To have the munchies, in French + We have a party, I learn a few more lessons...

1-Mas des Brun French wedding anniversary country dinner
Photo (by Pascale Gauthier) of our wedding anniversary dinner, here at home.


    : to have the munchies (a sudden desire to snack)

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

The following story was written in 2014...

On Friday night 45 of our closest friends came over for a sit-down dinner to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. Jean-Marc and I weeded our front yard, dusted our window shutters (Spiderwebs? Really?), and rented tables and chairs from the Mairie

Lesson no. 1: Etaler. (Spread out.)

As the guests arrived, I quickly saw what a bad idea it was for the boys to have set the hors-d'oeuvres table on an incline. Not wanting to question our son's 19-year old friends (who we hired to help)--and seeing their pride in their new jobs--I turned a blind eye and hoped for the best. And the guests did their best to cling together at the edge of the drinks table, with only one or two tumbling off the little hill every now and then.

Lesson no. 2: Impose-Toi! (Butt in!)

Because I'm jittery, Jean-Marc insisted he would take care of the party details. So when the hors d'oeuvres arrived--unassembled, in three giant ice buckets (were those tortillas for the spreads? If so which?)--my husband told me to leave it for the boys to work out. "If they have a question, they'll call Vava and Laurent (our friends/caterers)!"

Only, when Vava arrived for the party, she quietly pointed out the ratatouille (in dainty plates across the hors d'oeuvres table) was not for cocktail hour--it was for the main course

Lesson no. 3: Fourchettes, pas cuillières! (Forks not spoons!)

Finally seated, Jean-Marc announced to our 45 guests it was time to pick up our plates and head to the banquet--where the lamb and accompaniments awaited us. Sort of....

We watched as the men at the fire pit handed over plates of roasted meat, but where was the ratatouille? Quick, grab it from the tables in the backyard and dart back to the buffet--scrape, scrape, scrape. Now where were the serving spoons?

Whoops, spoke to soon--I meant forks! Run back to the kitchen and get fourchettes so the guests will quit trying to fling the meat from platter to plate with the help of two slippery spoons!

Lesson 4: On Mange à Table! (We eat at the table!)

All calmed down now, with full tummies, I noticed how some of the guests were getting tipsy.... All those special cuvées Jean-Marc brought out--including a 1994 Chateauneuf-du-Pape (grapes we picked before our marriage) had not gone to waste!

Jean-Marc now stood swaying, eating his ice cream behind me as I sat sober as a splash of water, talking to old friends. But every now and then my arm flew up to swat at my husband--who was dripping bright red cassis sorbet as he leaned over me and my new dress!

Lesson 5: Commander un bon DJ. (Hire a good DJ.)

When an uncomfortably-long lull had us lingering at the dinner tables, I wondered Where has Jean-Marc disappeared to? 

"He's fiddling with the sound system," someone explained. Finally, guests began trickling down to the boules court, where a dusty dance floor awaited. 

And awaited... and awaited. The music just wasn't doing it, and it was either the fault of Jean-Marc's smartphone (some music system!) or the fact that all those "request songs" we'd asked our guests for made for lousy dance material.

My poor husband now stood swaying on the dance floor until two lit girls and a faithful old friend joined in. I could no longer stand staring from the sidelines with the audience; it was time to buck up, disengage from the gawkers, and join the offbeat dancers.

Jean-Marc reached out for me, grabbing my hand and twirling me around a few times, when I stopped to whisper in his ear: "No one wants to dance!" I murmured, so as not to utter my true thoughts: they think our party sucks!

"Well," he said--the sparkle in his eyes melting me inside--"then they'll all go home earlier." With that he laughed, a little tipsy, and twirled me around and around. I was charmed by Jean-Marc's words. He was clearly remembering my aversion to all-night parties. And he was telling me, in his own way, that he didn't have to party all night either... but could be happy twirling his sweetheart around and around... till the party poopers went home.

Though my husband's words encouraged me (the only real party pooper in the group), it was still painfully embarrassing to be dancing with the awkward quartet, before a group of gawkers (who were only feeling awkward themselves, given the beat just wasn't calling them forth)... So when the current song ended I wiggled my way, as discreetly as possible, off the dance floor and into the kitchen to check on things.

The counter tops were inch-deep with liquid from all the dirty wineglasses. I now had a perfect excuse to be absent from the doomed dance floor. If anyone questioned my disappearance, I could cite "the flood on the kitchen counter." But once the water was sopped up, back out to the dance floor I went. 

You wouldn't believe the change of scene: disco fever had struck! The men and woman gyrated, twirled, and bucked back and forth across the dusty boules court. Dancing queens every one of them! Our friend Cyril (a former DJ) had thoughtfully taken over. Yahoo!

Lesson no. 5: La Nuit Blanche ne Tue Pas! (A sleepless night won't kill you!)

By 3:30 in the morning the dance floor was still going strong, but I was not. Worried about my neighbors, worried about my dogs (stranded on the balcony above us) and itching to call it a night, I watched nervously as the party carried on and on... right on into our kitchen.

