A little port de pêche in Marseilles

noun, feminine
Scene 1

My 8-year-old strides up in a leopard skirt, pink sequined sandals, and her swim top—the one with the real coquilles sewn on.

"J'ai fait mon lit," she reports. She has also swept the floor of the séjour and, without my asking, she has watered the begonias, the tomatoes, and the thirsty peach tree. She must want something.

"Je peux avoir une pêche, maman?"

I look out the window to the fruit-laden pêcher—thirteen peaches this year! But shouldn't they be bigger than the fuzzy orange balls hanging from the branches?

"I think we should leave them," I decide. "They're not ripe yet."

"But it is the first day of summer!" my daughter pleads.

It is hard to resist her enthusiasm, all the more so when I think of the amusing scene I witnessed yesterday. Jackie was standing beneath the little tree, her nose pressed to a peach. She wasn't allowed to pick the fruit, but no one said she couldn't inhale it!

Scene 2
It's four days later, and the peach tree is nearly bare!

"Who ate all the peaches?" I shout.

Max and Jackie point fingers at each other. Jackie swears she's eaten only two. As for Max, he's halfway to the front gate, about to take off down the street.

"You ate NINE peaches?" I scream, chasing after him.

"But most of them were on the ground already!" Max hollers back.

Scene 3

I am lying on the couch, a small peach cradled between my nose and upper lip. I don't dare eat it, but I can inhale it. Earlier, Jackie had tiptoed into the living room with the fuzzy peace offering. The little peach is soft and warm, and the chaleur sends a strong fruity infusion into chaque narine, calming me and sending images of would-have-been delights: peaches 'n cream... peach pie...warm peach soup... peach cobbler....

The aromatic smorgasbord fills me up, until my evil plan (involving next year's peach harvest and the aiming of a fresh-baked pie toward two little thieves' faces) disappears—as fast as the fruit had vanished, there on our little peach tree.

Your Edits Here. Any thoughts about this story or its composition or its ending? Thanks for pointing out typos and other mistakes, here in the comments box.

French Vocabulary

la coquille
J'ai fait mon lit
 I made my bed

le séjour

Je peux avoir une pêche, Maman?
May I have a peach, Mom?

le pêcher

peach tree 

la chaleur

chaque narine
each nostril

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Brignoles (c) Kristin Espinasse
Some French streets are so small that you wonder how deliveries are made to these tiny shops.

to pout or sulk


I notice my husband is shaving this morning, something he rarely does anymore, now that he’s working from home as a wine sales rep.

"Where are you going?" I ask.

"En tournée."

"Prospecting? Where?" I wonder.

"In Saint-Raphaël."

Saint-Raphaël? My mind fills with visions of the foamy sea, sandy beaches, sidewalk cafés and brasseries, the boardwalk, the boutiques, the marché, and the glamorous Belle Époque architecture.... Suddenly a pulsion comes over me. The pulsion to pout.

"I didn't know you were going out today...." I grumble.
"Well, do you want to come with me?" Jean-Marc offers.

"You know I can't come with you. I have work to do!” With a huff and a puff I leave the room.


In 1994 the only conseil Jean-Marc's ailing grandmother gave me before I married her grandson was this: "ne boude pas." Don’t boude when love gets tough! “C’est terrible—insupportable!—une femme ou un mari qui boude!

I hurried to look up the word bouder just as soon as I returned from Grand-mère’s modest apartment in Lyon to Jean-Marc’s studio in Marseilles. I was hesitant to ask my husband-to-be what the word meant. What was it that was so terrible, so insufferable… something a husband or wife should never ever do? And why had Jean-Marc’s grandmother selected this bit of counsel above the rest?

"Germaine," as Jean-Marc’s mamie was called, was a stern woman who saw the collapse of a family fortune. In Morocco, after the war, she peddled house linens from her Estafette (a converted military supply vehicle) as there were six mouths to feed. When her husband, a prisoner of war, returned from la guerre, Germaine continued to "wear the pants," selling her linens porte-à-porte, while her husband went seaside to cast out horrific battle images along with his fishing line.

My first encounter with Germaine had me watching the once-authoritarian-now-frail woman eat the eyes right out of the fish on her plate! No sooner had I recovered from the fact that the French serve their seafood with its heads and tails intact, than I witnessed this unforgettable eye-popping scene!

Apart from Germaine’s advice not to sulk, she taught me where all those forks, knives, and cuillères belong on the French table, at once thoughtful about her bourgeois upbringing, and méprisante of it.


