the mattresses. Result? Bed bugs were not the problem (for the record: no bed bugs at the Espinasse household! I repeat... pas de punaises de lit chez les Espi!).  The culprit was the mosquitoes, after all. We needed to buy a better repellent for this years invasion!

So much for scrubbing sheets and matelas. Meantime, my sister's visit! The house will get a good dusting and a lickety-split polish. No use worrying about appearances--but I am doubtful about some of the household quirks we have here in France. How will these bizarreries come across to those who are unaccustomed to them? (It's been years and years since my sister came for a visit. And this time she is bringing a very special guest. I don't want to cramp her style; as her little sister, I will be a reflection of her! I wouldn't want her significant other to think we're from the boondocks--or maybe even The Twilight Zone....

Anyone who has seen our new old place would be shaking their heads about the boondocks comparison. The truth is, this is an endearing house--cracks, cobwebs, and all. But back to those quirks... every French household has them. For outsiders like me, French homes take some getting used to. But now, after two decades, I don't notice cultural differences so much anymore. Yet I feel the need to explain certain european idiosyncrasies to my sister and her cheri. I'll list several here, in case my upcomping guests are reading:

That's not cardboard, those are our guest towels.
The upside to drying your laundry on the line is this: the bath towels double as excellent skin exfoliators (it's that sandpaper texture they develop after hardening in the Provencal sun. I hope Heidi and Brian will "get it" and, especially, will go with it. Their tender skin certainly will! 
Insecticide? Not!

Here, just a stone's throw from the city, it is normal to find an ant traipsing across your cheek as you slumber through your afternoon nap. I'm used to plucking them off, sending these and other friendly creatures on their way.

And the bees with which we cohabitate are harmless, too. I once had a guest pull back the freshly-washed bed sheets (and the mattress cover beneath them). Her curiosity led to a startling discovery: a row of meticulously formed mud houses. "There are spiders in my room!" she screeched.

"Those aren't spiders," I assured her. "Those are mud daubers. They wouldn't harm a fly. But they might eat one!" As my guest watched, wide-eyed, I scraped away the tiny, hollow mud balls and tossed them out the window.

(Best not to peek beneath the mattress cover when you sleep at my place! But I guarantee freshly washed, air dried sheets--free of bed bugs (I repeat pas de punaises de lit chez les Espi!).

Another concern about my sister's visit: all those spider webs I've grown accustomed to. I take it for granted that not everyone is as blasé as I am about les toiles d'araignées. Apart from an occasional pause--to marvel at their intrinsic designs--I don't even notice them anymore. But spider phobics will! Is my sister's beau one of those? On verra!

French Bricolage or why certain doors and things are off-centered, unbalanced, or defy reasoning

It is definitely a French thing. My friend Cari, also married to a Frenchman, will vouch for this: the French just don't see things "spatially" as we do. That said, most everything in our new (old) house is perfectly balanced (this is thanks to the British family--including a mathematician--who lived here before us). 

As for "most everything" being in harmony, I'm afraid I have to take the blame for first "off-set" to the natural balance around here. It happened when we renovated Max's bathroom. I suggested we reuse a shower door from our previous home. Only I didn't stay to watch the handyman install it.... And the handyman didn't question the size of the sliding doors. Result: the doors will not open completely.

Jean-Marc doesn't see what the big deal is. (Of course not, he's French!)  And he made it a point to demonstrate that even he, big guy he is, can squeeze through the 31.5 cm crawl space that remains. (Brian, if you are still reading, you're just gonna have to do like us and suck it in!)

I hope these tidbits about our beloved home have not been off-putting. I've got to go now--more towels to put on the line. And, Heidi, if you are still reading, brave sister, I leave you with a warm bienvenue chez nous!

Comments welcome here.

 Today we're talking about from quirky households to insects--to guests! Please jump into the conversation and leave a comment.

When you forward this story to a friend, you open up a whole new quirky world for another to enjoy. And they'll learn a bit of French vocabulary in the process. Thanks for sharing!