Apparently our guests had an attack of the munchies! Plates of leftovers were pulled from the fridge. And the freezer was raided for leftover ice cream. 

But like a biblical Martha, I busied myself in the kitchen, trying to scrape melted cheese from the wicker platter (19-year-old boys didn't put a plastic sheet down first). Frustrated and wondering when the party would end--by 5 am or 6 or 7 -- noon?) I scraped at the braided bunch of cheesy wicker, finally shoving it aside.

Returning to the small crowd, I studied all the bright faces (5 or 6 friends remained). I noticed people enjoying life. Life was not some number. It wasn't "3 am" or two hours later, or the next day. Life was now, here for the taking. Why not grab it? 

* * *

The next day my mother-in-law lost consciousness. I am quickly finishing this story so I can drive to Marseilles to sit by her bedside. What's important in life? I don't know, but I am learning. 

*    *    *

I am beginning to think my husband is a much nicer person than I. For when--at that melt-down moment at 4:30 am--I said to him "They're still here!" He looked at me and, with a smile, he said, "they are having a good time at the party."

*    *    *

I am learning, from friends  and my husband, that what's important in life is that we help others to have a good time at the party.

Thanks for your thoughts for my dear belle-mère. (Three years after writing this post, and my mother-in-law is doing very well.)

  Bagatelle wedding Jean-Marc Kristin Espinasse
Jean-Marc, thank you for twenty years together. I have learned so much by your side. 

EMBRYOLISSE cream - used by French grandmothers and makeup artists

FRENCH GOURMET ITEMS - including herbs, mustard, coffee, tisane, chocolate, cakes

FRENCH SHOPPING BAG - made and knit in France!

PARIS METRO CUFF - Unique bracelet with a map of the Paris metro!

WORDS IN A FRENCH LIFE: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France


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 help 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!
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stomach ache in French

Jean-Marc and Kristi in 1992

When Jean-Marc came to Phoenix to woo me we exchanged gifts. For me, a Provençale skirt 3 sizes too small. (Does my face look as pinched as my waist? At least he looks relaxed.) Twenty-four years later and we still miss the mark--but so far we keep trying to understand each other. (Photo from the forthcoming book "First French Essais." Out next month!)


Style & comfort in the beauty of the Provencal countryside. 4 bedrooms & a study with a sofa bed, each with ensuite (full) bath. Villa comfortably sleeps 7-9 adults.

avoir mal au ventre

    : to have a stomach ache

j'ai mal au ventre = I have a stomach ache.

J'ai mangé les restes et maintenant j'ai mal au ventre.
I ate the leftovers and now I have a stomach ache.

Audio File:
Listen to the words and phrases above: Download MP3 or Wav

Chief Grape will be staying home this year. In his place, two of the lovliest French wine embassadors ever! Meet Audrey Vidal and Caroline Jones. (Click on their names to visit their vineyards and to see Audrey and Caroline's 2014 tour schedule!  

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

Last night when my husband got into bed and reached for me like a giggly teen, I groaned.

"J'ai mal au ventre!"

It was true. Ever since clearing out our kitchen cabinets and our frigo, my stomach has been smarting.

"J'ai fini par jeter des choses!" I finally had to throw stuff out! I admitted to Jean-Marc. "But not without trying to finish them first!"

"Ah, ma chérie!" Jean-Marc laughed as he massaged my back. But when his fingers tiptoed over my side, I barked: "J'ai mal au ventre!"

"Aw, désolé, Chérie."

For a split second I enjoyed the unexpected commiseration. I guess my days of hiding three-day-old sandwiches at the bottom of the poubelle are over. Hurray! My man can finally accept that SOME things need tossing!

As I turned to plant a rewarding kiss on my husband's lips, I puckered out on hearing this:

"T'as jeté quoi exactement?"

Just what did I throw out? He dared ask a woman in the throes of stomach labor JUST WHAT DID SHE THROW OUT?

Men may never understand women. But here's the first clue: Don't ask! Ne pose pas une question si tu ne veux pas entendre la réponse!

 *    *    *

Ever seen someone chasing after a bus they've just missed? Shouting Wait! Wait for me! Well my husband will have to run fast to catch up with the kiss he just missed. He'll have several opportunities to make up for the misstep, beginning Wednesday--when we go into kitchen renovation mode! For the next three weeks our fridge (the one I emptied), our oven, and our campstove will be docked in the living room. We'll wash our dishes in the tiny bathroom sink, two rooms over. On second thought, maybe the outdoor hose is closer? Wish us luck!

To respond to this story, click here. (And if you are writing in to ask about the "labor" I mentioned, that would be stomach labor (from the bubbly parsley pesto I ate) and not uterine labor!) 

French Vocabulary

j'ai mal au ventre = I have a tummy ache
le frigo = fridge
ma chérie = my dear
désolé(e) = sorry
la poubelle = garbage can (or bin)
Ne pose pas une question si tu ne veux pas entendre la réponse! = Don't ask a question if you don't want to hear the answer

New rental in Provence! La Baume des Pelerins, in Sablet--spacious, comfortable the perfect place to return to after a busy day’s sightseeing, bicycling or hiking.