The French word bouder, it turns out, means “to pout”. From bouder comes the noun boudoir, which originally meant "a place in which to sulk". Though the dictionary says that a boudoir is "un petit salon de dame," it is really nothing more fancy or exciting than a pouting room.

I return to my sulking place, and continue to work and to sniff. Je boude, je boude!

"We'll leave in 10 minutes?" my husband suggests, popping his head in from the hall.

"I didn't say I was going with you!" I snap.

"Well, if you change your mind, I am leaving in 10 minutes."

I continue to faire la tête, or "be in the sulks," while my husband prepares for his surely glamorous tournée along the French Riviera. At my desk, I peck at the faded keyboard, staring into the dismal screen. I can’t concentrate on writing a story when I’m so busy obsessing about my husband’s freedom:

"Monsieur Espinasse goes to the sunny Riviera," I grumble. "Monsieur Espinasse would like the plat du jour. Would Monsieur fancy a glass of champagne with his foie gras?"

Despite my ridiculous imaginings and the cynical commentary that accompanies them, I know that reality is quite different. My husband’s door-to-door sales day will be spent lugging 18-kilo boxes of wine from one cave to another, navigating medieval roads, trying to find parking in a small French village full of one-way streets!

The glamorous day will continue as he stops for lunch at a grimy roadside gas station where he’ll pick up one of those preservative-rich sandwiches: un jambon beurre or un pan-bagnat. He’ll wash that down with a cup of bitter coffee before rushing to the next appointment. Finally he will weave in and out of traffic on the autoroute, struggling to get back to our village in time to pick up our son from basketball at the end of the day.

Meantime I will be working freely at my computer, trying to write the next great American story (or so my imagination would like to think!). To my left, there’ll be a café au lait, before me, the adventure of my choice, if I will but find the words to transport me there. Will I ever find the words? Oh, to be transported!

"Do you know what the word boudoir means?" I am out of breath, catching up to my husband, who is loading cases of wine into the trunk.

"Comment?" What's that? he asks.

"Boudoir. It's French," I reply.

"No. I don't know that word. What does it mean?" Jean-Marc asks, opening the car door for me.

“A sulking place,” I laugh. “It’s a place to bouder, or to be in the sulks.”

"Are you in the sulks?" Jean-Marc teases.

“Oh no, not me!” I glance out of the car window, to the heavens above. I hoped Germaine was watching. God rest her courageous, peddler’s soul.

I look over to the other peddler, seated beside me. Germaine would be proud of her grandson, who has, in his own way, followed in her steps.  


French Vocabulary

une tournée
a sales round (sales prospecting) 

le marché

une pulsion
an impulse

un conseil
a piece of advice

ne boude pas!
don't sulk!

C’est terrible—insupportable!—une femme ou un mari qui boude!
It's awful—intolerable—when a wife or a husband sulks!

la grand-mère

la mamie

la guerre


une cuillère

contemptuous, scornful

un petit salon de dame
a woman's sitting room

faire la tête
to sulk, to give somebody the silent treatment

le plat du jour
the day's special (in a restaurant)

un kilo
a kilo, or 2.2 pounds

une cave = cellar

un jambon-beurre
a ham sandwich with butter

un pan-bagnat
a sandwich made with tuna and olives (specialty from Nice)

une autoroute
motorway, highway

le café au lait
coffee with milk


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LunettesVintage art print by George Ham

In books: Murder in Montmartre by Cara Black
"If you've never been to Paris, or you'd like to go back soon, let Cara Black transport you there."-Linda Fairstein

la lunette (lew-net) noun, feminine
  1. telescope
  2. les lunettes = (pair of) glasses
  3. toilet seat

Les lunettes cachent beaucoup de choses--même une larme dans l'oeil. Glasses hide a lot of things--even a teary eye. --Sören Kierkegaard

A Day in a French Life...
Last week I stopped at the lunetterie* to get my shades repaired. The shop assistant smiled from the back of the store, pointed to the telephone at her ear, and said, "J'arrive!" I'll be right there!

She needn't have rushed. I'd already put up with the sunglasses this long as they tumbled down my face or sat lopsided like a parked teeter-totter on the bridge of my nose. The lenses, which are "de vue,"* had begun popping out ages ago. How many times had I picked up les verres* from the sidewalk, only to wrestle them back in again?

I have never known an optical shop to charge for a frame adjustment. So I always feel uneasy as the lunetier* puts paying work aside to tend to my lopsided specs. This time I made sure I had some cash on hand.