French Vocabulary

une bizarrerie = peculiarity

le matelas = mattress

le cheri (la cherie) = sweetheart

une toile d'araignée = spider web

le beau = the boyfriend

on verra = we shall see

le bricolage = do-it-yourself 

bienvenue chez nous = welcome to our place

Exercises in French Phonics: A helpful manual for pronunciation! "Really breaks it down for you on how to properly pronounce French words." (review by New Chic) Read more customer reviews, and order a copy here.

Reverse Dictionary 

spic and span = nickel (nee-kel)

 A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. Maison des Pelerins, Sablet.Click here for photos.   

Door curtains in Beaumes de Venise (c) Kristin Espinasse
Let's build our vocab with these pictures I took in the Vaucluse. Notice the green volets, a cement banc, white and blue rideaux de porte, the old rusty boîte aux lettres, and the furry chaton noir. See any other vocabulary in this photo? Add it here, in the comments box.


Bar toutous
The French word for this yellow object is une gamelle. But don't you love the synonym: bar à toutous (doggy bar). Other vocab in this photo: notice all the colorful affiches taped to the window of the office de tourisme in Sarrians. 

Please forward this post to a clean freak or an animal lover--may it bring a smile :-)

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How to say wasp in French... and the fascinating life inside a figue!

Kristin Espinasse with Smokey, Fig tree, Olive Grove, boules or petanque court (c) Jules Greer
"Ignorance is Bliss." Remember this photo from last September? Back then, while eating my way from one end of this fig tree to the other, I had no idea there was more to a fig than meets the eye.... 

Mas de la Perdrix - visit this charming rental in the south of FranceProvence Villa Rental Luberon luxury home; 4 bedrooms, 5 baths; gourmet kitchen, covered terrace & pool. Views of Roussillon. Click here.  


une guêpe (gep)

    : wasp

Terms, Expressions, and an example sentence:

la taille de guêpe = slender-waisted, hourglass figure
le nid de guêpe = hornet's nest 

Pour éviter les piqures de guêpes, un vieux truc [ou astuce] de viticulteurs: pincer le bout de la langue entre les dents tant que l'insecte menace. Cela créée une légère tension corporelle qui le gêne, s'il vient à se poser sur la peau.

To avoid wasp stings, an old tip [or trick] from winegrowers: pinch the tip of your tongue between your teeth for as long as the insect threatens. This creates a light corporal tension that bothers [the wasps], if they come to land on the skin. (that story here...)

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

Figs and the Fascinating Life of a Lilliputian Wasp

Last night I heard a curious sound coming from outside the bedroom window. Toc, toc, toc.... Was it a thief?

My heart fluttered as I tuned into the strange noise. I listened to the intermittent thumping and shuffling, wondering what in the world? Was it a wild animal?

My mind reeled with possibilities, eventually settling on the least spooky conclusion: falling figs! I remembered back a day or two ago when playing fetch with Smokey. As he retrieved his stick, over by the boules court, I saw a scattering of figs lying there on the ground.

Next I noticed the ping pong table. It too was covered with figs.... I recalled the rumbling sky and the burst of rain we'd had the day before. The figs must have been knocked from the tree.

Allez. Pousse-toi, Smokey! Va là-bas, BraiseLike looters who appear on the scene, our dogs rushed up to the fallen goods, attempting to cash in on the catastrophe. 

I reached down to pick up a fig and saw it was too young to salvage. But then, could one eat an unripe fruit? It was a question I'd often wondered about. Such a pity all these figs might be destined for the compost pile, instead of our plates--in the form of tarte à la figue or figues farcies au fromage bleu or "figues tout court"!

Impatient to know the answer I tore open one of the figs. Instead of the usual raspberry color with lovely star-burst yellow accents, this one was pasty white inside. 

As I stood frowning into the fig my eyes caught on something... something wiggling! Dropping the fig I wondered, Was that a worm I just saw?

I walked over to the ping pong table and picked up another fig. Splitting it open I searched the interior until--wiggle, wiggle, wiggle!--I found what I was looking for. Beurk! C'est dégoûtant!

Any disgust was soon replaced by curiosity. The little fig in my hand was teeming with life. But how had the wiggly vers gotten there? Turning the fig round and round, I could find no port of entry....

