Wonderful phrase "Comme si de rien n'etait" + a Mother's lesson on giving


Le printemps has come early to France and promises to bring a beautiful late spring and summer, if you are thinking of a wonderful and different sort of holiday why not come on one of my painting trips. All-inclusive from pick up to drop off, you get to see some of the most beautiful places in Provence and beyond. Eat gourmet food and have one on one teaching. The groups are small and friendly. Don’t miss out!! www.paintprovencewithtess.com

Today's Phrase: Comme si de rien n'etait

    : as if nothing had happened

Try Easy French Step-by-Step. Click here to view the book.

Click here for the audio file for today's word

by Kristi Espinasse

We were bundled up and heading out for our walk when Mom reached into her poche and pulled out a plastic baggy: "I've got cat food!" she sang.

Oh no! I thought, before auto-correcting, "Great. That's great, Mom."

(I DO think it is great Jules cares for the needy here in France--just as she did in Mexico, and back in the Arizona desert where she raised us. Even as a struggling, single parent, Mom encouraged us to "give away 10 percent"... and so showed my sister, Heidi, and me the importance of tithing. It's just that now we've got to watch out for our Mom, because she gives what she herself might one day need--to homeless men, stray cats, and les démunies--and we fear some take advantage of her. And when I say les démunies, this includes her 3 rescued hedgehogs and her growing flock of tourterelles. You'd be surprised at just how pushy doves can be! All but knocking on her window with their beaks!)

Some might say we have enough cat ladies in the neighborhood. I've spotted at least three sprinkling croquettes across fences, driveways, or along the trottoirs. One of the women is very discreet, posing as a kind of mail-carrier, scooping kibbles out of her satchel before moving on, comme si de rien n'était. (which, BTW, is another lesson Mom taught: Give, without anyone seeing you do it!)

A few blocks into our sortie, and Mom was eager to show me her latest adoptee: a hefty black cat who lives across from the surf rental shack, where an SDF sleeps at night. As Jules sprinkled dinner along the stairs beside the digue, I spied several empty gamelles on the other side of the bushes.

"There are 5 plates over there!" I pointed out. Ignoring me, Mom went about her joyful occupation, adding more cat food to one of the empty bowls.

"Look! The pigeons are coming." I warned. In 2 seconds flat the cat chow Mom had purchased disappeared beneath a flurry of feathers. "See! The pigeons get to it before even the cats! And look, here comes another woman with a box of croquettes!"

Unfazed, Mom and the stranger raised their kibbles, acknowledging one another and their common goal of comforting the homeless.

Stray cat
One of the stray cats in our neighborhood.

Aware now of my grumpy mood (this hayfever and spring lethargy is severe this year!), I relented: "I'm being a buzz kill aren't I?"

"You sure are!" Mom laughed. "You're just no fun!"

"The French have a word for party poopers," I offered. "It's casse-bonbons. Literally, a 'candy breaker'."

(Update: Boy I was wrong with that translation. Bonbon also refers to testicles! Too late, Mom was already calling me this!)

"Come over here, Casse-Bonbons. I have a surprise for you!"

A surprise? What could Jules have up her sleeves apart from cat food? Mom took my arm and guided me down to the waterfront. When I recognized the building towards which we were walking--the members-only sailing club--I panicked. "We can't go there!" 
"Yes, we can," Mom smiled. "I've already been..."

"No. We can't," I said, digging my heels into the ground. "You have to be invited by three club members" (an exaggeration, it was really two members, but anything to dissuade Mom).

As if she could be dissuaded. Mom tugged on my arm. "Come on!"


A few steps later and I saw the sign, Acces public à la mer, and an arrow pointing to the opposite way of the yacht club. Mais bien sûr. Most beachfronts in France are open to the public! I had just never ventured far enough to see the sign!

And that is how I learned about a little known gem of a plage--a flat-rock beach--in my own town--thanks to Mom and her trail of croquettes. And why am I surprised? It was Jules who always told us, back in the Arizona desert: to take a new path each day... (and to feed the cats and the homeless along the way).

I leave you with a few pictures of the passage we took to get to the beach, and a meaningful quote at the end of this post. 


EDIT ME: If you see une faute de frappe (a typo) in French or in English, I would greatly appreciate it if you would point it out in the comments or via email. Merci beaucoup!



la poche = pocket
les croquettes pour chat = dry cat food
la tourterelle = turtledove
démuni(e) = needy, destitute, the very poor 
le trottoir = sidewalk
comme si de rien n'était = as if nothing had happened
la sortie = trip, outing, excursion
la gamelle = dish, bowl
la digue = seawall, embankmentOuvert au public 
SDF (Sans Domicile Fixe) = homeless
le casse-bonbons = pain in the neck, pest
la plage = beach
Magpie on the beach
My mom loves magpies, so it was a treat to see this one on "Mom's beach." Also, notice how the rocks above the magpie form a face. Here, below is the full picture of our view from the little beach.
Rocky beach in La Ciotat
I leave you with the words of Thomas Merton, which may sum up my Mom's philosophy when it comes to giving, loving, sharing. If you'd like to translate the sentence in the comments, that would be lovely: Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. 

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!
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Quitter + Beyond bye-bye: Good ideas for ending a letter, an email, or a visit with a friend

Passion for provence
Passion for Provence: 22 Keys to La Belle Vie tells the tale of Americans Gayle and Ralph falling for France on their Mediterranean honeymoon and finally making it home—over two decades later. Part love story, part travel tale, part can-do, this humorous, spirited memoir will have you packing your bags for Provence for a sweet sojourn or possibly a longer stay. Recently, the book was featured on Chroniques Méditerranéenes, a French travel TV show about St. Rémy de Provence—the charming Provençal village where Gayle and her husband live. Order the ebook or the paperback. Worldwide distribution via Amazon.


1. to leave, to quit, to exit
2. to give up, vacate, forsake, abandon

SOUND FILE: Hear Jean-Marc read the following sentence in French

Il faut se quitter souvent pour s'aimer toujours.
We must leave each other often in order to love each other forever.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

I am fascinated with farewells (of the e-mail kind) when I'm not downright fussing over how to end my own courriels. Signing off after even the briefest note is cause for over-reflection and I sometimes stare for minutes at the blank screen before relying on the same old standby:


While bisous still sounds a little too intimate, I wonder if tchao--something I love the sound and French spelling of--isn't a bit hip or sort of pretentious sounding (tchao darling)? Oh well, I never know, but I am game to try all of the farewells noted below. I hope you will too! Note: many of these goodbyes can also be used when saying goodbye in person (this past weekend, in the Alps, friends used tchao! tchao! (bye bye) when waving goodbye).


