Esprit + Explaining your religion in France.....a tricky undertaking

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Hoping to see some of you at tomorrow's Alliance Française (Denver) meetup! It's from 5-7 pm. 

esprit (es-pree) noun, masculine

  : mind;  wit; spirit

Audio File
Listen to my son, Max (12 years old at the time), pronounce today's word & quote:Download esprit.mp3

Il y a une  dimension spirituelle dans chaque relation. Lorsque deux personnes se réunissent, c'est que l'esprit le veut ainsi. There is a spiritual dimension in every relationship. When two people come together, it is because the spirit wanted it that way. --African proverb

Improve your French pronunciation with Exercises in French Phonics.

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE

    by Kristi Espinasse

(story written in 2007)

I arrived to pick up my daughter at summer day camp where the director greeted me with a cheery "Hello!" After her warm English greeting and a bit of shoot-the-breeze papotage, she pointed to my daughter's necklace with its cross pendant.

"Are you Protestant?" she inquired.

Here we went again with The Religious Affiliation Question. I'd gone over this before with the Catholic priest during premarital counseling.* If it was difficult to describe my spiritual orientation then, I must confess that, thirteen years later, I still haven't quite pinned it down.

"No, I'm not Protestant," I began.
"Catholic?" the director guessed.
"No, not really," I answered, regretfully, for if I were Catholic I would have "l'embarras du choix" or quite a selection of churches to go to given the number of églises catholiques in France.
"But your children were baptized?"
Oh, dear! This is where things get complicated...
"Er, yes... in the Catholic church."
The director looked as confused as I felt.

"I'm not Methodist," I continued, by deduction. Perhaps Baptist? Was I Baptist after all? "Baptiste" is a popular French prénom that signifies "plonger dans l'eau." I myself was immersed in water, there in a desert church (on Central Avenue, to be exact) and not far from Katz Delicatessen where I would, years later, nurse a bowl of matzo ball soup and wonder about how to convert to Judaism. My boyfriend back then, Howard, had explained to me that, should we marry and have children, our family would observe certain rituals. Words like "bar mitzvah" were as foreign to me as the French language which, unbeknownst to me, was just around destiny's corner....

"I am Muslim," The director offered encouragingly. Catapulted back to the present moment, I looked over at my daughter's cross and realized how different life has turned out. No more visits to Katz's deli. I had lost my best friend when my relationship with Howard ended. But, just as it wasn't religion that separated us, I sensed that the same was true for the Muslim director and me.

I know little about the Muslim religion and when I admitted as much, the director's warm response included an invitation to a un congrès where villagers of all faiths come together in the spirit of breaking down barriers.

As I contemplate my religion, the vision of white robes swaying, hands clapping, and feet dancing takes me away... to Dorothy Love Coates & the Original Gospel Harmonettes...and to The Soul Stirrers and their thumb snapping tune "Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb." Tunes like "Oh Happy Day!" and Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers to Cross" speak to me like no denomination can. "Amazing Grace," whether sung by Judy Collins or Ani Difranco, moves me like ministry.

I still hadn't answered the director's question. The time had come. I looked into her searching eyes with my own and, for the first time, understood the uncommon denomination that best described my faith: not Methodist or Mormon, not Born Again or Buddhist, not Catholic or Confucian.

"Do you know music?" I asked. "You know, 'le gospel..."
"Oui!" the director said in anticipation.

I cleared my throat and my conscience at once when the following words tumbled out:

"I'm Gospel."

                                    *    *   *

The director looked at me, her eyes bright with compassion. We were no longer American, French, or North African, no longer Muslim or Christian. We were soul sisters.

*  *  *


FRENCH VOCABULARY 

le papotage (m) = small talk; premarital counseling: don't miss the chapter "attendre" and learn about my wedding day and more, click here; une église (f) catholique = Catholic church; le prénom (m) = first name; plonger dans l'eau = to plunge into the water; un congrès (m) = conference: goh-spell = (French pronunciation for "gospel" music)

Keep up your French...and help support this free web journal when you purchase a copy of my book. Click here to order. Merci beaucoup!

Words-in-a-french-life

Caper bush on Corsica with capers and flowers
I leave you with a beautiful caper blossom, thriving from the Mediterranean sea breeze. 

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!


Culte: How I found out I was in a sect in France (humor)

Today's word: un défi

    : a challenge

lancer un défi = lay down a challenge

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Note: the following (humorous) story is not intended to start a religious debate, but to highlight just one aspect of French life. Please read it under the filter of cultural understanding! As always, this is a personal journal about my life, and one aspect of that--albeit a big one--is faith.