  Jean-Marc and Kristi

For those of you who stuck with me to the end of the post, your reward: a translation of the poetic French shirt I offered Jean-Marc (have another look at the opening photo) 

J'ai brisé les liens bleus et les limites de la couleur. Plongez-vous dans la blancheur et nagez dans cet infini. I broke out of the blue lines and the limits of color. Dive into the whiteness and swim (in the white free abyss) infinity is before you. (line two of quote by artist Kazimir Malevitch, born in the Ukraine. Serendipidous timing, as our thoughts and hearts go out to Ukrainians at this time.)

The picture above was taken on a family vacation, in 2006, and is full of symbolism. Years after I gave Jean-Marc that poetic T-shirt, he continues to show me that experiences are one of the most rewarding things in life when you dare to break out or briser les liens et les limites.

tree blossoms in Tulette (c) Kristin Espinasse
"J'ai brisé les liens bleus et les limites de la couleur. Plongez-vous dans la blancheur et nagez dans cet infini."

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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 help 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!
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tenir la route

Jean-Marc reading "Mastering the Art of French Eating" by Ann Mah (c) Kristin Espinasse
I still can't believe this hunka hunka burning love (as one of my endearing readers calls Jean-Marc), yes I couldn't believe it then and now, 23-years later... I still can't believe he loves me. Happy anniversary, Baby. We celebrated our 19-year- wedding anniversary (the date we exchanged religious vows), on Sept 24th.

Jean-Marc is reading "Mastering the Art of French Eating," by Ann Mah. Highly recommended! Order your copy here and enjoy the 5-star reviews. More about this entertaining and insightful book on France and food, very soon...

tenir la route (teuh-neer-lah-root)

    : to stay the course

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wave File

Hier on a célébré 19 ans de mariage. Notre fille nous a payé un compliment: Votre couple, elle a dit, a bien tenu la route. Yesterday we celebrated 19 years of marriage. Our daughter paid us a compliment: Your relationship, she said, has stayed the course. 

To comment on this word entry, or to add to it, click here

HulstonExclusive French made clothes now available to purchase on-line. Thomas Hulston Collections.

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

At a neatly-dressed table overlooking the sea, our celebratory lunch was coming to a disappointing ending. But it was hard to be annoyed at the waiter, whose gentle smile had been so kind and welcoming. I watched as he struggled to keep up with the tables during the lunch rush, and felt the growing anxiety he himself might be feeling. It seemed at any moment the new arrivals, to our left, would stand up and toss their napkins on the table, before leaving in disgust.

I had the urge to whisper to the impatient newcomers, "The waiter is not ignoring you, he is just a little overwhelmed at the moment." Instead, I minded my own business. Let life take its course has become my meditation lately. The idea is not to meddle in God's grand plan. Good things and bad things happen. It is how we steady ourselves that matters. We have simply to trust and to love.

Jean-Marc was growing weary of the wait, too. The stray cats had been a good distraction, but after watching the furry interlopers take turns patrolling beneath the tables for fallen scraps, my husband heaved a sigh of impatience. When could we finally order a cup of coffee? I could read his mind as his eyes scanned the restaurant's terrace for our waiter.

Oh no. I hoped he wouldn't voice the complaint or say something sarcastic. Not after the friendly exchanges we'd had with the waiter. But the truth was, I was losing my patience too. 

"You need to grab him when he comes by..." I hinted, the curt tone in my voice giving away my own exasperation. Such "suggestions" were the story of our married life. On the one hand I complained about my husband's nerve, on the other it was I who sometimes pushed him to the front lines of confrontation. Have you heard back from the plumber? Is the telephone company going to charge us for that? Really? 

I sank down a little in my seat. That everyday life could be an ongoing war was disheartening. That a moment of ingratitude could give way to a restless impatience, was even more humbling. How fortunate we are--and yet our hearts are as fragile as anyone's. These thoughts come to me after the fact. After I've melted into a pool of tears there at the bustling restaurant.

The sequence of events happened quickly. One minute we were waiting for the waiter, the next I was worrying about the impatient newcomers to our left... then the strained look on my husband's face... and the homeless cats.... 

And next I knew the waiter appeared, bearing a little plate of cake. I stared at the single candle on top, its flame already blown out by the breeze, despite the waiter's efforts to shield it. I noticed the spray of whipped cream that outlined the surprise cake. The sweetness hit me, suddenly, and the tears rushed up. 

"Thank you!" I squeeked, and it was all I could do to keep my eyes dry until the waiter left, resuming his sprint from one table to the next.

By the time I looked over at my husband, the barrage had opened and my face was flooded with tears. Jean-Marc's thoughtful gesture had pushed me over the edge of my own edginess. It was just a little piece of cake, but it might as well have been a shimmering engagement ring (and if it were, I suddenly knew, deep down, that I would marry him all over again today on our 19th wedding anniversary).

How thoughtful he is! Try as I might, I could not stent the flow of tears. Next came the runny nose and then the heaving.  I could not explain the reaction but, by all appearances, it looked as though I was mourning--instead of showing gratitude for the anniversary cake he had arranged to be delivered to me there at the table. 