When the boutique assistant put down the phone and said, "A vous, madame," I showed her my glasses, apologizing for their tattered état.* Next, I watched her push and mold the frame back into shape. "Essayez-les,"* she said now and again.

Once the lunettes* were adjusted and snug against my face, I promised I would never again push them back as a makeshift hair band (the reason for their current condition).
"Combien je vous dois?"* I asked, just in case.
"Rien," Nothing, smiled the optician.
I reached into my pocket and handed her the pourboire* that I had prepared.
"RIEN!" she insisted.
"Merci," I replied, mumbling something about needing a few cartes postales* and, in a haphazard fashion, pulling together a half-dozen cards, trying to get the total to add up to five euros.

The shop assistant counted the cards. "Trois euros soixante, s'il vous plaît."* she said. I handed her the five euro note and told her to please keep the change.
"Non," she said. With that, she looked at me straight in the eyes and said firmly:
"Les bons comptes font des bons amis." Good accounts make good friends.

References: la lunetterie (f) = frame maker; de vue = prescription (lenses); les verres (mpl) = lenses; le lunetier (la lunetière) = optician; l'état (m) = condition; Essayez-les = Try them on; les lunettes (fpl) = eyeglasses; Combien je vous dois? = How much do I owe you?; le pourboire (m) = tip; la carte postale (f) = postcard; trois euros soixante = three euros sixty

Listen: hear Jean-Marc pronounce the word "lunette": Download lunette2.wav

Related terms and Expressions:
lunetté(e) = bespectacled
lunetier(ière) = (adj) spectacle, (noun) optician; eyeglasses manufacturer
la lunetterie = eyeglass, spectacle trade
un étui à lunettes = an eyeglasses case
la lunette arrière = rear window
porter des verres = to wear glasses
les lunettes de soleil = sunglasses
chausser mieux ses lunettes = to pay more attention
un nez à porter des lunettes = a big nose (a nose for wearing glasses)
voir les choses par le petit bout de la lunette = to have tunnel vision or a narrow outlook

...and in English there is the phrase "lunette window" for the piece of cloth that covers the eye of an ornery (lunatic?) horse.

Gift ideas for la Fête des Pères / Father's Day at Something French.

In books:
Play and Learn French : The fun, easy, and natural way to get kids started in learning French.
SmartFrench Audio CDs for Beginners II
French for Children (Language for Children Series) (Audio CD)

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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Bonbon (c) Kristin Espinasse
photo: a street vendor of sweets in Nice.

Paris Sweets : Great Desserts From the City's Best Pastry Shops: An elegant gift for Francophiles, armchair travelers, bakers of all skill levels, and certainly for oneself. --Broadway Books

parier (par-yay) verb
   to bet

Le meilleur moyen pour ralentir un cheval est de parier sur lui. The best way to slow down a horse is to bet on him. (From Murphy's Law: "One way to stop a runaway horse is to bet on him." )

A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
After circling our town's parking lot, then heading down the lane that runs between the old music kiosk and the town hall, we have come to the end of our parking possibilities. There are no available spaces. Even the illegal spots have been snapped up.

When Jean-Marc stops the car in the middle of the road, killing the engine, my nerves perk up and prepare to be rattled.

"If someone comes," he says, now half-way out of his seat, "move the car."

At this point, I am beginning to wonder if stopping for bonbons is really worth a parking amende.
"Why don't we just go straight to the beach, as we planned?" I suggest.

"Because I promised the kids candy," Jean-Marc insists.

I convince my husband to park in front of the Crédit Agricole bank when the no-parking zone near the ATM becomes up for grabs. Jean-Marc pulls up to the strip of yellow diagonal lines and parks over them. Next, he gets out of the car and crosses the street to enter the Maison de Presse, where the man who sells magazines and newspapers doubles as the candy man.

After a few minutes spent waiting in the car, Jackie's patience wears thin. "Je parie qu'il regarde les journals," she bets. 

"JourNAUX," Max pipes in, correcting his sister's grammar.

We pass the time betting or correcting or just watching the villagers walk by, occasionally waving to those we know. When the kids begin to wonder what is taking their father so long, I realize Jean-Marc has indeed perused a few newspapers, scanning the sports headlines, before walking up to the counter and asking for "deux mélanges" (the owner's clue to fill two small white sachets with a mix of candy from the plastic bins next to the register).

"Je parie qu'il mange un de nos bonbons," Jackie says, causing Max to zero in on the shop window and see if anyone is stealing HIS sack of candy.

Meanwhile, I am amused at the thought of Jean-Marc eating bonbons in the book shop.

