Ratiboiser & Cafi: Two Fun Words from The Olive Harvest

Le Beausset
Our story begins in Le Beausset... just over the hill from Bandol.

TODAY'S WORD: Ratiboiser

    : to chop
    : to plunder, pinch, swipe 

Ratiboiser also means "couper à ras" (to cut very short). When you return from the hairdresser's and your locks were cut too short, you could say, "Ils m'ont ratiboisé les cheveux. They completely cut my hair!"

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

This weekend was full, plein, rempli, like the olives trees we picked samedi. "Ils sont cafis !" my friend Sophie remarked, arriving at the field with her bucket and olive rake. Cafi! now there's a cool slang word to add to our repertoire, dear reader! Follow along and we will gather a few more…along with a ton of olives.

Saturday's olive harvest would've been another chance for our new dog to adapt to a different environment, but we decided to leave Ricci at home with Grandma Jules. Une bonne décision as several cats showed up to the oliveraie to check out all the activity.

At Vava and Laurent's in Le Beausset, some 300 olive trees were waiting to be picked for this year's récolte d'olives. Jean-Marc and I were the first volunteers to arrive to la cueillette. We helped to spread out a net on the ground to catch the olives, then we each grabbed a hand rake to comb the olive branches, a technique that is easy on the trees and saves time. The wet ground was already soaking my sneakers and it was chilly out, making me wonder if things were going to get uncomfortable fast. With only 5 pickers, the picking was slow so we eased the pain by joking about when our friends—les renforts—would finally arrive (this happened around 11 a.m., suspiciously close to l'heure de l’apéro…). At that point the sun finally made its way over the hill and the group livened up thanks to some new helpers qui a la tchatche--who have the gift of gab.

Seated on an upturned bucket, raking the cut branches for more olives, I listened to the conversations going on around the olive grove. Topics ranged from age-gap marriage to Japanese toilets (the estate had a "Boku" bidet. The popular brand is a saucy play on the words "beau" and "cul" or "beautiful butt," which refers to the desired outcome after using the fesse-cleaning apparatus). As you can imagine, such talk leads to innuendo--something the French excel at. Even if I didn’t understand all the words lingering in the air above me, there were others up for grabs along with all those olives.

”What do you call this?” Vava's sister, Geraldine, asked, waving a peignes à olives.

"A rake," I answered.

“Rake….” Geraldine repeated, making a few associations to drill the new word into memory. “Rake…Rateau…. Ratiboiser... “

Ratiboiser—that one sounded familiar. It means “to pilfer, plunder, or “to make off with.” After we'd plundered or made off with 200 kilos of olives, it was time for lunch. Jean-Marc headed to the BBQ, to cook some merguez and chipolatas, while Vava beelined over to the kitchen. The long harvest table began to fill with food, including a plateau de charcuterie (featuring sliced salami, rillettes, and pâté. Wine was passed around and my friend Sophie surprised me with a special non-alcoholic drink in a beautiful sangria glass decorated with lots of fresh mint. What a treat! Next, we sat down to homemade eggplant lasagna, sausages, and baked chicken. One of the friends, Jean-Michel, brought along a prized magnum from his collection—a bottle of Jean-Marc’s “Zero Watt,” a wine my husband made “without electricity,” when we moved to St. Cyr-sur-Mer in 2012, to our own olive farm and future vineyard. That wine and today’s olive harvest brought back bittersweet memories, but volunteering at our friend’s harvest helps in its own way: for one, we get to use what skills we gained in the 10 years we harvested our own fields, and one of those skills is, simply, the ability to show up early and prepared.

One thing about arriving first to the olive harvest is... less guilt when leaving early and missing the grueling afternoon shift. As mentioned, we had a full agenda Saturday. It was time now to get ready for a birthday party. So after we plundered the buffet we kissed Vava and Laurent goodbye and waved au revoir et bon après-midi to our friends, the olive-picking crew.  “See you next year, bright and early!” 

To leave a comment or a correction to this post, click here. I'd love to know which city you are writing in from!

Kristi and Vava olive harvest Le Beausset France
Kristi and Vava. There is one of the hand rakes used to harvest the olives.


Click here to listen to all the words below in French and in English

rempli = full
plein =
= full of
une bonne décision =
a good decision
une oliveraie
= olive grove
un peigne
= comb
la récolte d’olives
= olive harvest
la cueillette
= harvest
le renfort =
the backup crew, the reinforcement
l’heure de l’apéro
= cocktail hour
qui à la tchatche = who has the gift of gab
les fesses = butt 
ratiboiser = to pilfer, plunder
rillettes = a kind of pâté 

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Olive picking in le beausset

In this vintage Land Rover, which the brothers-in-law share, the morning's olive harvest is stacked in les caisses de récolte, ready to be pressed at the olive mill.

Kristi and Ricci graffiti
Kristi and Ricci. Sunday marks 4 weeks since we brought 3-year-old Ricci home from Aveyron. Her appetite has grown, she now barks when strangers come to her home, and she loves the beach. It's a joy to see her personality unfold. 