"I can't explain..." I said to Jean-Marc whose eyes never left mine. (I wished they would, for his concentration only intensified my emotion, causing another wave or downpour of tears.)

"It's just that ...." I took a deep breath and finish my sentence, "On a quand même une très belle histoire..." It was true, we had, after all, a pretty damn good love story. 


Later, our daughter Jackie managed to put to words what I could not. On showing her the pictures from our anniversary lunch, and sharing with her my teary reaction, she offered: "Votre couple a bien tenu la route!"  Yes, our couple has stayed the course--at times an obstacle course. But we have held on for the ride.

I can't help but make a small parallel, now, when I think about those scraggly stray cats at the restaurant. How cavalier they seemed, as they strutted beneath the tables, but when so much as a strand of grated cheese fell to the ground, they lost all notion of ego or pretense and devoured the fallen scrap

"I'm not such a toughy, after all," I said to Jean-Marc as I wiped the tears from my face back at the table. I'm not sure he fully realizes that when push comes to shove in our marriage, rather than show my sadness, the well of tears inside of me freezes into a giant shield.

After the avowal, I quickly looked away to recompose. Wrung out from the tears, I watched those proud cats, who strutted to a stop, only to scramble when a sliver of sustenance fell from the sky above. Love is sometimes the same way, appearing in scraps. And suddenly, strutting along through life, tough as nails, we are dumbstruck by our hunger.

To comment on this story, click here.


 Bescherelle conjugation guide.     Capture plein écran 16052011 092531"This is without a doubt the definitive guide to conjugation of French verbs... an indispensible reference and not overwhelming for beginning students." Order it here.--M. Savoir (Amazon reviewer)


The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Jean-Marc bought two round trip ticket to Sardinia for 68 euros. We stayed three nights at a B&B, near Pula. (Lodging was 60 euros per night and the 3 day rental car was 100 euros... just in case you are looking for something do do when in the South of France--visit a nearby island!)

We also celebrated this occasion back in July, when we remembered our civil ceremony.  See a steamy picture of that celebration, here.


The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Other reasons to visit Sardinia.... the flowers are so pretty this time of year...

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse,
If you love bikes you'll see plenty...

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse,
The locals sells their modest harvests....

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Already mentioned the bikes, but they're worth another line....

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse,
And if you like classic motos -- plenty of those!

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Personally, I'm a sucker for door curtains and their flirty ruffles! Love it when the tiles peek out.

The island of Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Also charming are the brochettes of Italians chatting next to the little trucks called "Apes" ("bees", in Italian).

Sheep in Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse
I used to love to gaze at the sheep. Nowadays, I love to look for the shepherd!

Window shutters in Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse,
Do these shutters speak to you, too? They come in all colors and sizes, but "natural" like this is fine by me.

Church in Sardinia, Italy (c) Kristin Espinasse
Your are always celebrating your anniversary, Jackie sighs. I can understand her confusion. Our civil and religious marriage ceremonies being months apart, there is the temptation to mark the occasion when it arises in July... and again in September. 

To comment on this edition, click here. Thanks for forwarding Frencthis post to someone who might enjoy it or relate to it.

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 help 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!
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♥ $25    
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le mariage civil + noce + the French are softies when it comes to weddings

The Kiss - Kristin Espinasse Jean-Marc Espinasse (c) Nicolas Bourreli
"The Kiss". Jean-Marc and I celebrated our 19th anniversary with a hike along the sea and a swim at this calanque, in St. Cyr-sur-Mer.

la noce (nohce)

    : wedding, nuptials

faire la noce = to live it up
la nuit de noce = wedding night
le voyage de noces = honeymoon

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

Stopping Traffic

Memories are like bubbles. Full and rounded, the richest of them come rushing to the surface of our minds. I marvel at how my husband remembers some things and I, others. With the help of our individual recollections we knit together the past, enjoying moments from our romantic history.

This week Jean-Marc and I celebrated 19 years of marriage. The French call this anniversary les noces de cretonne. Cretonne being a type of fabric, the symbolism hints at the consistent weaving together of a sacred fil, the thread of love and commitment. 

All this talk of fabric and weaving reminds me of a vivid scene from our first wedding day. This was the town hall wedding or le mariage civil and in our case it took place two months before the church ceremony. It being a more casual gathering, there was none of that superstition about seeing the groom or bride beforehand. In fact, the groom and I drove together to our nuptials.

I'll never forget parading down the streets of Marseilles, in traffic. Grinning from ear to ear, I looked out our car window as Jean-Marc navigated from behind the wheel of his poor man's sports car. The red exterior of his Honda was chipped and dented, but inside might have been finer than silk and leather--the latter being Jean-Marc's just polished shoes (as for my dress, it was silk-like).

As we drove past all the chic boutiques on Rue Paradis on our way to pick up my bridal bouquet, it was thrilling to feel a part of this glamorous world surrounding us. And when Jean-Marc stopped smack in the middle of traffic, one lane away from the fleuriste, I literally stepped out onto Paradise Street.

"You'll have to hurry! There's no place to park," Jean-Marc explained.

I opened the creaky car door and landed in the middle of two lanes of impatient traffic.