An internet search ("worms in figs") opened up a fascinating new world--in which two living things come into being by the grace of the other--a process called mutualism. But how is this possible and which came first--the chicken or the egg (or the fig or the wasp?). 

Quit sait? Meantime what is known is this: because of the location of the fig's flowers (inside the fig), to pollinate it a female wasp has to enter the fig through a tiny hole in its base. It takes a very small wasp to do this, hence its moniker "la guêpe liliputienne". 

Once inside, the female deposits pollen and lays her eggs, which soon hatch. After the pupal stage, male wasps quickly find their way over to young females--and mate! Next, ever energetic, the males forge an escape route for the females (remember, everyone is still trapped inside the fig!). But all that gusto soon goes broke. The machos die at or near the sortie de secours and only the females make it out alive.

As the females crawl out of the fig, their little legs collect the pollen distributed by the first wasp.... Exiting, finally, the fig they salute their fallen heroes (OK, this part's made up) and, without missing a beat, make their way over to the nearest fig and into a little hole there at the base. Next the whole extraordinary cycle repeats itself!

As I said, some of the males--and those females who've lost their wings on the voyage out, die sur le chemin...   These unlucky ones remain there, fallen heroines and heroes, trapped inside the fig which then grows and ripens around them--like a sweet tomb.

At this point you may be wondering, like I was, whether or not to give up your addiction to figs? Could you overlook this wiggly fact and bite into the luscious fruit with the same wild abandon?

(Relax, nature cleans up the gory mess....)

Better than a sci-fi movie, the mutant fig eventually (and completely) consumes the unlucky wasps--this with the help of alchemy! ASU's Ask A Biologist column explains the process:

Figs produce a chemical called “ficin” that breaks down the wasp bodies. Ficin is so effective at breaking down, or digesting, animal proteins that natives of Central America eat fig sap to treat intestinal worm infections.

The article goes on to say that the rumor some of us once heard (about fig newtons containing crushed insects) is false. As for the figs on the trees, it all depends....

Recently, I watched my friend Isa reach for one of our figs while admiring our fig tree. Je les adore! She cooed, about to pop one of the fruits into her mouth.

Noticing the figs weren't ripe yet, I yanked the fruit out of her hand. 

"I wouldn't do that if I were you...."


To leave a comment, click here -- or share your favorite fig recipe (and assure me that you are no namby-pamby--that you won't let some lusty wasps keep you from enjoying this fascinating fruit!). 

Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. Click here for photos.

French Vocab

toc-toc-toc = knock-knock-knock
allez = come on
pousse-toi = move it!
va là-bas! = go over there!
la tarte aux figues = fig pie, fig tart 
figues farcies au fromage bleu = figs stuffed with blue cheese
figues tout court = simply figs (figs full stop) 
beurk = yuck!
c'est dégoûtant = that's disgusting
un ver = worm 
qui sait? = who knows
sur le chemin = along the road
la sortie de secours = emergency exit 

In books: How to Learn a New Language With a Used Brain  

Kristi and Chief Grape - Painting by Dana Constance Thomas
Kristi and Chief Grape. (We moved from the Ste Cécile vineyard, Domaine Rouge-Bleu, almost one year ago, but Jean-Marc will always be the grape chief. Meantime he's getting ready to plant his next vineyard). Painting by Dana Constance Thomas. At Dana's blog, you will find the interview we did together about what inspires me... and the answer to this question : If  Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?. I had a lot of fun answering that one. Don't miss the interview, here

To comment, click here


I planted sunflower seeds sprouts last fall -- and forgot about them. Those are radish pods. Having fun in the garden -- hope you are having fun there, or elsewhere. Enjoy your day.

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Old French "pointu" boats (c) Kristin Espinasse
Gone fishing. Home now. And so good to be back at work, putting words down on the blank page and watching a story come to life. Read today's slice o'life... and learn a trick or two!