Finally Jean-Marc--in shades and a Hawaiian shirt that reflect his casual attitude--returns. The kids verify that the bonbon sachets are intact and I look down to discover a third bag of candy. Qu'est-ce que c'est?

"It's for you and me," the man in the aloha shirt smiles.

Mirroring his sourire, I pick up the small white sachet and notice the slogan next to the candy maker's name: "C'est beau la vie!" it reads.

The French words mirror my thoughts: Life is beautiful.

French Vocabulary

le bonbon

une amende
parking ticket

la Maison de Presse
store selling newspapers, magazines, and books

Je parie qu'il regarde les journals
I'll bet he's looking at the newspapers

le sachet

Je parie qu'il mange un de nos bonbons
I bet he's eating one of our candies

qu'est-ce que c'est?
what is this?

la sourire

Listen: hear the word 'parier' pronounced: Download parier2.wav

Terms & Expressions:
un parieur (une parieuse) = a punter, better
parier pour = to bet on
parier contre = to bet against
parier à coup sûr = to bet on a certainty
parier aux courses = to bet on the races

Conjugation: je parie, tu paries, il/elle parie, nous parions, vous pariez, ils/elles parient  => past participle = parié

501 French Verbs includes a bilingual list of more than 1,250 additional French verbs, helpful expressions and idioms for travelers, and verb drills and tests with questions answered and explained.

Dictionary of French Slang and Colloquial Expressions lists approximately 4,500 common slang words and colloquial expressions. Entries include grammatical information, the definition in English, a sentence or phrase to illustrate usage, and an English translation of the example and, where applicable, a corresponding English slang expression. Each entry also identifies the word or phrase by type: student or youth slang, political slang, literary slang, and criminal and drug-related slang.

.....Le Kawa, continued................................................................
More on Friday's word, le kawa (coffee), from a few friends (who also offer total immersion language programs in France--just click on their emails (replacing "AT" with @) for more info)!

From Maribel (mzabbanATclub-internet.fr):
"...l'origine de Kawa vient d'Afrique du Nord...tout comme "kif kif" pour pareil.... les français se sont appropriés ces mots qui ne sont ni de l'argot, ni du français, mais que tout le monde connaît et utilise."

(...the origine of kawa is North African, like (the term) "kif kif" for "the same"... the French have adapted these words that are neither slang, nor French, but that everyone knows and uses.)

From Nadine (nadalangATcomcast.net):
"Saviez-vous que le mot kawa est le mot arabe (francise)  kahwa? (tout comme "toubib", docteur?)
(Did you know that the word kawa is the (Frenchified) Arab word "kahwa" -- like "toubib" is for doctor?)

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noun, masculine
an announcement (of birth or marriage or death) 


This morning I received an email from a longtime reader. Only, on closer look, there was something unusual about the courriel: the sender's full name was repeated in the email's subject line. The last time I received such a letter from a subscriber address it was bad news.

Clicking open the email, I soon learned that the sender was not a reader of my newsletter, but the son of a reader. The email was a faire-part announcing that his mother, Ginny, had passed away.

Ginny.... Like Cher, Madonna, Oprah, or Martha, it took only a prénom for me to recognize her each time her name popped into my inbox. I never hesitated opening her emails, which were full of warmth and self-deprecating humor. How could she be no more?

Caught off guard, I clicked shut the email and sat back to stare at my inbox, where the letter was sandwiched in between dozens of emails labeled "SPAM". Heartless spam! I quickly deleted the intruder messages in order to safeguard this touching nouvelle.

Clicking open the email again, I noticed how the next line of the letter reflected the newly-peeled sentiments inside of me, including sorrow. 

The writer was apologetic about the delivery format of his message:
"I'd prefer a more personal way to let you know, but for many of you, this is the only contact information I have...."

I wanted to thank Ginny's son for informing this stranger who, under the circumstances, felt something like a voyeur or an illegitimate mourner. After all, how to explain the relationship that I had with his mother, who was, in effect, a "virtual" acquaintance—someone I had never seen or spoken to in person?

My mind was normally as busy as a hummingbird's wings, and now a new and sorrowful stillness reigned inside: a stranger's grief... my own.

I began to wonder. Had I answered Ginny's last email? I went back over the 61 courriels received from Ginny in the four-and-a-half years since she began responding to my internet column.

She addressed me as her "Chère amie du courrier électronique". Other times, I was "Chère Madame" or "Chère Kristin" or, simply, "Chère amie", to which she added, in her signature humble way, "si l'on ose à le dire" ("if one might be so presumptuous as to say").