Mom and I went to church together for the first time in 30 years. You'll like this one, I assured Jules. That said, I warned Mom not to be alarmed when she heard the word 'culte'--it simply meant 'worship service'.

"It could be," Mom surmised, "that in France, a non-Catholic church is referred to as a cult."

Do you think? In any case, in English we don't use the word in the same way; cult, it seems to me, is most often associated with a group whose members have been brainwashed, or undergone un lavage de cerveau. Come to think of it, some would say as much of we believers, or nous les croyants... But that is another story and we won't get (too) religious here today--lest some of you sign off before I can secretly and methodically convert you! 

Not to worry, I am primarily here to share the French language and my life, ici dans l'Héxagone, for the past 25 years. Early on, I hoped to find a church, but I never thought it would take this long. It was a chance encounter with another marcheur (along the path I take each morning) that brought Mom and me to this tiny local just off the old port here in La Ciotat.

baptist evangelical church eglise evangelique in la ciotat france
With all of 12 members in attendance, things went relatively well during our first visit to L'Eglise Evangélique Baptiste--apart from my singing Grace Infinie off-key, and Mom's fit of yawning (who could blame her, she doesn't understand French!) which began an hour into the culte. But by our second visit, a week later, Mom and I were in the swing of things, juggling two song books, confidently accepting the Eucharist (Ouf! It was only grape juice! wish I'd known that last week....) and having located the donation box (marked Grazie! on the side. The church's treasurer is Italian). 

We especially appreciated the young guest pastor, from l'île de la Réunion. His message on How Not to Worry and his words on positive thinking made me wish my whole family was present. So when he mentioned un défi at the end of the service, challenging us to bring one person to next Sunday's service, I began to wonder who I could invite....

Then, last night, my son and his friend Paul were here, busily making dinner. As Paul prepared homemade French fries, I sidled up to the kitchen counter and smiled. "Hey, do you want to come to church with me next week?"

Max didn't respond right away, but our frites maker chimed right in. "You go to church?" Paul seemed surprised.

"Yes. I do now! To the Baptiste Evangelique church."

"Oh..." Paul said, a sly grin on his face. Isn't that a sect?

"A sect! Paul, don't say that! No, it's not a sect! It's a Christian church." 

"Yes, well, we (French) consider it a sect," Paul said plainly.  

There followed a surreal moment in which my feet were now firmly in the shoes of every other religion on the fringes of what society deems classic, and the question begged: Did the French see me as a Jehovahs' Witness? 

Paul nodded. "Kristi, you did try to get me to come to church...your church did ask you to go out and find new members..." 

Trying to explain my denomination (Baptist? Protestant? Gospel?) to Paul via a creaky rendition of Oh Happy Day didn't work either. Paul smiled patiently, and asked, "Have you ever heard that sung in a French cathedral?"

No, admittedly. But I thought the French loved Gospel! What about all the Gospel concerts that fill up each summer? Did they consider gospel singers as part of a sect, too?

In the end, we all agreed it was a great song! And so the evening ended with Max, Paul and me belting out Oh Happy Day over a delicious plate of frites. Hallelujah for French fries and peace to all of those who's shoes we have not walked a mile in. It is better to feel empathy than to define it. I will never forget those 5 minutes in which I stood wearing, in another's eyes, a cloth that did not define me--a T-shirt market SECT. And I could see, for the first time, how things might actually look to the French, and how things could  actually feel to those on the fringes.


***
Further reading: In this blog's archives, check out Explaining your Religion in France

FRENCH VOCABULARY

le culte = service, worship
un lavage de cerveau = a brainwash
le croyant, la croyante = believer
l'héxagone = France
le marcheur = walker
le local = room in a building 
ouf! = phew!
un défi = a challenge
une frite = french fry

Kristi Words in a French life
For more about French cultural differences, please check out my book Words in a French Life (click here).

Thank you for considering a contribution today!
Ongoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and improving this free language journal, for the past 18 years. If you enjoy this website and would like to keep it going, please know your donation towards this effort makes all the difference! No matter the weather, on good days or bad, I am committed to sharing a sunny, vocabulary-packed update with you, one you can look forward to. I hope it fuels your dreams of coming to France while expanding your French vocabulary. A contribution by check or via PayPal (or credit card, links below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!