  Capture plein écran 27072011 100956 Mas la Monaque - rent this beautifully restored 17-century farmhouse! Click here for photos and availability.

une astuce (ahss tooce)

    : tip, trick (or "recipe" for solving a problem)

les astuces du métier = the tricks of the trade

Audio File : Download MP3 or listen to Wav file

Pour éviter les piqures de guêpes, un vieux truc [ou astuce] de viticulteurs: pincer le bout de la langue entre les dents tant que l'insecte menace. Cela créée une légère tension corporelle qui le gêne, s'il vient à se poser sur la peau.

To avoid wasp stings, an old tip [or trick] from winegrowers: pinch the tip of the tongue between the teeth for as long as the insect threatens. This creates a light corporal tension that bothers [the wasps], if they come to land on the skin.


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

Uninvited Guests Guêpes

My family and I are seated around our picnic table, swatting at les gûepes that hover over lunch. I stare into my plate: no barbequed meats (the usual object of a wasp's lust)--just vegetables and eggs via a panfried omelette de courgettes.

It soon becomes difficult to eat as more wasps come hovering and, when our arms fly up and flail some more, eating turns into an aggravating chore.

"Tiens," our thirteen-year-old offers, wiggling her tongue. "Mettez vos langues comme ça." With that Jackie places the tip of her tongue between her upper and lower front teeth... and bites down.

Nodding her head, our daughter invites us to mimic her and, easily led souls that we are, Max, Jean-Marc, and I follow suit, biting down on our own tongues. 

Next, several slurry, inquisitive "Comme thahs?" exit our oral cavities as we attempt to speak through clenched teeth.

Jackie nods her head, slurs a mixture of English and French: "Yeth, comme thah". If our family were already guilty of Franglais, we were now adding a new slobbery dimension to our language crimes.

Tongues held tightly between teeth, we wait anxiously for the next invader to arrive. If Jackie's trick, or astuce, works... the wasps will fly off on arrival. The theory is that the tongue-in-teeth position creates an offensive, high-pitched vibration (undetected by the human oreille... positively piercing to the wasp's ear... hang on a minute -- do wasps have ears? Bon, bref....)

As with all sensational stunts, just as soon as the soon-to-be impressed audience arrives the subject balks. In this case, we four tongue-clamped characters are the audience, the balking subject being the NowhereToBeSeen pests.

In the seconds that intervene, Max, Jackie, Jean-Marc and I sit staring at each other, tongues protruding. "On n'a pas l'air un peu con comme thah?" Max voices our collective suspicion. "Don't we look a little ridiculous like this?"

Braise (brez) and Smokey, who are lying on the flower bed beyond, crushing the fragrant belles de nuit, look up, hoping to see something out of the ordinary, but, hélas, nothing unusual about the quartet of tongue-pressed persons with whom they share this circus, or "grape farm".

When another wasp-less moment passes, a light goes on in one of our brains:

"Thah marche!" Max declares. Then, extricating his tongue from between his teeth so that we can better understand his epiphany, our son repeats, "Ça marche!"

Only, as with every sensational stunt, the stinger-tailed artists appear in time to collect their accolades. And, in this way, we are once again surrounded by those annoying insects, who now interpret the flailing and swatting arms as high praise, or applaudissements. And, after that, as with all brilliant productions, it's encore and encore! Never mind how hard we try to boo the annoying actors off stage.


Le Coin Commentaires

Corrections, comments, or stories of your own are welcome here, in the comments box.


Capture plein écran 22082011 095958 Book Notes: I've ordered Sarah's Key and am awaiting its arrival! Click here to order a copy for yourself.


French Vocabulary

une guêpe = wasp

    => read more about guêpes in this story "affolement", in which Chief Grape's eye swells up like a cluster of raisins!

une omelette de courgettes = zucchini omelette

tiens = look here

mettez vos langues comme ça = put your tongues like this

une astuce = trick, tip

une oreille = ear

bon, bref = well, anyway...

On n'a pas l'air un peu con comme thah (ça)? = don't we look a little dumb like this?

les belles de nuit (fleurs) = Marvel of Peru (flowers)

hélas = alas

ça marche! = it works!

un applaudissement = applause

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Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone.

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A couple of tongue-lolling characters from today's story. Braise (pronounced "brez" like "Pez") is on the right. That's her son Smokey, left. 