à bientôt = (see) you soon
à très bientôt = (see) you real soon
adieu = goodbye (forever)
affectueusement = affectionately (love)
à la prochaine = until next time
à tout à l'heure = toodeloo
amicalement = (literally: "in a friendly way") yours, best wishes, regards
amitiés = (amitié = friendship) yours, best wishes, regards
amitiés sincères = sincere regards
à plus (or "à+" or "@+") = later
au plaisir de se revoir = with the pleasure of seeing each other again
au revoir = goodbye
avec toute mon amitié = with all my friendship

bien à toi
= yours, kind regards
bien à vous = yours, kind regards
bien affectueusement = yours affectionately
bien amicalement = best wishes
bien amicalement à vous = best wishes to you
bien cordialement = warmly
bien des choses à tous = best to all
bien/très respectueusement = with much respect

= kisses
bisous à tous = kisses to all
bonne continuation = keep up the good work
bonne journée = have a nice day
bonne soirée = enjoy your evening
bons baisers = big kisses
cordialement = cordially
bien cordialement = warm regards
d'un (d'une) ami(e) = from a friend
encore merci = thanks again
grosse bise = big kiss
gros bisous = big kisses

je serai toujours là pour vous = I'll always be there for you
je t'embrasse (je vous embrasse) = big kiss, with love
je t'embrasse très fort = great big kiss, with lots of love
meilleures salutations = best regards
meilleurs sentiments = best wishes
merci = thanks
mes amitiés = my best wishes, my best regards
mes salutations respectueuses = yours faithfully
mille baisers = a thousand kisses
plein de baisers = lots of kisses
salut = bye
salutations = salutations
salutations distinguées = best regards
sincères salutations = sincere regards

(synonymes for salutations are: good wishes, yours faithfully, I look forward to your reply...)

tchao = ciao, bye, cheers
tchao, tchao = bye bye
tendresse = fondly
tiens bon (tenez bon) = take care, hang in there
ton ami(e) = your friend
toute mon amitié = very best wishes
très cordiales salutations = warm salutations
votre ami(e) = your friend

And for those very formal sign-offs (job interviews, etc), check out this article in French: 51 formules de politesse pour vos emails, lettres et lettres de motivation

Voilà. Maintenant vous savez tout (now you know everything)! Please tell me how you end your French emails, letters, or visits, in the comments below.


Kristi and bea le white serre chevalier
Postcard from the Alps. With my friend, Béa, right. A bientôt and bisous--so long until the next post. And many thanks for reading and sharing this French word journal with someone who might enjoy learning about France, its culture and its language. 

EDIT ME: If you see une faute de frappe (a typo) in French or in English, I would greatly appreciate it if you would point it out in the comments or via email. Merci beaucoup!

Expressions having to do with today's word quitter
ne quittez pas = hold the line, hold on (when telephoning)
quitter le deuil = to come out of mourning
quitter la partie = to give up, to throw in the towel
quitter les lieux = to vacate the premises
ne pas quitter (lâcher) quelqu'un d'une semelle = to not let somebody out of your sight

Quitter/verb conjugation: je quitte, tu quittes, il/elle quitte, nous quittons, vous quittez, ils/elles quittent; past participle: quitté

Almond blossoms
Tchao. Tchao. I leave you with a bouquet of almond branches which are blooming throughout Provence, just as they were at our vineyard, several years ago. Photo taken at Mas des Brun.

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!
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Draguer: At what age are you "lucky" to be hit on (or even noticed at all)?

French token or jeton shopping cart chariot

Joyeuse Saint Valentin! That's Happy Valentine's Day in French. Photo: A "liste des courses" spotted at our local supermarché...where pick-up artists and good Samaritans operate. Don't miss today's vocabulary-packed story, below.

TODAY'S WORD: se faire draguer or se faire brancher

        : to get hit on

brancher une nana = to hit on a girl, to make a pass at a girl

CLICK HERE to listen to the following example sentence

Ah bon? Tu t'es fait draguer au supermarché?
Oh really? You got hit on at the supermarket?

Try Easy French Step-by-Step. Click here to view the book.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE  by Kristi Espinasse

"My Inner Hot Mama"

While putting away groceries I reached for an item my husband had requested--pleased to have brought back the right ones. "Found you some rasoirs," I shouted to the man two rooms down. "A nice man helped me...." I added, smiling to myself and waiting for a reaction. Such plaisanterie is healthy in a marriage, n'est-ce pas?

"Ah bon? Tu t'es fait draguer au supermarché?" Mr Two-Rooms-Down called back, feigning la jalousie.

This time I snickered, remembering what a French woman told me two years ago, "At your age, you should be grateful your husband is still so attracted to you." Her comment made me feel so....unsexy, unadventurous and perhaps even undeserving? I have heard a similar statement from American women, a generalized idea that at this age, we should be grateful for a man's attention.

Earlier, back at the grocery store, such words came to mind as I stood before the men's razor display, suspicious of the stranger who'd begun talking to me. Busy wondering "is this guy hitting on me?" a more humbling and sarcastic thought surfaced: "Ha! At your age!" It immediately silenced my Inner Hot Mama, who gets stuffed deeper and deeper into the psyche--the more I listen to the media and certain women.

"Vous cherchez un rasoir?" the man with curly black hair smiled.

"Oui. Pour mon mari," Yes, for my husband, I pointed out.

"Does he have soft or coarse hairs?" the man replied in English, with a thick French accent. His question set me back.

After all these years I should know whether my husband has soft or coarse whiskers! In a guilty panic I studied the stranger's stubble (a.k.a. la barbe de trois jours).

"Coarse!" I guessed.

"Here, these should be good for a man on vacation," he said, handing me a 6-pack of "Wilkinson Swords."

Vacation? He thinks I'm a tourist. I did not correct him. Instead, I said Merci, c'est vraiment gentil and, as he walked off, I thought of how absurd it was to have confused a pick-up artist with a good samaritan. The ego is a funny thing. One minute it's a Hot Mama, the next it tells itself it should be so grateful, at one's age, for even being noticed at all.


When Mr Two-Rooms-Down came into the kitchen, I touched his stubbly face. "What kind of whiskers do you have?" I said, handing him his razors. "Soft or coarse?"