I noticed that self-effacing "P.S." that she usually added: "Réponse Pas Nécessaire" ("No Response Necessary", she always insisted, as if to say "you must, or should have other priorities than answering this silly note").

In the dozens of to-the-point emails that Ginny sent, she rarely spoke of herself and, when she did, she mostly poked fun at her persona: "Salut d'une vieille dame de Californie," she once wrote, and I can still remember the smile that it forged across this rigid-while-working face.

I learned that the "vielle dame" was a teacher and "when lucky ... taught French." Mostly, Ginny offered encouragement and support. As to my first, practically pasted-together book (which she bought) she wrote: "I hope you sell a jillion of them!"

Whether in French or in English, her signature lines varied, and light-heartedly so, bringing to life one unforgettable character in my inbox: "Ginny 'la bavardeuse'," or "Ginny in the foothills of the Sierra, off Highway 50". By associating a "place" with her name, I could better identify this French Word-A-Day lectrice in an inbox full of unfamiliar names. For me she was "Ginny dans le piédmont.... where we are three inches low in rainfall" and "Ginny in Placerville, just downhill from Lake Tahoe" and, finally, "Ginny en Californie... qui rêve d'un voyage en Norvège cet été."

Ginny, wherever you are, in the piedmont or, finally, up north (yes "up north" I trust...)—YOU ARE MISSED! And while I never knew the color of your hair, the tone of your skin, or the twinkle in your eye—you were indeed a mystery to me—I knew a charming precious lot about "la vieille dame de Californie".

P.S.: Ginny, I wished my own signature line had as much zip, character, and warmth as yours... I'm sure that the teacher in you would be encouraging—so here goes:

"une moitié-vieille dame de Provence qui a beaucoup apprécié votre éloquence électronique"
("a half-old dame in Provence who very much appreciated your electronic eloquence.")

Your Story Edits Here.
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French Vocabulary

le courriel

le faire-part
announcement (of birth, marriage, death...)

le prénom
first name

news, update

la bavardeuse
 (le bavardeur)
the chatty one

la lectrice


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Jackie (c) Kristin Espinasse
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froisser (frwa-say) verb (sound clip at the end of this letter)

  1. to crumple, crush, crease 2. to hurt, offend

...l'indépendance de l'adolescent. Si on froisse en lui ce droit qu'il vient de se découvrir avec ravissement, il... révolte. ...the adolescent's independence. If we crush in him this right, which he has just discovered with delight, he...rebels. --Rex Desmarchais

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

With its winding cobblestone floors and a fountain around every corner, our medieval village-in-the-sky doubles as a celestial bike ride for my 8-year-old daughter.

Standing on her bike's pedals, Jackie descends the serpentine path of 10,000 hand-laid stones. Happy to walk, I follow behind my daughter and hear the intermittent screech of the bike's brakes. She's a good rider and she is cautious when rounding the tight corners. 

I bet all that tire screeching sounds like whinnying in Jackie's ears and that her imaginationi has taken flight along with those wheels which have surely turned to wings. Looking down, she no longer sees pedals but the hooves of Pegasus. 

For a magical moment, one little girl swoops over stones polished from nine centuries of shuffling feet and glides alongside mosaic-tiled courtyards before touching down in front of the town's campanile, which announces the eighteenth hour in six resounding strikes.

My daughter's return to earth is jolting as only the transition from heaven to earth can be. With the lofty village at her back, she lands where the medieval district tapers out onto the modern sidewalk. There, she steps off her preternatural pedals right into a pile of crottes de chien.  Just like that, her chimerical ride from the top of the ancient village to the bottom has come to a disenchanting end.

"It's okay, Jackie!" I reassure her. "Ça porte bonheur!"

But Jackie is inconsolable as she drags her tainted shoe over a patch of gravier. I am surprised by my daughter's reaction. She's humiliated! I can't understand how stepping into dog-doo can hurt one's feelings so. 

Finally, I see the truth in my daughter's response. After all, isn't that how we fall: right off our dreamy Pegasus and into a heap of merde? Crumpled so, our misadventurous souls refuse to be consoled, but remain froissé. We punish ourselves.

I step aside and let my daughter sort through the you-know-what. When the pained expression leaves her face, she throws her right leg over the bike's frame and, with the push of the pedal, she's off. Vas-y ma fille! And don't look back!