  P1020013 Read on! Learn about la ruade, or kick in the pants, I received when helping my daughter at the horse stables. Click here for the short story and photos of the French horses!

We're playing a lot of board games this summer. And you? Here's a French one:


Mille Bornes. First published in 1962, Mille Bornes (pronounced "meel born," French for "milestones") is an auto-racing card game whose object, for each team of two players, is to be the first to complete a series of 1,000-mile trips.

Jean de florette And in French film, these two come highly recommended (favorites of Jean-Marc!). Click here to see the reviews.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

le plafond

                                                  Jackie at her cousin's house
le plafond (plah-fohn) noun, masculine
  1. ceiling; roof (of car, cave)

plafonner (verb) = to reach a ceiling or maximum
le plafond de crédit = credit limit
le prix plafond = maximum price

être bas de plafond = to not have much "up top" (in the head)
crever le plafond = to go beyond one's limits
avoir une araignée au plafond = to have a screw loose, to be a little nutty

Citation du Jour
Si tu sens que tu plafonnes, perce un trou dans le plafond.
If you feel that you have reached a limit, drill a hole into the ceiling.             
--Gilles Goddard

A Day in a French Life...

"Yes, Jackie."
"Comment les fourmis peuvent escalader le plafond?"
"What's that?" I say, putting down my book.
"How can ants crawl across the ceiling? Is it because they have sticky pattes*?"

We are reclined in bed, pillows propped behind our backs, reading. Jean-Marc and Max are watching le foot (soccer, that is) and we have a deal where Jackie can stay with me--if she is quiet and lets me read--until the game is over, at which point she will have to go to bed. My daughter has her own selection of classic stories on the table de nuit* including Le Petit Chaperon Rouge,* Blanche-Neige,* Le Petit Poucet* and La Belle au Bois Dormant.*

The cruel winter chill has finally left; in its place cool, floral scented, feels-like-peppermint-against-the-skin evening air.  We can now leave the window shutters open until past sundown and fill up on the delicious night breeze. The downside is that we have more critters inside the house: fourmis,* mouches,* moustiques,* and last year's visitor, old man libellule.*

I explain to Jackie that ants do indeed have special sticky feet so that they can crawl upside down, according to our perspective, bien sûr.* Then I ask her to please be quiet now so that I can read my book.

I have read three or four paragraphs when I realize that I am obsessing about insects. I have nothing against ants, or spiders or any bug for that matter--but my husband does. He'll use insect bombs, industrial sprays--whatever it takes to rid them from our house. I put the book down and watch the trail of fourmis scaling the wall.

For the moustiques, I've convinced Jean-Marc to let me squeeze a few drops of citronella oil onto the light bulbs but I haven't found a remedy for the ants, apart from not eating Madeleines and other cakes and cookies au lit.* That's just inviting trouble.

As I am not able to concentrate on my book, I decide to shoot the night breeze with my 7-year-old:
"Jackie," I begin.
"Maman--shhh! J'essaie de lire--I'm trying to read!"
"Oh. Sorry, sweetie."
"C'est rien."*

I stare up at le plafond,* wondering about the sticky-footed ants, and begin to hum. When I get bored with humming I add a few words: "The ants go marching deux par deux* hurrah! hurrah! The ants--"

"Maman--s'il te plaît!"*
"Oh, sorry. Vraiment."*

"...mmm mmm... mmm mmm... mmm mmm... mmm mmm hurrah! hurrah!"


References: maman (f) = mom; la patte (f) = foot; la table de nuit (f) = nightstand, bedside table; Le Petit Chaperon Rouge = Little Red Riding Hood; Blanche-Neige = Snow White; Le Petit Poucet = Tom Thumb; La Belle au Bois Dormant = Sleeping Beauty; la fourmi (f) = ant; la mouche (f) = fly; le moustique (m) = mosquito; la libellule (f) = dragonfly; bien sûr = of course; au lit = in bed; c'est rien = it's nothing (don't worry about it); le plafond (m) = ceiling; deux par deux = two by two; s'il te plaît = please; vraiment = really

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.