"Je ne sais pas," he mumbled, pulling me close and planting a kiss on my middle-aged lips. Whatever the mainstream says, I will always be a hot mama in his heart. And for that I'm grateful.

EDIT ME: If you see une faute de frappe (a typo) in French or in English, I would greatly appreciate it if you would point it out in the comments or via email. Merci beaucoup!

Jean-marc teaching kristi golf at golf de dolce fregate provence near bandol
Photo from 2005. This weekend Jean-Marc and I celebrate 30 years since we met in a nightclub in Aix-en-Provence. My husband has enriched my life in a myriad of ways (I even got the word myriad from him, after seeing it in his recent chapter...), and even if I don't golf, I appreciate each new defi or challenge he sets for me, including a recent swim with the dolphins which I hope to tell you about. I've been in some uncomfortable places, because of Jean-Marc's adventurous nature, but oh the stories he gives me to tell! The biggest is our love story, which I am focusing on in our war of the roses and wine memoir. Our intercultural marriage hasn't been easy, as you will see. I hope you will consider buying our book-in-progress, and begin reading it in installments. Click here to support our book project by buying a copy of our memoir, The Lost Vineyard.

Increase your French vocabulary with these useful terms from today's story

le rasoir
= razor

la plaisanterie = banter
n'est-ce pas? = isn't that true
ah, bon? = really
tu t'es fait draguer? = you got hit on?
la jalousie = jealousy
vous cherchez? = are you looking (for something)?
mon mari = my husband
la barbe de trois jours = stubble (stylish stubble)
vraiment = really
gentil = nice
je ne sais pas = I don't know

Valentines day in french roses cards
A valentine for you. I miss exchanging these colorful cards as we did once upon a time with all our classmates. Remember this practice? 

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

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Boui-boui: Jackie and I lick windows in Miami while Jean-Marc gets stuck in immigration

Signs in key west floridaKeeping this French language journal going is a joyous struggle: there is joy in writing it and there is a struggle in maintaining it. Your help is not only appreciated--it keeps me employed. One very helpful way to support this site is to buy a book for a friend, via this link. Or scroll to the end of this post for other options. Now on to today's story, packed with useful French vocabulary in context. Enjoy and bonne lecture! 

Today's French Word: un boui-boui 

   : a small, cheap restaurant, a greasy spoon

Audio File: Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read in French:  

À Freeport, une île de l'archipel des Bahamas, je me suis arrêté pendant 10 minutes dans un petit boui-boui pour avaler des ailes de poulet. In Freeport, an island in the Bahamas archipelago, I stopped for 10 minutes in a small greasy spoon to woof down some chicken wings.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

A Quick Jaunt to the Bahamas from Miami? Quel Calvaire!

All the mask-toting travelers at the airports in Miami, Marseilles, and Munich, made me ill-at-ease, but, apart from the coronavirus scare, our trip to Florida to visit our 22-year-old daughter went relatively smoothly.

Now relaxing on South Miami Beach, my husband suggested a day trip to the island of Bimini--a 4-hour boat ride aller-retour--I knew right away I didn't want to go. The old Kristi would've tagged along (and moaned and groaned the whole intrepid way). But the new Kristi simply released her thrill-seeking husband to court the unknown all on his own. "I'll spend the day with Jackie," I asserted, and so followed my instincts this time around...

...and was spared The 20-hour épreuve my husband would soon suffer....

On Sunday morning Jean-Marc's alarm sounded at 5:30 a.m. causing Jackie (asleep on an air mattress on the floor of our studio rental) to stir and me to ask a few pertinent questions: sun hat? water? ESTA* papers (in addition to his passport, would he need some sort of Visa or waiver)?  

Jean-Marc threw on his yellow and green Brazil soccer jersey, his old swim trunks, and donned his purple Phoenix Suns casquette in time to catch a shuttle that would take him to the port in Fort Lauderdale. As he rushed out the door into the cold dark street, I stretched cozily across the bed, enjoying the extra space and une grasse matinée. 

By 9:45, Jean-Marc was four hours into his journey to the Bahamas (and still waiting for his boat in the Fort Lauderdale terminal...). Meantime, ma fille et moi were en route to a leisurely breakfast at The W Hotel on South Beach. And quelle chance! Jackie's manager treated us to a free buffet, in thanks for Jackie's excellent service as a waitress at their establishment. Qu'est-ce qu'on est fier de notre fille! As we enjoyed les gaufres with heaps of cream, strawberries, and syrup, Jackie mentioned that Papa needed help with his odds-n-ends (yellow, green and purple...) wardrobe. "Your Dad is into vistas and not vêtements... Seashores and summits, not style or trends," I laughed, trying to imagine just where he was now in his adventure: snorkeling beneath turquoise waters? Sunning on a pristine Bahamas beach? Kissing a mermaid? (as he threatened to do when I declined to go with him).

As we ate we were blissfully unaware of Jean-Marc's own petit déj : he had only managed to down a coffee, too seasick from being stuck on a ferry boat. Turns out after that 45-minute shuttle from hell (crazy driver!) and the 2-hour wait at the port terminal, our day-tripper finally made it onto the boat for the 2-hour crossing...only to be redirected away from Bimini owing to rough waters! It was too bumpy, too dangerous to let passengers disembark. So the ship set sail to another island. 

Jackie left a gigantic tip for our waitress and thanked her manager before we left the 5-star hotel and headed to Miami's Design district to faire du lèches vitrines (that's "window licking" in French, i.e. window shopping). A few hours later we had a delicious snack before Jackie needed to head to work for her 4 p.m. shift.

By this time, still on an empty stomach, JM had earned his second pair of sealegs, having finally made it off the rocking boat. He had traveled 10 hours only to get back on a little bus that would drive him 30 minutes across Freeport island in time for 15 minutes of tourism (if you included the greasy chicken wings and beer he wolfed down at a God-forsaken boui-boui).  

Back at our cozy studio, Jackie showered and left for work while I enjoyed a few quiet hours to organize our bags for the next day's journey to Key West. So good not to have to rush! At 6 pm I put on a pretty necklace, some lipstick, fluffed my hair and headed back to the W Hotel for a solo dinner and the chance to see my daughter in action. Her colleagues gave me a grand welcome and showered my daughter with affection, assuring me she was in good company. One of the waiters opened a bottle of champagne in my honor, delivering it to my table with a flourish. I was sorry to have to refuse it, and how ironic that this happened a very special date: This week I celebrate 17 years of sobriety.* 

As I sat sipping bubbly (l'eau gazeuse) and being treated to a four-course meal (including lobster!) I did not know my poor husband, nary a chicken wing in his tummy, was about to be stuck in some hangar in Fort Lauderdale, nor did I realize he did anything other than snorkel or kiss mermaids for the day in the Bahamas....