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


Artists along the port in St. Tropez (c) Kristin Espinasse

Still pinching images from Google image search (I promise I took these!) after my computer crashed one week ago (typing this post on my son's PC).... This photo was snapped in St. Tropez. Its artist theme fits with today's story of the "tree artists" (or pirates, rather...). Read on, in today's column.

chaparder (sha-par-day)

     to pinch, to lift, to steal

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

Pirates of the Olive Plantation

For the next week or two there will be a modest camping-car parked in the driveway below our house. This is part of Jean-Marc's solution to our tree-pruning dilemma: hire a specialized team to tackle the project in one intensive fortnight!

Like this we have insta-neighbors—though we don't see them or hear them very much. Tanguy* and Thomas, who arrived Friday from the Gard region, will spend their days cutting back the enormous oliviers that have graced this land for centuries.

It would be fun to imagine the two tree-trimmers as Edward Scissorhand's distant French cousins, but the truth is they look more like pirates than gothic gardeners. (There's a definite Johnny Depp connection. It must be the rock ‘n’ roll demeanor they share. It's that giant silver hoop, or créole, that Tanguy sports or that bad boy air that surrounds Thomas, who, with une clope dangling from his lazy smile, easily perpetuates the myth that cigarettes are seductive.)

I knew a little bit about Tanguy before he came to live here for this short séjour. His partner, Aurélie, has helped at all our grape harvests. I had a hunch that Tanguy might know a lot about how to forage wild plants, as Aurélie does, so I asked him to help me identify some pissenlit (or confirm it was indeed dandelion) that I was hoping to use in the kitchen. That is when I learned that Thomas, Tanguy's friend and co-pirate, knew a thing or two about les plantes sauvages. At the picnic table, yesterday, a sleeveless Thomas reached down and snapped up an herb with lance-shaped leaves, declaring it plantain.

Thomas handed me the wild specimen, which I could use to compare against other wild plants—eventually adding it to my knowledge base. I am hoping to have a certain understanding of the comestible plants on our property ("certain" being the key word. I want to be sure the plants I am picking are mangeable and not poisonous as they are destined for soups, salads, and juices).

Changing the subject, so as not to take up Tanguy and Thomas's lunch break, I said: 

"By the way, that would have been a great photo of you two in the olive trees this morning!" I was remembering the image of Tanguy and Thomas, each on a different branch high above the ground which is graced here and there by wild orchids this time of year.

Tanguy laughed. "You aren't the only one to think so!" he admitted, telling me how he and Thomas seemed to be stopping the traffic that normally cruised by the great olive field. 

More than a sight to behold, the tree-trimmers were surrounded by some very attractive commodities: the centuries-old branches that were piling up on the ground beneath them.

"One grand-mère pulled over, hiked up her skirt, and climbed onto the olive grove," Tanguy explained. "She plucked up a couple of olive branches, saying they'd make great gifts (an olive branch symbolizes peace—what better offering than this?).

"Another guy pulled over and snapped up an armful of leafy cuttings. 'For my sheep,' he explained." (I wondered if the punk rock sheepherder was back? Was this whom Tanguy saw stealing away with the olive branches?) 

Tanguy shook his head, smiling. "I let him take what he wanted. Sheep love to eat olive branches!"

(Come to think of it, that was true! I remembered the transhumance that took place on our land last month—and how the sheep stood on hind legs to reach the olive branches!)

I listened to stories of the other motorists-turned-thieves. What funny images it all painted in my mind. It was amusing, too, to think that Tanguy and Thomas weren't the only ones to share a pirate's likeness—apparently half our neighborhood did too!

I pictured Tanguy and Thomas dangling high up in the olive tree (or ship mast...) as a host of unlikely pirates landed on the orchid spotted deck below, before disappearing with the leafy loot.


 Here I have to smile at the colorful French definition of today's word:

chaparder: dérober de modestes objets (to steal objects of modest value). True, the branches weren't worth much, but many an unsuspecting thief found value in those discarded tree limbs, and yo-ho-ho! away they rode.

*Learn all about the cool name "Tanguy"--click here and scroll down to the story column. We met Tanguy via his partner, Aurélie. I wrote a poem about her here: "...Heroines with hot peppers in their hearts, they sizzle with mystery and soul." Read the story-poem "Bohème" - click here.

French Vocabulary

un camping-car = camper van, RV

un olivier = olive tree 

une créole = large hoop earring

une clope = cigarette

un séjour = a stay

le pissenlit = dandelion

la plante sauvage = wild plant

le plantain = known as ribleaf, lamb's tongue and other names

mangeable = edible

127 things to do in Paris: click here to read the latest reader-submitted tips!

Olive trees
The gnarled and noble trunks of the olives trees that Tanguy and Thomas are pruning this week.

Pronounce It Perfectly in French - with exercises in sound discrimination and accurate sound creation. Order your copy here.

Sunflowers (c) Kristin Espinasse
Always leave on a sunny note--something I sometimes forget, especially when taking for granted the daily comings and goings of family. Speaking of sunny, have you planted sunflowers seeds yet? If you don't have a big yard, where else could you plant one? Ever seen one of those cool sunflower houses--where you dig a square trench and plant seeds all around - leaving space for the "front door" door? When they are grown you can connect the tops! To comment on any item in this post, click here, and thank you for forwarding this letter to a friend.

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