It is awkward to be the center of attention, but there on my wedding day--crossing the street before the halted commuters--I all but twirled in my two-tiered dress!  Jaywalking across traffic lanes, light on my heels, I stole in and out of the flower shop, returning to my modern day carriage with an armful of calla lilies. 

The bumper to bumper traffic outside had not budged an inch, but was united in a collective (if imposed) pause. As I passed before the halted traffic, my wedding dress fluttering in the breeze, our parking sin was quickly forgiven as horns began to sound. Allez, les mariés!

The French are such softies when it comes to weddings! I smiled thanks to the audience of strangers and hurried into the car as drivers practiced their patience for one more "Marseilles minute". Even the calla lilies blushed, witnessing that steamy kiss!

To read about our church wedding, where the groom feared he was stood up and the bride got stuck to the outside of the church (wind and stucco are bad company for a bridal veil), read the chapter in my book.

French Vocabulary

le fil = string
le mariage civil = civil wedding, registry office wedding
la fleuriste = florist 
allez les mariés! = cheers to the bride and groom!
Marseilles minute = the amount of time (seconds, actually) another car will wait before blaring its horn at a stoplight turned green 

Max and his 18th summer (c) Kristin Espinasse
Max was born 9 months after Jean-Marc and I tied the knot...

Jackie "First Cowboy Hat" (c) Kristin Espinasse
Jackie came next... She turns 16 in September (this post was written in 2013...). This photo was taken recently, in Idaho--where she is spending the month with her grandparents... and trying on her American hat! Whereas I dreamt of France at her age, Jackie's life goal is to live in the States. "France is so old," she moans.

Together Forever (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Through Thick and Thin". Everyone and everything needs closeness. Picture taken in Orange (Vaucluse)

Kristi jean-marc espinasse 1994 Bagatelle wedding in Marseilles France
Those calla lilies and our town hall wedding on July 4th, 1994.

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 help 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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

se chamailler

Jean-Marc en train de bricoler. Jean-Marc doing some DIY.
Who could argue with a man in a dress? Not when he's repairing the front door! P.S. Would anyone like to explain just what kind of robe this is? There's a specific word for it--can you guess it? Comments welcome here, in the coin commentaires.

 Your comments on GMOs or genetically modified food were fascinating and educational. Thank you so much for taking the time to weigh in on the debate! If you missed the OGM (or GMO) discussion, please click here to read the comments and to add your own. GMOs do exist in France (that bottle of imported, brand-name ketchup in our fridge?), even if the production of GMOs are interdit.

 se chamailler (seuh-shah-my-ay)

  : to squabble, to argue, to bicker

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following sentence in French: Download MP3 or Wav file

Depuis trente ans qu'ils étaient mariés, ils se chamaillaient tous les jours.
For the thirty years that they've been married, they have bickered every day.
 --Guy de Maupassant , Les Contes normands

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

Several months ago, during the nerve-racking period of waiting to find out which direction our immediate future would take, Jean-Marc and I got into a particulary awkward dispute. Looking back, I can't even remember what it was we were arguing about, but I won't soon forget how, by the end of the engueulade, one of us was wearing tomato on their face.

Prior to la tomate, and during the heated accrochage, I watched with amusement as my husband struggled to deliver his be-all-end-all winning point. Just as mine does when I am shaking with indignation, my husband's face turned crimson and his cheeks began to puff up... until the words building inside his mouth tumbled out! And when his gargled and incomprehensible "point" was made, he stomped off to his cave to save face (only in wine country can a man truly stomp off to his cave!)

As the door slammed, I began celebrating my victory (MOI VICTORIEUSE!).  I grabbed the soup pan that was drying in the évier and, polishing it, stole an admirative glance at The Face of Righteousness. 

But after making faces in the dull "mirror", primping my victory look, in vain, I had an inspiration: now might be a good time to try one of those home-made beauty treatments! My eyelids appeared to sag from so much wide-eyed dramatics and there were lines echoing the corners of my mouth. Les rides! In truth, I looked and felt just as defeated as my husband. All that word slinging had had its ugly effect! 

I had recently read somewhere that fruit acid peels were good and that one needn't pay all that money for un soin de beauté when the same—or even better—ingredients could be found for a dollar, in one's kitchen. Eyeing the fruit bowl, I noticed the half-dozen tomatoes, a gift from my friend Houria, who picked them in her potager that same morning.

After watching a couple of detailed YouTube videos on homemade beauty masks, I was ready to try out the two-step procedure: 1. cut tomato in half. 2. rub each half into face. 

It felt good to stand over the kitchen sink rubbing those tomato halves over my forehead, cheeks, chin and nose. The effect was soothing and I soon forgot about our marital chamaillerie.  When the juice quit dripping down my face, I moved from the sink over to the stove to see about dinner. While the mask did its wonders (there'd be a 30-minute wait), I would turn my attention to dinner prep.

Lost in a new level of peace that stirring up comfort food brings, I was startled when the front door flew open. That's when I remembered the caveman. My husband must have found the words he had been desperately searching for—and now he was back to deliver them! 