When Jackie returned to our rental after 11 pm, her Dad was nowhere in sight. By midnight we were sick with worry until a message came through: JM was stuck in immigration. "What if they keep him?" Jackie worried, having had a few of her French friends experience the horror. 

At 1:15 a.m. our intrepid traveler returned from his bumpy ride (still swaying back and forth as he walked) and gladly ate the 5-star take-out from the dinner Jackie had helped treat me to, via her employee discount. After a glass of rosé and a full tummy, our marooned (if only in buses, terminals, and boats) daytripper sank into bed and was out like a light. The old Kristi would have been furious he was kissing mermaids in his sleep. But the new Kristi said, Let him dream his dreams. He deserves it.

Post note: Jean-Marc says the immigration officers were watching the Super Bowl, which took place that day in Miami, and that this is the reason for the delay in passport check. 

EDIT ME: If you see une faute de frappe (a typo) in French or in English, I would greatly appreciate it if you would point it out in the comments or via email. Merci beaucoup!


bonne lecture = happy reading
le calvaire
= cross, ordeal 
un aller-retour = round trip, return trip
une épreuve
= ordeal, trial
la casquette = baseball cap
faire la grasse matinée = to sleep in, to lie in
ma fille et moi = my daughter and I
quelle chance = what luck!
Qu'est-ce qu'on est fier de notre fille! = how proud we are of our daughter!
une gaufre = waffle
Papa = Dad
un vêtement = item of clothing
le petit déj(euner) = breakfast
faire du lèche-vitrine(s) = to go window shopping
l'eau gazeuse = bubbly, sparkling water
un boui-boui = low quality eatery

ESTA = Electronic Papers for Travel Authorization

Jackie and Jean-Marc in Key West
Jackie and Jean-Marc in Key West.
Jean-Marc in Key West

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.

Une bêtise: You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.

View from chateau de pibarnon
We are visiting our daughter in Miami, so I have prepared this re-run for you. I hope it makes you laugh! Photo taken at the beautiful Château de Pibarnon, where our story begins....

Today's Word: une bêtise

    : a mistake, something stupid, something foolish

Improve your French pronunciation with the book Exercises in French Phonics

Audio File: click here to listen to the following French:
Faites des bêtises, mais faites-les avec enthousiasme. -Colette
You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Recently, Jean-Marc and I had the chance to help out with a French documentary about how France is seen abroad by the ones who love that country. A journalist was interested in hearing my story, after learning about our Franco-American life on a vineyard. There was one little pépin, though: we no longer live on a vineyard; thankfully this part was worked out when a kindly châtelain agreed to let us film chez lui.

We arrived at Château de Pibarnon after sunrise Saturday morning, to meet up with Eric de Saint Victor and the film crew. As Eric had a flight leaving in the next few hours, we quickly got to work...

Eric chateau de pibarnon
Eric de Saint Victor and the film crew

There is so much about filmmaking that I did not know. Naively, I figured we would stay an hour or so at the chateau, then return to La Ciotat to shoot the segment about blogging. (I had a bunch of cookies, madeleines, and other pick-me-ups waiting at home, but we would not get to those any time soon...)

Jean-marc talks wine
Jean-Marc, sharing about the difficult decision to sell our vineyard

After 5 hours at the vineyard, we peeled out of the vines in time for lunch--and not before I had made a few cringe-worthy gaffes. Gaffe number one occurred after we were fitted with microphones and instructed to drive up to the caveau de vente, or salesroom. As we reshot that scene several times, I noticed a few things about the film crew, and shared my flippant thoughts with Jean-Marc as we waited in our car for the next Action! call.

They are such a nice team, I began, buckling my seatbelt and chatting with Jean-Marc who was at the wheel. Everyone is so friendly! But I don't think the journalist and the cameraman are getting along... I grinned. 

That's when Jean-Marc looked over at me, matched my grin, and pointed to my microphone. The one I'd forgotten all about and it was recording away....

No time to die of embarrassment, the cameraman and the journalist (wearing headphones...) signaled in unison now for us to drive, and the filming began again, only this time my face was flushed red. Creeping out of the car after the scene was over, I rejoined the film crew. The soundman (wearing headphones...) discreetly pointed out to me: You have a mute button on that little box (in your pocket) if you need it....

I smiled profusely at him and the other two professionals (my eyes pleading forgiveness). Thankfully punishment came quickly enough and I could pay for my chatty sin with the following humiliation, which garnered from the others, I hope, a good inward laugh...at my expense this time.

This happened after I finally got to the restroom after holding it all morning. Once inside the WC, I tore off half my outfit only to discover the dreaded microphone in full volume recording...

A big dilemma ensued: to pee or not to pee? But oh! oh! I had to go!

Not wanting so much as one tinkle to be recorded (and imagining the upcoming remix or montage), I searched desperately for the mute button--and could not find it! I tried ripping the cord out of the unit but became confused by technology (so badly I had to faire pipi). In a last-ditch effort, I gagged the little microphone from hell, the little tattletale, with the help of my wool blazer.

And I promise to pull the wool over my own lips, next time I get the urge to gossip!! 

Many thanks to the very kind (and good-humored!) film crew. I will share more about the production and team members when the documentary comes out. Jean-Marc and I are one of many to participate in it...at least I hope to appear in it...after today's little story!

UPDATE: By springtime, I received an email from the director who informed me that our segment of the documentary was cut. All footage of Jean-Marc and me ended up on the cutting room floor. At this point, I'd be relieved to learn it was my recording gaffe that got us there. But I have a sinking feeling that when the camera began to roll, more bêtises ensued which makes me think I'd better stick to writing and stay away from filming!


une bêtise = a stupid thing
une gaffe = a blunder
compte-rendu = an account of something, a report
la mise-en-scène = staging
le pépin = glitch, snag, mishap
le châtelain = chateau owner
le caveau de vente = wine salesroom
le WC = toilet, lavatory
le montage = editing session

Kristi in cdp vines
Tinkle tinkle little star. After posting this picture on social media, I did get told not to let this experience go to my head. Rest assured that before anything has the chance to go to my head, life will always intervene (as in today's story of the latrine!) But if I ever get out of line--just call me Tinkle Tinkle Little Star.