French Vocabulary

la crotte de chien = dog-doo

ça porte bonheur = that brings good luck

le gravier = gravel

la merde = sh--

froissé = hurt
vas-y = go on!
ma fille = my girl 
Listen: hear the word froisser spoken by my daughter, Jackie:

Verb conjugation: je froisse, tu froisses, il/elle froisse, nous froissons, vous froissez, ils/elles froissent  past participle: froissé

'2,000+ Essential French Verbs' makes everything simple--conjugations, tenses, irregulars, and even conversation.

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to soak

I search the kitchen for récipients. I pull a salad bowl from the cabinet—trop gros. I take a soup bowl from the armoire—pas assez profond. I settle on an old wine glass, a jam jar, a mustard jar, a see-through coffee cup and a tumbler.

As I organize the egg-coloring utensils, my daughter runs up to me. She is wearing a frilly dress with a black velvet haut and a white chiffon bas.

"You'll need to change if you want to help out!" I inform her.
"D'accord!" Jackie agrees, spontaneously obedient.

I measure out ten tablespoons of vinaigre balsamique, annoyed when I can't find the 79 cent bottle of ordinary vinegar. Meantime, Jackie returns with her brother. Both children are wearing faded pajamas, the ones they are allowed to salir.

Max tosses the orange and the blue tablets—one into the wine glass and the other into the jam jar. Jackie plops down the yellow and the red comprimés effervescents, one into the coffee cup and the other into the mustard jar. Three sets of eyes dart to the remaining green tablet.

"That one's mine!" I declare, snapping up the effervescent disk and dropping it into the tumbler.

We watch the tablets fizz in their bains de teinture. The colorful, bubbly display livens up our drab kitchen. Next, we take turns emptying half a cup of eau du robinet into each glass.

"O.K. Stir!" I say, and the kids each take a fork and whisk the water until the tablets are completely dissolved.

"Allez!" I say, bending the wire egg dropper (one egg dropper—two kids! Who put this egg-coloring kit together anyway?) and handing it to Max. Jackie and I watch with bated breath as Max lowers the cooked, brown-shelled eggs into the dye.

"Careful!" I say.

When Max reaches for a third egg, Jackie has a fit.

I have waited until the very last minute before beginning The Project. I estimate we are only about one-third of the way through....

"O.K. Now it's Jackie's turn!" I interject. "Doucement, Jackie..."

The eggs have settled at the bottom of the glasses. Time now to laisser tremper for thirty minutes. (Last year we followed the package instructions for "three minutes" and the eggs surfaced without color. The egg-dying kit is American-made, and it doesn't take into account brown-shelled eggs—the only kind we can get here in our French village.)

Then there'll be decorating to do!... My enthusiasm ebbs as I stare at the tray of messy peinture and all of those tiny stickers (I have a feeling they'll end up everywhere but on the eggshells!). I wish we could skip these next steps. 

Just as I begin to get edgy, Jean-Marc pops into the kitchen.

"It's so nice what you do," he offers, as if I always had this kind of patience. I look down. My cheeks turn the color of the oeuf rouge.


 Edits Welcome! Click here to submit a correction or a suggestion.

French Vocabulary

le récipient = container

trop gros = too big

une armoire = cupboard

pas assez profond = not deep enough

le haut = top

le bas = bottom

d'accord = O.K.

le vinaigre balsamique = balsamic vinegar

salir = to dirty, soil

un comprimé effervescent = effervescent tablet

le bain de teinture = dye bath

l'eau (f) du robinet = tap water

Allez! = Come on! (let's get moving)

doucement = carefully

laisser tremper = to let soak

la peinture = paint

l'oeuf (m) rouge = red egg




Listen: hear the word 'tremper' spoken by Jean-Marc: Download tremper.wav

Terms & Expressions:
se tremper = to have a quick dip
tremper les lèvres = "to wet one's lips," to take a sip
trempé(e) = drenched
verre trempé = tempered glass
avoir une caractère bien trempé = to have a set character
être trempé jusqu'aux os = to be soaking wet

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A wee fender-bender in the neighborhood...  well, that's one way to meet your neighbor! Read on in today's story column.

le choc
(shok) n.m.
    : impact, crash, bump; clash; shock

Toute culture naît du mélange, de la rencontre, des chocs. A l'inverse, c'est de l'isolement que meurent les civilisations. All cultures are born out of mingling, meetings and clashes. Conversely, civilizations die from isolation. --Octavio Paz

(February 2006)

"C'était tout bête," as the French say. "It was so stupid," the accident I had at the end of my street. I had pulled up to the crooked T-intersection, slowing my car to a complete stop. Having looked left, then right, then left again, I pulled forward to turn, as I've done hundreds of times before.