I felt my body seize up as I prepared for round two, la double defense. As adrenaline coursed through me, I became aware of a strange tightening in my forehead.... Next, my cheeks began to crack!

Oh no. The tomatoes! Standing there with smashed pulp on my face, I became aware of my gross disadvantage. But there was no time to rush to the sink to rinse off this humiliating flaw. And so I did what any she-fighter worth her stripes would do, I wore the tomato paste like war paint, letting what might have been a handicap—work as a scare tactic!

No, actually that is not at all what I did. What really happened was I stood before the husband-caveman-warrior feeling super defeated whilst the fruit mask tightened and tightened. (And, gosh, was that a tomato seed stuck to my nose? So ego-deflating!)

I quickly learned there's no better remedy for defensiveness than a home-made tomato mask. Unable to open my mouth without sending a dozen crackling lines up my fruit-hardened face, I decided to play it cool... and not so much as blink.

Oddly, Jean-Marc didn't seem to notice the tomato glop on my face—so concentrated was he on his point. Not wanting to draw attention to those seeds stuck above my narines, I stood unblinking, listening to my husband. The more I listened, the more he seemed to make sense. And when he was done making his point, only my eyes moved as they followed him out the room.

Strange how peaceful things felt when wearing the mask of non-resistance. I'll have to try it again sometime, on my own, minus the tomates.


To comment on this story, click here. 

French Vocabulary

la dispute =argument

une engueulade = a telling-off

la tomate = tomato

l'accrochage (m) = clash, row

moi victorieuse! = me winner!

un évier = sink

les rides (f) = wrinkles

un soin de beauté = a beauty treatment

le potager = kitchen garden

la narine = nostril

Rembobiner? No that's not it... What is that French word that means "leveling off the bottom of a door so that it doesn't "catch" each time you try to close it"? That's what Jean-Marc is doing here. Click here to comment.

  • Read the book Words in a French Life. You'll find out how I met Jean-Marc, why he bought me a one-way ticket back to the States (good riddance!), and how I returned to marry him and to begin this French word journal, now in its 11th year!


Plastic sheeting Jean-Marc will use to waterproof his new cellar. See the "cellar" here, at the end of this post.

Jules is back home in Mexico. I'm left with these photo souvenirs. Mom writes: I was the only one Jean-Marc could hypnotize into being his little helper - later on in the day after I had picked up lots of rocks, climbed the ladder to hand them to JM I just looked up into his eyes and said, "Honey, I need a nap." I think this is a great 'study' for a painting of an old woman in France. When you look at me you can hear my bones creak and my silent moans.


What is Smokey saying? Click here to add a thought bubble.


Check out our readers Best Tips for Learning French -- and if you have any French-learning tips that work for you, please submit them here.

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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 help 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!
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Chief Grape and his puzzle
Jean-Marc's latest pastime. Read on in today's story column.

un casse-tête (kass tet)

    : jigsaw puzzle, brainteaser
    : difficult problem, headache 

Note: un casse-tête is a synonym for puzzle. The French more often call a puzzle "un puzzle" or "un jeu de patience".

Audio File: listen to Jean-Marc read today's word and the following example sentence: Download MP3 or Wav file

Les premiers puzzles se faisaient en peignant une image sur la surface d'une fine planche de bois que l'on découpait ensuite à l'aide d'une scie à chantourner... le mot anglais "puzzle" signifiant d'une façon générale une énigme ou un casse-tête. The first puzzles were made by painting an image on the surface of a thin wooden board that was then cut with help of a jig saw... The English word "puzzle" means, generally speaking, an enigma or a brainteaser. —


A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse

There is nothing so soothing as watching an overworked man piece together a jigsaw puzzle. Sitting quietly beside the crackling fire, a puzzle piece held gently between rough, calloused fingers, my husband is lost in concentration. I have had the chance to observe this "pieceful" scene, almost nightly, ever since Jean-Marc cleaned out the cellier, salvaging this old puzzle in the process.

Just outside the window, the rows and rows of grapevines—now leafless, woody, and sleeping like a log—no longer vie for his attention. For a rare moment, Jean-Marc is at peace.

On the table before him, my husband has laid down one of my mom's largest oil paintings—it appears to be the perfect base on which to construct his scattered oeuvre!

(Jules will not be shocked to learn that her painting currently serves as a foundation—au contraire—she is known to roughhouse with her art: scrubbing down dusty paintings and, sometimes, completely obliterating scenes with a coat of wet paint!

Sometimes Mom forgets her plein air paintings, leaving them out in the rain—only for them to survive, blessed by God's tears, dried by the muse or le Mistral!

Yes, by unwittingly lending her painting as a puzzle support, I think Mom will even be honored to learn that she is participating in this restorative effort, one that has an especially calming effect on her treasured—and tired—beau-fils.)

From the kitchen, where I am putting away dishes, I pause, enjoying the scene of a tired man "puzzling". The scene is restful, even to me. I sit down at the kitchen table to sip a steaming tisane and watch my husband work, this time effortlessly.

Initially, Jean-Marc tried to interest our daughter (owner of the puzzle) to participate with him in this jeu de patience. When Jackie eventually lost interest (or patience?), Jean-Marc continued working on her puzzle without her.