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!
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Culotté: a cheeky word for you today

KINDLE Do Not Go Gentle. Go to Paris

Travel with award-winning author Gail Thorell Schilling as she jaunts alone to Paris and southern France to ransom her self-confidence and learn how to age in her engaging memoir, Do Not Go Gentle. Go to Paris: Travels of an Uncertain Woman of a Certain Age.  Rattled by fears that she is losing her keys, her job, her looks, this 62-year-old American with a little French and less money transcends mishaps ranging from botched connections to a fickle sweetheart. Her travels expose her to the wisdom of feisty Frenchwomen, still vital in elder years. Joie de vivre, she learns, has no expiration date. Click here to order the book, Worldwide distribution via Amazon.

Today's Word: culotté (koo-loh-tay)

    : cheeky, daring, sassy

Sound File: listen to Jean-Marc read the example sentence from Larousse.fr

Culotté, cela veut dire "avoir du culot, être effronté ; manifester cet état d'esprit : C'est plutôt culotté de venir sans être invité." Culotté, it means "to be cheeky, to be daring; to manifest this state of mind: It is rather cheeky to come without being invited."

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Robot Panties (or Les Culottes en Fer)

By now we are all familiar with the automated side of life, as increasingly machines replace people. But do you ever wonder how Old France is faring in this new world? In the past week, I've been surprised by the degree to which public areas are automated--from fast food to fast doctors we are going to have to have more than steel nerves to function in the coming robotic world....

For now, we must resist while we can.

On our way home from the Alps, I agreed we could stop at Mac Do (as they call it here) on one condition: we would not do the drive-through but would go inside, sit down and eat our lunch (with linens if possible...). This intention to slow down was foiled when we encountered the computerized self-service stations where extra seating used to be. Taking a deep breath, I searched for the "Royale" burger I had the last time I was here (a year ago?). Not finding it, I went to the front counter to order from a human, only to learn that was impossible. All of the registers had been removed, and the counter now served as a barrier. It wouldn't be the first barrier we would run into....

Arriving home a few hours later, I unpacked in time to accompany Mom to the doctor. At the medical center I searched for a secretary when another patient pointed to a dull gray tablet near the exit. Studying the screen I was explaining to Mom how to use the computerized check-in when we ran into another pépin: the instructions were, of course, in French.

"Don't worry Mom. If you ever have to come here alone somebody will help you!" I assured her. With that I offered a pleading look to the two patients, who smiled in solidarity.

From there Mom and I went grocery shopping only for one of us to become frustrated upon learning that every fruit/veg had to be weighed electronically and self-labeled. My feisty Mamacita, having moved here from Mexico (where she had only to reach out her kitchen window to pick papayas) returned everything to the bins and grabbed a prepackaged sack of pears. Harrumph (well, I'll say harrumph. Mom exclaimed a much more colorful word!). If this automated society is challenging for the French, it is baffling for immigrants. Thankfully we aliens could stick together on this changing planet.

On the way to the checkout, we were eager to pay and leave only to learn no humans were available (owing to a broken cash register. The newly remodeled store put in two cash registers and five self-checkouts... Mom and I headed to the second register, only to find it abandoned; we would have to use the self check-out stations. Knowing this would take a while (our motley duo attempted self check last time. If you think weighing 3 apples back at the produce section was complicated, try typing in 46 tiny digits when the scan code doesn't work). Taking another deep breath, I asked if they had a public bathroom (a pressing question since arriving to the store 45 minutes earlier...). Non, the manager smiled, they did not. Now I ask you, who smiles when delivering bad news if not a robot? Which leads me to the point I am trying to make....

Looking around the shiny new store (which included a beverage stand and snacks for sale), I wondered how it was possible to put so much effort into supermarket efficiency and so little thought into human beings? You might say the company's decision to forgo a public restroom was culotté --cheeky on their part!  Humor aside, I (and my bladder) can't help but think: In order to keep up with this futuristic society, we'll need more than nerves of steel, we may need robot panties!  

*    *    *
I leave you with an image of Mom, in her favorite place to shop--the farmers market. The warmth and conviviality cannot be weighed or labeled with a machine. And (at this one, in St Cyr-sur-Mer) the public toilettes are at the end of the leafy lane. :-)


Mac Do
= Mc Donald's
les culottes
= panties, underpants, knickers
le fer
= iron
le pépin = glitch, hitch, snag
= cheeky
les toilettes (nfpl)
= restrooms, bathrooms

Improve your French pronunciation with the book Exercises in French Phonics

Rainbow in La Ciotat
Thank you very much for reading these stories, especially via email. Each week, more people sign off the email listserver--yet another sign of the changing times. It is a crowded world out there and a chaotic inbox only makes it more overwhelming. So merci encore for hanging on, for being a subscriber to this journal. Without you I would not be writing. I leave you with a rainbow, un arc-en-ciel, spotted here in La Ciotat a few weeks ago. I am leaving, now, to visit our daughter in Miami, and hope to post some photos on my Instagram if you would like to follow me there.

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!
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Cheri, did you pay the water bill? Two breakdowns in the Alps....

Find your “joie de vivre” in Provence this summer on our small group tour. Unpack at the villa and become a “local” in our little French village. We offer daily excursions to historical sites, (this year Nimes), the best markets, a private wine tasting/tour and to our secret lavender fields. At Lavender and Vine we make it easy for you to feel at home in Provence.

Today's word (posted in 2004): en panne

    : broken down, out of order

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Last winter Jean-Marc and I bought a tiny chalet in the Alps--so small the previous owners named it "Blanche Neige". So far, we have only tested 3 nains (when Jean-Marc, our son, Max, and friend Jorge went skiing early January). I stayed home, leaving the man trio to share the loft upstairs and the lilliputian quarters below.

This past weekend, Jean-Marc and I drove the 3.5 hours from La Ciotat to Serre Chevalier, to spend time at Blanche Neige and to be with our friends. After a nerve-racking drive in rain and in slippery ice, we made it to the mountains after dark, only to hike past the snow that had made a 3 ft wall in front of the stone cabin. What a relief to make it inside and to light a fire in the poêle à bois before taking hot showers and tucking into bed beneath the rafters.  The next day and night went well, more hot showers and enough water to boil pasta... but on Sunday morning we woke up to a worrisome panne....

