Not a cougar! A "wife hen"! + James Dean in France!

The James Dean of France... and why I'm not a cougar--in today's post. Read on!

maman poule (mah-mahn-pool)

    : mother hen

You can also say "une mère poule."

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Une maman poule c'est une femme qui couve trop--ou surprotège--ses enfants. Alors qu'est-ce que c'est une femme poule? Cette expression n'existe pas. Mais le personnage, oui! D'après mon mari!

A mother hen is a woman who coddles--or overprotects--her children. So then what's a "wife-hen"? The term doesn't exist... but the character does! According to my husband!

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

"Freudian Slips are on Sale at the Mall. But I'm Paying Dearly for mine"

Last week it was LES SOLDES here in France and I promised to take my daughter to the mall--no matter how much I dread shopping. It's not that I don't love pretty clothes--the problem is finding them, i.e. striking a balance between price and quality--whilst not being faux-flattered by a salesperson, or talked into a buying that Made on Mars far-out dress.

This far out on our shopping trip my 16-year-old and I had managed to make down-to-Earth decisions and after two and a half hours--and a pair of baggy pants and a top for her--and a new blazer for me!--Jackie suggested one last trip around the mall:

"On fait un dernier tour vite fait?" she said, adding, with a batting of her eyelashes, "You are being sooo patient, Maman!"

I flashed Jackie a toothy smile, never mind my teeth were grinding. Anything to make my daughter believe I am patient. We were on our third tour or trip around the mall here at the Centre Mayol in Toulon and after leaving a popular surf shop--where we were jostled around by a troubled sea of shoppers--it came as a relief to enter a quiet boutique. 

It didn't take long to understand why we weren't being trampled on or waiting in long lines for a dressing room. The pricetags! I looked up at the name of the shop, which read "Harper's Bazaar". It shared the same moniker as the fancy magazine, which touts itself "sophisticated, elegant... the fashion resource for women who are the first to buy the best...."

But we weren't looking for the best! A happy-medium--or juste-milieu (yes, a "fair middle!") was what we were after. It was time to remind my daughter of our mission and I did so by a swift suggestion. "On se casse d'ici?" Let's get out of here!

Just as I was backing out of the store, a dazzling smile stopped me in my tracks.

"Je peux vous aider?"

"Oh no, thanks, we were just looking."

But my daughter was so transfixed by the salesboy that she bi-passed her usual timidy and pointed to a pair of shoes :

"Vous avez la taille 38?" Jackie asked. 

I looked at the silver high-tops in question. They were covered with menacing studs. "I don't think those will be in style much longer," I said, pointing to the metal accouterments.

"It's still the style," the salesboy was assuring. That's when I noticed more than his smile.

I stood staring at the tall, dark, and handsome figure before me when my mouth ran off before my brain could tame it:

"You have beautiful teeth!" I said, noticing the gap between his "front two." (The French have a delightful term for this: "happiness teeth" or les dents du bonheur.) 

Coming to my senses--and lest my daughter be horrified by my complimenting the salesboy--I cleared up any confusion: "When you are a 46-year-old woman you can finally say these things!

Only, that's when a heard a cough. Turning around I noticed the only other middle-aged woman in the store. She was shopping at the rack behind me. I wondered, was that a yes or a no cough? Was she agreeing or disagreeing with what I'd just said?

Never mind! Now was as good a time as ever to throw caution--and maybe my checkbook!--to the wind.

"Can my daughter try a 38 and a 39?" (Maybe the larger size would win us one more year of use, something that could be factored into the price, afterall!)

"Bien sûr," he said, running his hand through his untamed hair.

As the salesboy went to get the shoes, my mouth delivered another unbridled compliment. "You are very charming!"

"They call me 'The James Dean of Tunisia,'" he laughed, disappearing into the storage room. 

 I love it! More than a pretty face he was clever

"His name really is James Dean," his supervisor added, joining us in the shoe aisle. "His Tunisian name sounds exactly like it, anyway. He is called "Shahms-ay-deen."

"C'est incroyable!" I said, and spent the next few moments trying to pronounce the name I had just heard, until, soon enough, I was hearing the name of the 50s teen heartthrob--only with an ooh-là-là twist: Shahms-ay-deen.

"But how do you spell it in Tunisian?" I wanted to know, just as soon as the salesboy returned. And, as he wrote down his name (officially spelled "Chams-Eden), I asked if I could snap his photo (see below)....

If up until now I had convinced myself my compliments were no more than a sincere appreciation of an exquisite character, I was dumbfounded by what came next--what could only be explained as a Freudian slip...