As I observe my husband I am humbled by his appreciation and interest in our daughter's puzzle. Watching him devote all his concentration to the subject, I can't help but feel a little ashamed at an unfair remark I made many years ago, before we broke up for the first time:

The heated scene took place on a busy street in Marseilles and went something like this:

Me: "You are so macho!"
Him (hugely offended): "Je ne suis pas macho! JE NE SUIS PAS MACHO!

I can't even remember what the subject was then, but tonight, sitting here sipping my tea, it is hard to contain my smile as the puzzle in the next room begins to come into view, piece by piece....

I now see two fuzzy kittens clinging side by side—innocent and helplesssuch a fragile couple!

How sweet to see a big strong man putting together a kitten puzzle! I think, when suddenly my mind returns to the accusatory scene on the busy city street, some twenty years ago.... 

Macho? What was I thinking?! I look over, affectionately, at the puzzle maker and feel a strong sense of gratitude for one man's care and diligence in piecing back together the innocent and fragile couple. It takes puzzle maker's patience. This I know for sure.


Learn more about our exciting (and rocky...) courtship, in the intro chapter to Words in a French Life. And in the follow-up book, "Blossoming in Provence", a girlfriend-come-wife learns many more lessons in patience!

Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections and comments regarding today's story, or edition, are welcome here, in the comments box

French Vocabulary

le cellier = storeroom
une oeuvre = a work (painting, book, film) 
au contraire = on the contrary, just the opposite
plein air = a painting produced outdoors
Mistral = strong wind coming from the north or northwest
le beau-fils = son-in-law
une tisane = herbal tea
un jeu de patience = puzzle 


Rose hips (c) Kristin Espinasse
The pieces of Nature's puzzle.

Puzzle statue in Ramatuelle (c) Kristin Espinasse

A puzzle statue we spotted in Ramatuelle. I hope you enjoyed this edition. Keep up your French with the following, highly recommended book:

Exercises in French Phonics

Exercises in French Phonics bestseller on French pronunciation and how to pronouce French words correctly! (click here)

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 help 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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.


The Christmas decorations are still up in the town of Grignan. Have you taken down your holiday decor? Click here to comment

le sang-froid

    : calm, equanimity, imperturbability

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc (I am told my husband has a beautiful voice! Don't miss it): Download MP3 or Wav file

Lors de situations conflictuelles, çela aide pas mal de garder son sang-froid!
During situations which involve conflict, it helps quite a bit to keep calm!

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

When Jean-Marc was inspired to clear out the cellier—on Christmas Eve—I did my best to contain my annoyance. Not to be unthankful, but couldn't he have chosen any other day of the year? A day, say, when our extended family wasn't about to arrive for Le Repas de Noël? After all, there were any other number of last-minute things to do besides emptying out the mudroom!

Ten years ago I would have manifested the strong opposition that I currently felt regarding my husband's absurd sense of timing. As manifestations go, it would have been a subtle one (I might have sulked), yet packed with menace (continue doing your own thing... and I'll fly back to America. You'll see!).

But such manifestations were for naught (my then boyfriend put a stop to the nonsense by buying me a one-way ticket home!)

We've come a long way, Chief Grape and I, though the first years of intercultural marriage were as shaky as the pile of junk that now lined the outside of our mudroom, nearly blocking the entrance where our guests were due to arrive in the next hour or so! To my amazement, the entryway was now cluttered with everything from a broken globe to a lonely lava lamp. 

I stood staring at the chaos. Instead of order and polish we now had dust and "demolish"...or so it looked from my blurry perspective. No matter how far I think I've advanced along the path of sagesse, I'm always astonished at how quickly I can lose my footing when I lose sight of the horizon in time to notice a weed along the way.

No use staring at the lava lamp and its dusty company. Remembering to "look up!" I experienced a radical change of perspective. What had appeared to be disorder... was beginning to look like order! I looked beyond the piles, past my husband, and into the cellar.... The shelves looked neat and tidy—and you could actually see the floor!

Motioning toward the stacks, Jean-Marc explained, "Jacques is going to help carry these things to the car". 

Bien sûr! My husband's timing was not so absurd after all. He had simply waited until his brother's visit (tonight, for Christmas Eve dinner), to haul off the junk. 

Once again I am reminded that what might not make sense to me, may very well be clear in the grand scheme of things. 


Le Coin Commentaires
To leave a comment, please click here

Read about that one-way ticket home in the introduction to Words in a French Life

French Vocabulary

le cellier = storeroom

le repas de Noël = Christmas dinner

la sagesse = wisdom

Both photos in today's edition were taken in the town of Grignan, where we had a lovely stroll and a bite to eat, on Friday, with friends Toni and Gary. (We ate at Le Poème de Grignan. It was delicious!) Can you recommend a restaurant in Provence? Click here to share it with us!