I felt the impact before I even saw the car. A soft choc.* Like a bumper-car bump, nothing abrupt--no slammed brakes, no flying glass or screeching metal. I was well into my left turn when the right front-end of my car collided with the left side of the oncoming car.

Hit. No! Safe. Thanks. Neighbor. Mercedes! Insurance... English words running through a stupefied mind in the French countryside.

The victim, or "accidentée," (a neighbor) pulled her black Mercedes to the side of the road, just next to the old, slouching-over-the-lane mulberry tree, across from a field of hibernating vines. I followed, pulling up behind her car and turning off the engine. The neighbor got out of the driver's side. Her daughter got out of the passenger's side. I got out of my car and met them halfway.

I asked if they were okay and said that I was navrée, terribly sorry. They said they were fine, and that is when the woman began complaining about the damage: a shallow dent along the left side of her car, on the back passenger door....

The next day I travelled at a snail's pace down my street, stopping at the crooked T-intersection after putting on my turn-signal three houses back. I looked left, right, left, RIGHT, left again, and once more right, feeling more like a wide-eyed deer about to cross a firing range than a "bonus" driver with 20 years of bonne conduite* under her seat belt.

A few French blocks later, I pulled into the accidentée's driveway, convinced that I would flatten the rosemary bush or crush a garden lamp or even drive right into the swimming pool! I checked my rear-view mirror once again and saw Calamity tailgating me.

I rang the sonnette,* fidgeting with the insurance papers until the door opened. "Entrez," said the accidentée. Laundry--socks, undershirts, tea towels--was drying on an indoor étendoir* just behind the couch, which held stacks of neatly folded clothes. The tile floor invited bare feet to feel its cool, clean surface. Framed portraits of three smiling adolescents lined the hall.

As I followed the woman through the living room to the kitchen table--stopping when she stopped to flip off  "Les Feux d'Amour"*--I slinked back with that intrusive, guilty feeling: she was missing the end of her soap opera (the mouth-dropping, what-will-the-heroine (or hero)-reply-tomorrow? cliffhanger part) because of my moment of inattention the day before.

I followed her to the kitchen table where she sat down. After some hesitation, I pulled out a chair and joined her, uninvited. I looked at the Frenchwoman who wore only a thin painted line of coal beneath each eye, her short, thick auburn hair neatly combed back. I thought about how many times I'd crossed her on the one-lane country road. I always pulled over, letting her and her stone face pass.

Why did I have to hit her? Why couldn't it have been the ever-souriant* hippy mec* in the beat-up truck? Or the shy, retired couple--he who always nods in appreciation and she who enthusiastically waves "Merci!"? I always pull over to let others pass, when I'm not busy denting passenger portes.*

At the kitchen table I notice that her insurance paperwork is complete. I spread out my papers across the table and begin reading through the French: Insurance company name; Address; Client number; Nature of accident... I hesitate before each blank space, mouthing the words to the questions.

"My husband usually does our paperwork," I admit, realizing I sound like one of those ousewives.

"I put this down for that one," the woman says, showing me an example. "Oh, merci," I say, and copy as many of her answers as I can get away with, minus insurance numbers and addresses.
"My daughter speaks English," she says, off the subject.
"Oh, really?" I reply. Looking up, I see her face has softened.
"Does she baby-sit?" I say.
"She loves to!" Before long we are exchanging phone numbers, with a promise to call if I need help with the kids. If I need help...

For a moment, I wonder what a conversation would have been like around the hippy-mec's table, or at the retired couple's. Who knows when destiny will have us crossing paths? (Hopefully for a cup of sugar and not a dented door). For now, I warm to the stone (make that *soft*) face of the accidentée, glad for the chance to get to know my misunderstood neighbor, despite the circumstances.

................................French Vocabulary..............................
le choc = impact; la bonne conduite (f) = good driving (record); la sonnette = doorbell; un étendoir = washing line (here, a free-standing metal rack); Les Feux d'Amour = The Young and the Restless (soap opera); souriant(e) = smiling; le mec = guy; la porte = door

.................................Audio File..........................
Listen: hear the word 'choc' pronounced: Download choc2.wav

Expressions & Terms:
  le pare-chocs = bumper, fender
  les prix chocs = incredible prices
  le choc culturel = culture shock
  le choc septique = toxic shock
  résiste au(x) choc(s) = shock-resistant
  tenir le choc = to cope

Better stick to cycling. (Photo: The second-to-last vélo my Mom bought me. Sadly, it was left behind in the move... I miss you, Bike!)