This happened at the cash register, as Jackie and I waved goodbye to the dashing salesboy.....

"Thank you." I said. "My sister and I will be back soon!"

Postnote: In the whirlwind of recounting my story, I forgot to tell you why I am truly innocent--a veritable "wife-hen" and NOT a cougar! Anyway, it's what my husband calls me (a wife-hen, that is). But will he still call me this after reading today's missive? Nah. He NEVER reads my stories!

What a cutie. I mean what cute knees... er elbows... er what cute knuckles! 


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   "The Boy I was. The Man I'm Becoming". Our 16-year-old, Max.

le pantalon (pahn tah lown)

    : (pair of) pants, trousers

le pantalon de costume = dress pants
le pantalon à pinces = pleated pants
le pantalon battle = cargo pants
le pantalon cigarette = straight-leg pants
le pantalon 5 poches = 5 pocket 

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

"Plants in My Pants"

It is especially quiet in my office when a sudden bruit has me practically leaping out of my chair. What was that?! My mind quickly replays the sound... a ripping? ...a scratching (like the opening of a velcro wallet)? Then again, I wonder if what I've heard... is the sound of seams splitting.

I study the pants that I am wearing: hand-me-downs from my son. I'd bought Max the handsome pin-stripped pantalons to wear to a family wedding last year. They were a little pricey, or chérot... so I had my doubts about buying them for a growing boy (one who'd just turned 15). Only, standing there, outside the dressing room, admiring the young man in the mirror in front of us, I was spellbound. How dashing he looked in the dress pants and the tailored, wide-cuffed chemise!

Max didn't seem to recognize himself... only after a little strutting back and forth did his movements match up with those of the confident stranger in the mirror. "Mom, please," Max pleaded. "I've got to have these!"

"Alright," I answered, adding one stipulation, "Just don't grow out of them too quickly! Promise?"

(Max a juré....)


Sometime last week, Max broke his oath--having grown several sneaky centimeters in the last three seasons! I knew I had to put the pants into the giveaway pile.... a reality that gnawed at me (he'd only wore the pants once! You could still see the stringy fibers from the price tag!).

A light went off in my head: maybe I could be the lucky pants-recipient? I pulled off my gypsy skirt and stepped into the pantalons....

The pants fit! Next I knew I was mimicking my son, strutting back-n-forth before le miroir. Could I? Could I wear them?! I wondered. There appeared to be only one problem: that little "flooding" action around my ankles. Though I tried to deny it--pulling the pants down low on my hips--the pant legs were un cran too short....

And then I had another revelation! Reaching down I rolled up the pant legs. Voilà! I could wear the pantalons as capris!...

...and I have done just that, for days now, as one wears a uniform. Everything was going smoothly until, one evening, while working at my computer I heard that troubling sound... Yes, the sound of seams... seams splitting!

I leaped out of my chair and searched my pants for any accidental openings.... When no rips or splits were to be found. I breathed a sigh of relief, a little prematurely....

Just then, it happened again: ccccccrrrrriiiikkkkkk!

Instantly my hands flew back, to the seat of my pants. I felt along the vertical seam. My neck strained as I tried to see over my shoulders... The stitches seemed to be intact. But no sooner had I reassured myself than CRRRRIIIIICKKKK!

This time my hands landed on my front pockets, where the smooth surface was found to be bumpy. Now what?!...

My hands plunged, automatically into my pockets and that is when I discovered the source of all my souci: SEEDS!

I remembered back to the walk I'd taken earlier that evening, through the vineyard and out to the wild garrigue. My friend Toni had helped me collect seeds from the dried branches of the broom bushes, their licorice-scented yellow flowers now shriveled and feeding the earth beneath us. I'd stored the dried, closed pods in my front pocket for safekeeping....

...And now, hours later, those seed pods were springing open! Pop! pop! pop! P-p-p-p-p-POP!

I looked into the palms of my hands at the open shells and the liberated seeds--and shook my head, appreciatively. I had to give them credit--they sure fooled me with their humbling cacophony! Meantime, I'd get to keep the pants! The seeds could continue splitting and, with a little water, grow up into bigger things, just as my dashing son is doing.


 Le Coin Commentaires

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Related stories

That gypsy skirt makes another appearance in this story.

And the fun word saperlipopette is featured in this missive.

Discover the joy of seed collecting, in this tribute to the Dirt Divas.

View a picture of that Scottish broom (the seeds of which I collected in today's story).