Capture plein écran 21122011 083440
The photo, left, was also taken in Grignan, during another sweet stroll with my aunt and uncle. The picture was snapped so quickly -- almost as an afterthought. Had I known it would be used for the book's cover, I might have swiped the neighbor's pot of geraniums, and placed it near the door! Just as it is (without anything "blossoming") we'll chalk it up, this flowerless "Blossoming" cover, to one more quirk of French life.

Meantime, I would like to take a moment to send out an enthusiastic appeal to anyone who has not yet purchased a copy of my book: 

Please support a self-published author--each time you do, you make the world a more creative place! 

Click here to buy a copy of my book. Merci beaucoup!



Further Reading:
Check our Larry Krakauer's blog, in which he writes about his visit to our vineyard. Click here. You'll even see a photo of my brother-in-law, Jacques, whom you read about in today's story.

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 help 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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.


Betrothed Bikes (c) Kristin Espinasse
Betrothed bikes in Orange, France.

épousailles (ay poo zeye) noun, feminine, plural

    : nuptials, wedding

Paris-based novelist Janet Skeslien Charles is back with us today to talk about "le Oui" or the "I Do" of a union of two....

Le Mariage
by Janet Skeslien Charles

In my novel Moonlight in Odessa, Daria, a young Ukrainian who longs for a better life marries Tristan, an American she meets through an international matchmaking organization. He said that he was a teacher, but Daria arrives at his home in California, she realizes that Tristan is not exactly who he said he was. But can a happy marriage be built based on a foundation of lies?

Today, I thought it might be interesting to talk about marriage in France. In French, le mariage can mean “the wedding” as well as “the marriage.” Did you know that only a mariage civil, a civil wedding ceremony, is recognized by the French government? A couple must be married by a maire, a mayor, before they can be married in a church. As a future bride, I was disappointed, imagining a sterile city hall wedding. Au contraire, city halls have beautiful rooms and the maire did a lovely job of personalizing our ceremony and he even spoke a few words of English.

My favorite expression concerning weddings is Mariage pluvieux, mariage heureux, a rainy wedding makes for a happy marriage. I heard this expression in Burgundy when it started to rain on my own wedding day and have heard it several times since, a small consolation to the brides who live in this lush, green, rainy country.

When we talk about a white wedding in America, we picture a bride in white. Many French brides choose to wear white gowns as well. In France, however, un mariage blanc, literally a “white marriage,” indicates a marriage of convenience. Here in Paris, we see many foreigners who want to live in France, so they marry a French friend or pay a French citizen as a way to gain valid working papers. The film “Green Card” with Gerard Depardieu deals with a French man who marries an American woman so that he can live in the States. In a mariage blanc, both parties understand that it is not a real marriage. In France, this kind of marriage fraud is a crime punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a 15,000 euro fine.

Of the 273,500 wedding celebrated in France, 84,000 were considered mixtes, or mixed, between a foreigner and a French citizen. According the newspaper Libération, marriage is considered the “main source of immigration in France.” In the last few years, French authorities have acknowledged a scam called mariages gris, or a gray marriages. Unlike a mariage blanc, where both partners are aware that the wedding is in name only, a mariage is considered ‘gris’ when a person who doesn’t have legal papers uses a French citizen in order to get a carte de résident, a Green Card. It is a union in which one partner doesn’t realize that the reason for the wedding was paperwork, not love. The recipe is simple – seduction, a wedding, the arrival of a carte de résident, divorce. This kind of marriage, a sentimental scam, is punished more severly than mariage blanc.

Even when two people have good intentions, engagements and weddings between foreigners aren’t easy. When an American friend and her French fiancé announced to his parents that they were going to get engaged, his mother replied, “C’est un peu extrême, non?”, or That’s a little extreme, isn’t it? The wedding didn’t take place. In “Moonlight in Odessa,” Daria’s future in-laws were not very kind to her either, though it was Tristan’s idea to rush into marriage. I wonder how readers would classify Daria’s marriage to Tristan – white, gray, or downright black.

Le Coin Commentaires
To respond to Janet's essay, or to leave her a message, please click here to access the comments box.

%2AIMG_3559_small[1] Janet Skeslien Charles’ debut novel Moonlight in Odessa was chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of their top ten debut novels of Fall 2009. 

9781608192328[1]-1 It was Book of the Month in the September issue of National Geographic Traveler. BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime featured Moonlight in Odessa for two weeks in February 2010.

Click here to order Janet's book.

“This is a delicious novel—wise, witty, wonderfully written...”—Vivian Gornick

"Charles’ transatlantic saga explores the dichotomy between Eastern and Western cultures, as well as the assumptions and sacrifices people make in the hope of a better life.” —Booklist


French Vocabulary

un maire – the mayor
un mariage – wedding or marriage
un mariage blanc – a marriage of convenience
un mariage gris – a scam in which a person marries a French person in order to gain valid      
    working papers, then divorces the unsuspecting spouse
un mariage civil – a civil wedding ceremony
Mariage pluvieux, mariage heureux – a rainy wedding makes for a happy marriage


Smokey says: my pawrents: Maw (right) and Paw (left). Speaking of le mariage, I hear these two eloped in Marseilles. Don't miss the story, here, in the latest book (a perfect gift for dog-lovers!) Click here to order.


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 help 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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.