mailbox in French + mailbox photos!

French mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boite aux lettres

One of the dumbest things about moving to France is leaving your sister behind. Today, mine celebrates a birthday and I won't be there to take her picture as she blows out her candles. But with any luck she'll have received the funny postcard I sent which brings me to the theme of today's missive: mailboxes!

la boîte à lettres (bwat-ah-letr)

    : mailbox, letter box

also boîte aux lettres

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

Today is my sister's anniversaire de naissance and I'm looking for a way to surprise her. I went through my photo archives, searching for a picture of Heidi, when another idea came to mind: put today's letter in theme with all those beloved mailboxes that I have captured over the years.

For the care packages and heartwarming letters found inside, the mailbox is the perfect symbol of thoughtfulness, which is just one of my sister's many qualities—for more, read on....

fleur de lis and butterfly bush (c) Kristin Espinasse
When I moved to France I was lazy about keeping up with the holidays we loved to celebrate as kids. I didn't realize how meaningful some of them were to me until a package would arrive in the mail bursting with colorful heart candy and "Be My Valentine" cards—the ones we used to swap as kids after Mom bought them at Bashas or Walgreens or at Metrocenter mall. 

For Easter, Heidi would send packages full of jellybeans, the bright colors and original flavors (peanut butter!) sent me right back to my American childhood, where my sister and I built forts and tree houses and castles in the sky... or at least imagined them from the top of the old shed where we ate our jellybeans while gazing at the clouds above us, dreaming about our enchanted futures.

beehive mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boite à lettres fait d'une ruche
(Jean-Marc made our beehive mailbox when he tended bees back at our vineyard)

When I finally made it to college (on probation) I began to have doubts as graduation approached. What could I do with a degree in French besides go on to grad school? Yes! I would go on to grad school, then to super grad school. A masters then a Ph.D!

On learning about my plans, my down-to-earth sister had a memorable pep talk with me: You can't make a career out of school! 

Without Heidi's encouragement, I might still be writing my thesis instead of this "thrice-weekly" column from France, where I moved instead of into a graduate dorm (at Thunderbird School of Global Management... Not that I would have ever passed the entrance exam!)

boulanger mailbox and "plus de pain" (c) Kristin Espinasse boite à lettres chez le boulanger
Look at the French handwriting on the "no more bread today sign" in the baker's window. The pretty cursive reminds me of Heidi's neat penmanship, which is as unchanging she is. (You know what they say about lovely people: don't ever change!)

I once had the surreal experience of judging my own penmanship. When I say surreal, this is because I was in the unusual position of objectively seeing the writing. It happened one day when I noticed a card on my mom's nightstand and, reaching over to read it, I was struck by the untamed handwriting. The cursive leaned forward or backward--sometimes the letters were straight up and down. No two "e" were the same. The Y's had curly tails on one line, on the next they were uncurled.

"Whoever wrote this is a little flaky!" I remember thinking, dubious about Mom's latest admirer... when next my eyes fell on the signature. It was my own.

(I'm against handwriting analysis, as you can sympathize. Though I do believe my sister's handwriting--flowing, elegant, structured--happens to hint at her personality.)

hidden mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boite à lettres caché

Continuing on with the bits and pieces about our sistership, I will never forget our New York trip, around 2006. I was excited to meet with my first editor, at Simon and Schuster! My sister and a group of ladies met up with me to celebrate. I wanted to blog about our girls getaway, but I worried about privacy. Heidi is a private person, I told myself. She will not want me to post her photo or talk about her.

So I made up my mind to post about other parts of that NYC trip... and to this day my sister teases me: "Remember that time you went to NYC all by yourself? she snickers, referring to the fact that I did not post one photo of our girls group (and there were some FUN pics to be sure!)

Her light-hearted comment made me realize how I tend to assume that people are one way... when really they might be completely different! I thought I knew my sister through and through; instead, I continue to learn about her each time we spend time together.

municipal mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boîte à lettres municipale

 What else did I want to tell you about my sister (no, that's not her there on the right), now that I  know I can dish out the goods? Just kidding, Heidi! Your secret's safe with me. Not that you have many. If you did would you tell me? Of course you would! I'm your sister! (a blabbermouth no more. That was then. This is maintenant!) 

...That brings me to French. Heidi spoke it first. (She took writing first, too.) That makes me a copycat, which is a little sister's birthright!

Sack of potatoes mailbox (c) Kristin Espinasse boite à lettres sac de patates
If mailboxes were people this one would be me. I think Heidi would agree. I may live in France and my life may seem glamorous but inside I'm still that potato-bellied little kid. I ate all the Dolly Madison's. I ate all the bologney sandwiches. I ate all the Pop Rocks. You did all the dishes after preparing the sandwiches and letting me have the last Hostess Cupcake. You still make sure everyone's got something to eat. 

mailbox in tree (c) Kristin Espinasse boîte à lettres dans un arbre
Second-to-last mailbox photo... time to bring this birthday tribute to a close...

Here is one of your biggest fans. Jean-Marc is always asking, "Have you talked to Heidi? How is Heidi? What's new with Heidi?" It's true. We all are fascinated by your life. That makes you a rock star (and we, the groupies). 

... I was going to say "guppies" instead of groupies and I'm smiling now, thinking again about the good old days when I would catch guppies and you were the groupie (Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin). Remember when Mom burned your Stairway to Heaven album? Afraid we'd receive subliminal messages!

Sacré Mom. She did the best she could. Looking at you, I'd say she did an amazing job.