I noticed it when I tried to flush the toilet. No water. No water, no flush. In the bathroom, one room over, I turned on the faucet. A few drops came out, et c'est tout! 

Returning to the loft, I made my way over to the mattress on the floor and crawled back into bed. "On a un petit problème," I informed Jean-Marc, who then began to cite a few possibilities, including our facture d'eau.

Did he just say he didn't pay the water bill?

Little stone cabin

I looked outside the windows to snow flurries and an icy winter white scene. It was freezing out and there would be no hot shower this morning. And who knew what else was in store? No water meant no coffee, no tea, no porridge. (Porridge may be an exaggeration, but it adds drama don't you think? Oatmeal sounds so boring. Both, however, require WATER!)

Back to the unpaid water bill (if this indeed is the culprit), the old Kristi would have been fuming inside. But the new Kristi (after 25 years of marriage...) stayed calm and reached for the bottle of Evian beside Jean-Marc's side of the bed. With the few ounces of water that remained, I carefully washed my hands. As for my late-to-pay-the-water-bill husband, if he was thirsty he could drink wine! But I needed to have clean hands--the least amount of comfort given the situation we were in!

We maneuvered our way out of the loft (some ducking, some squatting to get past the wooden beams beneath which we sleep). There in the one-room pièce below Jean-Marc opened a door on the floor and entered the cellar below. After fidgeting with the robinet he asked me to turn on the faucet in the kitchen sink. Nada. Pas une goutte.

Jean-marc calling for help
Jean-Marc, calling the water company

Around this time we heard our neighbors' voices and Jean-Marc went outside to find Françoise at her window and, across the street, Jean-Yves was standing in front of his house. More than sympathizing with our dilemma, our voisins quickly flew into action. Françoise texted the emergency number for our water company and Jean-Yves sent over a giant vase of hot water (a treasure better than gold!) I quickly washed up (à la bird bath) and dressed--in time to answer the door. An agent from the water company had arrived.

Quelle image! Looking out from our diamond-shaped window I saw a character from another epoch. The young man wore an unusual béret: flat as a pizza and around the same size in diameter!

"Quel beau chapeau!" I said, greeting him. Remembering the varying types of bérets (I bought an Italian one (falls nicely over the ears) for my mom last year) I asked, "Is it Spanish?" I noticed his ears were completely exposed and I had a mind to pull down the sides of the flat béret and cover them. It was freezing outside! 

"No, it is from the French army. Ça s'appelle une tarte!"

Next, his colleague arrived carrying a giant cocotte-minute and the two descended into the cellar. With the help of a tank of gas and a blow torch, the men melted the ice that had formed around our pipes and the water flowed once more!

Trap door to cellar
Trap door to the cellar full of wine and icy pipes! (And do you spy Mr Sacks?)

That evening we invited our neighbors over for an apéro to thank them for their help. Françoise brought Danièle, who is lodging with her, and who is doing ski touring with our other neighbor, Jean-Yves, an expert mountain guide. Jean-Yves showed up with un fromage de tête (a delicacy consisting of various meats (ears, cheeks... all combined with a lot of parsley and set with gelatin). As we sat before the fire, chatting, I admitted to Danièle that it is so very hard to ask for help, isn't it? If I had been here alone, I told her, I don't think I would have ventured out to knock on my neighbor's door. I would have tried, somehow, to get by. (I can only imagine, in such a scenario, how things would've looked by day two!) And to think there are people who remain in similar absurd situations...all because they are uncomfortable asking for help. 

Danièle reminded me of the French valeur of solidarity. "Especially here in the mountains, in a far off hameau like this one. We all help each other. Never hesitate to ask for assistance--that is how it works!" On that note I asked our guests about the unusual béret the plumber wore, and the trio each had something to say, beginning with Jean-Yves: "Ce sont les bérets de chasseur alpin." 

"They were worn by the military," Francoise, said. 
Danièle pointed out that these béret-porting troops were the ones who scoured the mountainside during the war both to protect civilians and defend the border.

Jean-Marc added that, since obligatory military service ended some twenty years ago, with President Chirac, certain young men wear the béret out of regional pride and to honor tradition.

My mind returned to the picture I saw outside our diamond-shaped window, of the young man in his extra-wide béret. I remember how timeless he looked. The scene could have very well been from another time and place, except, thankfully, he was only here to rescue our pipes, and, in so doing, prevent a possible guerre des rose or war of the roses. Which reminds me, my hubby did indeed pay the water bill. It was time to thank him for that...only he was already back outside, trying to fix our car which would not start. Oh no! Another panne! 

Many thanks for reading. Edits are most welcome in the comments, below.

Jimny suzuki
And we had just gotten our car out of the shop, remember?

Soutiras beret chasseur alpin militaire
Le commandant Soutiras, officier des Chasseurs alpins, en 1939


Blanche Neige = Snow White
le nain, la naine = dwarf
le poêle à bois = wood stove
la panne = breakdown, out of order
et c'est tout = and that's all
la facture d'eau = water bill, invoice
la pièce = room
le robinet = tap, faucet
pas une goutte = not a drop
le voisin = neighbor
quelle image = what a sight!
la cocotte-minute = pressure cooker
un apéro = pre-dinner drink
un fromage de tête = pork brawn, head-cheese pâté
la valeur = value
le hameau = hamlet
le chasseur alpin = mountain infantry man
Blossoming cover
Book birthday! Blossoming in Provence turned 8 years old last month. This book came together during a 21-day publishing challenge. Today's challenge is to ask for help (still so hard to do!) in getting this book into the hands of someone new. Would you kindly consider buying a copy for a friend? Thank you in advance. Time now to have a piece of cake and celebrate!

I hope you enjoyed a little bit of French history in today's story. Come to France to experience the rich culture. Photo by my friend Beth, from her Lavender and Vine Tour, info here.

Max wearing his wool hat
Our son Max, wearing another timeless hat: after the authentic béret, here's a men's newsboy cap, (more styles 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 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    
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Voir: An assumption...followed by an unforgettable encounter

Patricia Sands book Drawing Lessons
A New Year's sale from Amazon! The spirit of van Gogh lives on the pages of this touching story set in Arles and the intriguing Camargue." Follow Patricia at www.patriciasandsauthor.com or on Instagram

Today's Word: voir

    : to see, watch, look at

voir la vie en rose = to look on the bright side

Audio: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following:
La marque constante de la sagesse est de voir le miraculeux dans le banal. The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE  by Kristi Espinasse

On another of those eye-opening walks (whether for the sunset or the beauty in an encounter) Mom and I were once again enchanted by strangers.