French Vocabulary - (under construction)

le pantalon = pants

chérot = pricey

la chemise = shirt

Max à juré = Max promised

saperlipopette = oh my goodness!

le miroir = mirror

un cran = a peg a notch

le souci = worry

la garrigue = wild Mediterranean scrubland 

Seed eaters in the town of Orange.

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Max at 5 years old and at 16. Mom found the hat in an antiques store. GDF stands for Gaz de France. I wonder whether the hat was worn by a post war government worker. More on GDF from Wikipedia: Gaz de France was created with its sister company Électricité de France (EDF) in 1946 by the French Government. After the liberalisation of Europe’s energy markets, Gaz de France also entered into the electricity sector, having developed combined natural gas-electricity offerings.

Featured Story from the archives:

"Le Mot Juste": a story about a mysterious man I met in Croatia. Click here to read 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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St Tropez braderie = clearance sale (c) Kristin Espinasse

brader (brah-day) verb

1 to sell off; to sell for next to nothing
2. (se débarrasser) to get rid of

une braderie = a sidewalk, clearance sale

brader les prix = to cut prices

Acheter ce dont on n'a pas besoin, c'est le moyen d'aller de tout à rien. Buying what we don't need is the way to go from all to nothing.

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

On a humid and hazy vendredi matin, we arrive in St. Tropez to find the parking lot presque plein. Along the port the artists are setting up shop: a chair, several canvases for sale and a work-in-progress on the easel. Multi-million dollar yachts are parked alongside a dozen or so small fishing boats for equal opportunity frimerie. A restaurant on the port announces its "Menu Braderie" -- a bold offering when you consider that "braderie" means "to get rid of" (yesterday's Bouillabaisse? day-old baguettes?).

We are in St. Tropez ("St. Trop" for the locals) for the famous Braderie d'Automne. 100,000 shoppers are expected to descend on the former quaint fishing village with hopes to "dénicher la bonne affaire."

Not fifteen steps into our quest for les bonnes affaires and we are stalled in a cramped rue piétonne, swallowed up by power shoppers.

"You've got to push." Barbara says. I look up at all these delicate French women and am afraid of crushing them, or at the very least ruffling their delicate chemises.* I push. Pardon. Oh, pardon. Pardon...

In front of every boutique, tables full of discounted merchandise. Kiwi brand bathing suits at 30 Euros instead of 90, GAS jewelry at 20 euros instead of 65. "Ça vaut la peine,"* the women say, as they sort through boxes of bijoux de fantaisie.*

Nothing for sale outside Louis Vuitton's and in front of Tommy Hilfiger's, no tables. The mannequins in the window are stripped. Inside, the salespeople look like TH models. C'est rigolo.*

"C'est..... Trop!" I say to Barbara, as we surface from la foule.*
"On ne sait plus ou donner de la tête!"* she says, translating my sentiments into her French.

Early on, I realize I would rather be watching than rummaging. I long to be a French seagull perched high on a colorful striped canvas store,* making harmless tongue-in-beak commentary as the Tropéziens file by, weighed down with chic paper shopping bags.

From where I am, c'est-à-dire,* sea level, in the belly of the crowd, I see a lot of bare midriffs, cleavage and pouty lips. I see men with coiffed hair and shoppers in talons hauts* toting dogs the size of an American football. I listen to the French who say things like, "Ils ont pas beaucoup de choses à brader là-bas."* Or, "Ici, c'est que les vieilleries!"*

We leave St.Trop with four small sacs* between us. Swim trunks for Barbara's son and a few nappes* for my friends and family back home. The sun eventually crept through the fog offering us a free St. Tropez tan, without the jingle cream, without le bain. And we are left with un bon souvenir* of a day in late October à un prix assez bas.*

*References: vendredi matin (m) = Friday morning; presque plein = almost full; frimerie = (a made up word from "frimer" = to show off); dénicher la bonne affaire = to unearth a good deal; une rue piéton (f) = pedestrian street; une chemise (f) = a shirt; Ça vaut la peine = it's worth the trouble (rummaging); les bijoux de fantaisie (m) = costume jewelry; c'est rigolo = it's funny; Ils ont pas beaucoup de choses à brader là-bas = they don't have a lot on clearance over there; une vieillerie (f) = old thing; la foule (f) = the crowd; C'est trop = It's too much; On ne sait plus ou donner de la tête! = We don't know where to begin (to look); un store (m) = awning; c'est-à-dire = that's to say; les talons hauts (m) = high heels; un sac (m) = shopping (bag); une nappe (f) = tablecloth; le bain (m) = bath (sun bath); un bon souvenir = a good memory: à un prix assez bas = for quite a low price

To read more stories about this French life, click on the book cover below:


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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