With lots of love, and wishes for a Happy Birthday. I love you, Heidi!


French Vocabulary
un anniversaire de naissance = birthday
sacré = sacred, almighty ("sacré Mom" in this story is used in this sense: "You gotta appreciate our mom!" or "what a character Mom is!" 

 Marseilles mailboxes (c) Kristin Espinasse boites à lettres marseillaises

Mailboxes in Marseilles.

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


The lavender is deep in bloom. This field was spotted yesterday, on the way home from Malou's garden.

aléa (al ay ah) noun, masculine

    : risk, hazard, chance

les aléas du métier = the risks of the trade
les aléas de la vie = the vagaries of life
après bien des aléas = after many ups and downs
les aléas thérapeutiques = unforeseeable medical complications

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's word and expressions: Download MP3 or Wav file


  Exercises in French Phonics Exercises in French Phonics is... 
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A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse

New Life for an Old Hive

"Your mailman must love you!" Mom snickered, a few weeks back, on discovering our homemade bôite aux lettres. 

I laughed at Jules' comment, then quickly returned one item to the top of my Worry List: our mailbox! We really needed to find another solution! My husband had had one of his inspirations, this time to repurpose an old beehive into a postbox. All Jean-Marc needed to do was empty out the inside of an abandoned ruche and then block the entrance (to discourage any stinging "squatters"!). The mail could then be distributed via the top of the wooden box. A rough metal lid was salvaged and, voilà!, our new mailbox was good to go. Chief Grape added yet another of his no-nonsense touches by taping a computer print-out (with our family and vineyard name) across the front. Presto!, we were now legitimate letter candidates.


Still and all, or tout compte fait, I had my doubts. It wasn't that the paper address "plate" faded (running off in great blue and red rivulets, following the first tempête de pluie...). It was, among other inconvénients, the metal top, which was awkward and ill-fitting. One needed to wriggle it and pull (as one does a well-rooted tooth) to access the letters inside. And returning the couvercle back to the wooden box entailed a few slams of the fist.

I was doubtful this approach would please the busy facteur, but we carried on with our new courrier-system and the letters did arrive....

Then one day I looked inside an empty box. The top had flown off! I searched around only to discover that our mail had been distributed not by the facteur -- but by le Mistral! The northern wind had swooped in and carried off with it the ill-fitted lid-top along with the contents inside the mailbox. I ran around the vineyard, up and down the vine rows--hair flying in the wicked wind--hoping to collect all the letters. As for the bills....

The mailbox artisan (Chief Grape) was not one bit ruffled by the wind's shenanigans. He simply added a no-nonsense safeguard: stones! All we were to do now was to wrestle the lid back onto the box, slam it a few times with our fists, then set two giant stones across the flat metal top.

       (One of the stones. It sometimes takes three, depending on the wind!)

"Stone" rhymes with "groan"...

Most normal people experience that tickle of hope each time they reach for their mailbox--never mind that it is usually bills on the other side of the slot. There's always the chance that a real letter awaits -- or a winning voucher of some sort (one can always dream!). Often, family members will argue about who will have the honor of checking the mailbox. Not our brood. All you hear is groans:

"A toi de le chercher (You get it!)"
"But I got it last time! (C'était moi la dernière fois!")"
"Bon, j'y vais! (Alright. I'll get it, then!)"

As for our unlucky mailman, he has no one to argue with. It is his chore to remove the mailbox "weights", set the stones on the ground, wriggle open the stubborn metal lid, drop the mail into the box (brave any stinging squatters), return the lid--with a few pounds of the fist), bend over and pick up the heavy galets, and return them to the box-top.... 

Oh, well, Chief Grape Mailbox Artisan might say, c'est ce qu'on appèle les aléas du métier! 


Le Coin Commentaires

Have you ever "repurposed" or given new life to an ol' something and been pleased with the results? Are you a DIY person or do you have the luck (or bad luck...) to have a determined inventor at home? Do you like to check the mail and do you still feel hopeful (or dread-filled) each time you do? Comments and anecdotes welcome here.


DSC_0036 French Vocabulary

la boîte aux lettres = mailbox

la ruche = (bee) hive

voilà! = and there you have it!

presto! = 'voilà!)

tout compte fait = still and all

la tempête de pluie = rainstorm 

un inconvénient = drawback, disadvantage

le couvercle = lid

le facteur = mailman, postman

c'est ce qu'on appèle les aléas du métier! = it's what we call the ups and downs of the trade!



Sara midda's South of France: a sketchbook Sara Midda's South of France is a place of ripening lemons and worn espadrilles, ochre walls and olive groves, and everything born of the sun. It lies between the Mediterranean and the Maritime Alps, and most of all in the artist's eye and passion. Read the glowing reviews, click here.

In film:  Paris Je T'aime Paris I love You.

Eiffel Tower Cookie Cutter -  handcrafted by artisans to last for generations. Order here.






Keep your camaras in your pockets, on your belts, and in your purses! Here's another tip: PULL OVER! The biggest mistake I make, time and again, is to let the scenes pass me by. As I drive on, now 100 meters, now one kilometer past the image, I am kicking myself for not reacting quickly enough - by pulling over or doing a U-turn in time to capture a scene. Yesterday, on the way to Malou's house, I let this scene go (another car was tail-gaiting me, besides!)... but I caught up with the image on the way home! Never be a danger to another driver, but do search for a large enough shoulder on which to pull over. This time I had my Nikon D60 (for a better price check out this one), but any camera can take a good photo... with a scene like this!


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