We were halfway along our favorite sentier, when two figures appeared on the horizon. As the couple came into focus, I saw her headscarf and glimpsed his long beard. Malgré moi, my mind interpreted the incoming data:

headscarf + long beard = formal religion observed

Acting out of what I believed was respect, I smiled at the woman but carefully avoided eye contact with the man. Don't ask how I came up with such a protocol, except it was loosely based on a conversation with a North African friend who wore the same modest headscarf: "Men and women," she explained, "unless married, are not to be alone in the same car."

Surely there were exceptions to la règle. I don't doubt she could drive with her father or her son or her nephew or cousin. There was so much to learn about my friend's culture and I enjoyed those days, sipping coffee with her in my kitchen, sharing our faiths.

Meantime, back to the future, Mom and I weren't in a car, but I didn't want to take any chances and end up crossing some sort of invisible boundary when the couple, now a few feet ahead of us, passed. As Mom was unusually quiet tonight, chances were low she would strike up a conversation with the les inconnus--even if it is her joy to do so. We were just about to pass the couple, honorably so, when the unexpected happened....

The man suddenly lunged at us! Flailing an invisible sword through the air, he shouted something unintelligible.

I think Mom caught on before I did, recognizing the man's mock sparring. Turns out he was only pointing out--in a most illustrative way--my own headdress: a wide-brimmed black felt hat.

Confused, I looked at my mom who smiled back playfully at the man with the beard. Mimicking his comic gesture: she swept her own invisible sword back and forth, fashioning a "Z" in the air.

"Zorro!" She said, repeating the man's unintelligible word (or one that hadn't made sense moments ago).

Reaching for my hat, I remembered what it looked like and sure enough--along with my black jeans and black coat, it all brought to mind that sword-swinging character.

"Oui, oui, Zorro!" I laughed, looking the bearded-man directly in the eyes, breaking whatever assumptions and oddly-concocted conclusions I had drawn, letting him know his humor was spot on. Touché!

*    *    *

I leave you with a picture of my funloving Mom as she is wearing a similar hat to the one I had on that day. Enjoy, and remember: ne jugez pas un livre par sa couverture or you might miss a wonderful story! 

Jules my mom in front of coiffeur in la ciotat france
My Mom, on one of our evening walks. I have a similar hat to Mom's, only the hatband is different...see mine below.
le sentier = path
malgré moi (malgré soi) = involuntarily
la règle = rule
les inconnus = the strangers
touché! = you win!
ne jugez pas un livre par sa couverture = don't judge a book by its cover
qui sait = who knows

For more French phrases, try The Penguin French Phrase Book.

Kristi black felt hat backpack
Zorro? I wear wide-brimmed hats in the winter to help keep the bright sun off my face. Mom wears hers because it keeps her warm and she likes the style. Check out these felt hats and protect your skin, as I have to. And qui sait...wearing one might lead to a mind-opening encounter.

*    *    *

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.

An art escape in France + a little more vocabulary for you...


My dear friend Tessa is organizing more art escapades in France, discover the itinerary at Paint in Provence. Her colorful flyer, above, sets the tone for today's topic: art.

Today's Word: MERCURIEL

    : changing (mood), fluctuating, inconstant, variable...

Audio file here, Translation at the end of post.

Le monde est violent et mercuriel--il fera ce qu'il veut avec vous. Nous sommes seulement sauvés par l'amour--l'amour l'un pour l'autre et l'amour que nous mettons dans l'art que nous nous sentons forcés de partager: être un parent; être un écrivain; être un peintre; être un ami. Nous vivons perpétuellement dans un bâtiment en feu, et ce que nous devons en sauver, tout le temps, c'est l'amour. -Tennessee Williams

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Tess came to visit this weekend! She's my longtime painter friend from England, who calls tomatoes toh-mah-toes, says things like "mercurial" (to describe the sea), and calls me Darling  (as in Daar-ling, we must get together soon!).

We decided to have lunch in Bandol so that Jackie and Tess could see each other, too. Jackie is my 20-year-old daughter and she's studying art in Toulon, and waitressing on Sundays for some argent de poche....

Jackie waitressing at Le Jerome in Bandol France with abstract figurative artist Tess Baker
Note: today's story was written two years ago. Jackie now lives and works in Miami.

After lunch, Tess snuck around the corner, with Jackie, to stuff a big tip into the art student's pocket because in France all tips are collected by le patron, and little of it ends up in the pockets of workers. Jackie insists her boss is fair about this, but Tess wasn't taking any chances, having worked in French restaurants over the 4 decades she's lived here.

Abstract Figurative artist Tess Baker in La Ciotat France painting lessons Provence

After lunch in Bandol, and before our stroll beside the--mercurial--sea here in La Ciotat, Tess suggested we sit down and paint. Quelle idée!  

Sensing my fears, Tess had an idea. "We'll paint that lovely willow tree! Let's simply focus on a section of it. We'll paint those branches..." And the way she said it ("braahn-ches") kind of suckered me into this unexpected watercolor session.

My attention was scattered as I watched people walking by our house, sometimes slowing to view the artistic activity here in our garden. Not only was it nerve-racking to be painting beside an artist, but we now had a mobile audience. One of those passers-by was my 8-year-old golden retriever, who parked himself beside my chair. Smokey wanted to play artist, too! which reminded me: just play!

Smokey golden retriever red beret artist
Artist Smokey. photo by Agnès

"Notice the light hitting the side of the leaves, Tess was saying. "Now see the darkness on the other side. Let's start with the light...." Tess had already made several vertical brown strokes on her canvas. I hurried to pick up a paintbrush but it felt as awkward as chopsticks. And which one to use? Thank God there were only two. Mimicking Tess, I picked up the big one.

Tess was painting away with a shade of green...but where was this color green in the paintbox? A childhood rhyme came to mind, as I struggled to remember color mixing...yellow and blue make green... (or did yellow and red make green?) 

"Here, you can use the color I've already mixed," Tess offered. "Just start sploshing it on!"

I glanced over at Tess's own canvas, wondering what all those verticle brown lines were for?

"Those are the branches, darling," she explained, but all I could see (ahead of me) was the green of the leaves!

"Do you need to get your glah-ses?" Tess hinted.

Oh, yes! Mais bien sûr!

Still feeling ill-at-ease before the blank canvas, I bargained with my art teacher: "OK, I'll paint--but only if I can throw it away in the end!

Tess agreed and before long I was settled in. If those paintbrushes felt like chopsticks, the act of painting felt like picking up slippery noodles with these foreign utensils, or brushes. Why was this so difficult for me? I began to think about Tess's former students, and the wonderful works of art I'd seen with my own eyes. And here I could not even paint a leaf--not even an abstract leaf (as we'd agreed to do, to simplify).

"Just let go!" Tess said. I brushed aside all the torturous thoughts and got on with the moment. When else would a chance like this come around again? A little while later I was giddily painting right over my braahn-ches and trees....with a shower of crimson wings (red for determination? Wings for freedom?). Feeling more and more relaxed, I went to re-dip my brush into the glass of water. That's when I noticed how close the cups were...

Kristin Espinasse paintbrush watercolor abstract painting in La Ciotat France French shutters

"Tess, What are the chances I've dipped my brush into my teacup?" I wondered.

But my good friend brushed aside the worry, "Oh, I'm sure I've done it dozens of times myself. Carry on, darling!

And like that, we sipped our colorful tea, and painted gleefully. The tourists strode by and the pepper tree swayed gently, mimicking Smokey's golden tail as he snoozed on and off beneath the artists' table.

 *    *    *

Post note: Later, when I went to prepare dinner, I was surprised to find my little painting tucked into the window above my kitchen sink. Tess had set it there...in case I had a change of heart. I was glad it didn't end up in the poubelle. The little work of art was, after all, a sweet souvenir of our time together.

Pepper tree paints
Need a paintbrush or some watercolors? When you purchase your art supplies here, at Amazon, I will receive, at no extra cost to you, a small commission which helps me to keep up this website. Merci! 

l'argent de poche = pocket money
le patron = the restaurant owner
quelle idée! = what an idea!
la poubelle = garbage

Drawing lessons

In Drawing Lessons (ebook is on sale!) The author of the Love in Provence series returns to the South of France with a poignant portrait of a woman who must learn how to create a new life for herself. Order here. Sale ends January 31st.

Abstract and Figurative artist Tess Baker paint in provence France La Ciotat pepper tree
my friend Tess Baker. Visit her at Paint in Provence.

Translation of today's French quote: The world is violent and mercurial--it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love--love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love. Tennessee Williams 

Horse rider mediterranean sea
Our mercurial sea in La Ciotat and a chance sighting I will never forget, photos 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 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.

Les étrennes: This French custom will have you digging into your pockets.


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    : New Year's gift, tip, bonus

étrenner = to wear or use for the first time; to be first in the line of fire

Listen to Jean-Marc read from FranceTVInfo.fr:
Avec les vœux du Nouvel An arrive le moment des étrennes. Vous ne savez pas à qui donner ni quel montant consacrer à cette tradition ? Ce don d'argent n'est pas obligatoire, mais c'est un signe de gratitude qui permet d'entretenir les liens avec des personnes qui vous facilitent la vie. With New Year's wishes comes the moment of New Year's gifts. Unsure of who to give to or how much to devote to this tradition? This donation of money is not compulsory, but it is a sign of gratitude that allows you to maintain ties with people who make your life easier.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

On Saturday Mom and I were crammed between the two folding doors of the telephone booth (now a tiny, free library brimming with books). We were checking the latest titles, including Shogun, which Mom could not read because it was in French. Helping return the book, I looked out through the window of the cabine téléphonique and spotted Postwoman Marie....

Postlady marie

"Mom! There's Marie! Should we give her her gifts now?"

Mom suddenly confessed she had eaten Marie's present. The giant champagne bottle filled with miniature candy bars had been too much of a temptation, stored as it was for the past three weeks on Jules's kitchen comptoir....

We began searching through our coat pockets for some cash, for this was the opportunity we had been looking for... Tis the season of les étrennes! Time to tip those people in our lives who make our days easier or brighter. (And I certainly appreciate it when Postwoman Marie opens our gate and drops a package--rather than putting a yellow ABSENTE slip in our mailbox for pickup at the post office!)
"Hurry, she's getting back on her motorcycle!" Jules and I sped toward Marie, singing Maria Maria! 
Having caught up with la factrice, we showered Marie with kisses in thanks for her warmth and realness.

 Marie pulled off her heavy casque de moto, revealing bright blue cropped hair.

"Oh, I love the blue!" Mom said, "even more than last week's green!"

"Merci beaucoup," Marie smiled. "Attendez!" She said. Having accepted our gifts, Marie pulled out a stack of calendars from one of the satchels on her yellow motorcycle. "Il faut choisir...."

Mom was thrilled by the unexpected gift, and she thoughtfully examined the selection of themed calendriers....

Il y avait des chevaux, des champs de fleurs....la mer....

Not wanting to keep our postwoman waiting, I nudged Mom to hurry up and select a calendar.

"Oh, I'd better take the kitties," Jules decided, and Marie nodded, from one animal lover to another.
Our factrice put her helmet back on, only for Mom to shower her with more kisses. And when our blue-haired postwoman drove away there were bright pink kiss prints, les bisous, all over her helmet, and hopefully all over her heart.

les étrennes = New year's gift, tip
la cabine téléphonique = telephone booth
le comptoir = counter
la factrice, le facteur = postwoman, postman
la casque de moto = motorcycle helmet
attendez = wait
Il faut choisir = you need to choose
il y avait =  there were
les chevaux = horses
un champ de fleurs = fields of flowers
la mer = the sea
le bisou = kiss

Jean-Marc bottling his Rouge-Bleu vineyard wine
BOOK UPDATE: Jean-Marc and I began our vineyard memoir last April and completed 10 chapters online. This Friday, I will post chapter 11, about the day Jean-Marc informed me he was ready to move on....

Our story, The Lost Gardens, is for anyone who has ever chased after a dream, no matter the cost (to relationships, to one's health, to one's peace of mind).  Click here to purchase and begin reading right away.

Kristi in telephone booth and smokey
picture of the telephone booth-turned-library from today's story

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French Country Diary 2020 Engagement Calendar
Embryolisse - a popular French face cream for men and women
Bonne Maman variety pack - a favorite jam/confiture
All European Travel Plug Adapter Kit

Jules my mom in front of coiffeur in la ciotat france
A favorite picture of my Mom, taken yesterday. More picture on Instagram, if you'd like to follow me there.

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