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Bella Pizza (c) Kristin Espinasse
"Livraison Gratuite!" The sign reads "Free Delivery". Photo of pizza parlor taken in Marseilles' 8th arrondissement.

noun, masculine
wooden shoe, clog, sabot  

In the eighth arrondissement of Marseilles, at my mother-in-law's apartment complex, Jean-Marc and I climb several flights of stairs until we reach the last two doors in the building. One of the portes has a sign on it that reads "peinture fraîche." The wet paint warning causes us to automatically curl our shoulders inward and pull our suitcases close.

Jean-Marc slides la clef  into the keyhole and pushes open the door to my belle-mère's one-bedroom apartment.

"Vas-y," Go ahead, I say, trying to catch my breath after stepping off the French Stairmaster. We have just climbed four flights of stairs! How does my poor mother-in-law manage without an ascenseur

My belle-mère's apartment, where we've come for a weekend getaway (Belle-Mère is staying with the kids, at our place), carries me back to my first impressions of France, to the quirky things I'd forgotten (after having gotten rid of them, for comfort's sake), to the Frenchness that's worn off things and places—the foreignness I wish would still pop out like so many doors on an Advent calendar, each with its own sweet cultural surprise.

All that stair-climbing has caused me to work up a sweat. After depositing my overnight bag in the bedroom, I make my way to the salle de bain. I have to enter my belle-mère's tiny bathroom sideways, inching my way to the tub known as un sabot, which in French means "slipper bath"—and for good reason: the bathtub is only slightly bigger than a pantoufle! 

The tub has an unusual bi-level base—stand or sit! I choose to stand, but when I automatically reach out to tug closed the shower curtain, there isn't one. Oh yes, I'd forgotten about that: shower curtains are rare in France!

A bit awkward in the curtainless bain-douche, I juggle the shampoo and the savon—all the while balancing a hand-held shower head so as not to flood the bathroom.

After the shower circus, I make coffee on one of those space-saving, three-in-one appliances where the lower drawer is a dishwasher, the middle section is an oven, and the burners are on top. I put water on to boil and go searching for a coffee mug; instead I find a stack of porcelain bols and am reminded that the French still drink their café-au-lait from a bowl, just as they still eat their cake with a spoon and not une fourchette.

I spend the rest of the weekend running into the Frenchness that I had left behind when we packed our bags and left Marseilles for the countryside ten years ago, for a home which has, over the years, gone from French to functional, from quirky to comfortable, from bi-level to... banale.

From the word sabot we get the verb saboter: "to bungle," or "to walk noisily." Come to think of it, it's no wonder I've become desensitized to the uniqueness that is France: I've been making too much noise and can no longer perceive it!

May this be a reminder to tiptoe past the Gallic culture that still whispers out from every French nook and cranny, to travel forward—light on my feet—so as not to "sabotage" this ongoing French experience.


Your Edits Here
Thanks for checking grammar and punctuation. Is the story clear enough? Good to go? Share your thoughts, here in the comments box. P.S. Thanks for checking the vocab section, too! 

French Vocabulary

un arrondissement
a city district 

la porte

la peinture fraîche
wet paint

la clef

la salle de bain

la belle-mère

go ahead

un ascenseur

la pantoufle

le bain-douche

le savon

le bol
bowl for drinking hot liquids

la fourchette

boring, ordinary 


(Text from here, on, will not be included in the book)

Listen: Hear the word "sabot": Download sabot.wav

Terms & Expressions:
une baignoire sabot = short tub for taking baths "assis" (seated)
voir venir quelqu'un  avec ses gros sabots = "to see someone coming"-- to see someone's true intentions


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noun, feminine 
a purposeless walk, a wander

One hour before the sun slips behind the deep blue Massif des Maures, I ring my neighbor's doorbell.

"On essaie un autre chemin aujourd'hui?" I offer.

"Pourquoi pas?" replies my friend, known affectionately as La Voisine. And off we march for our weekly chat-on-heels.

On the edge of our voisinage, our pace slows to accommodate the quiet scenery. We drift past a lone vineyard, its unkempt vines a contrast to the majestic castle in the darkening sky beyond. We mosey down a dirt path flanked by sleeping fig trees, their dry feuilles having nodded off weeks ago. We laugh as we amble past the free-range chickens scattering to and fro as if the French sky was falling toward their wrinkly feet. We saunter toward the river to cross over a slender bridge no longer than an afternoon line at the post office. The river now at our backs, we hike the chemin de terre leading to the medieval village of Les Arcs-sur-Argens.

Above certain village doors we see dates etched into the stone lintels: 1638... 1524....

"Treizième, celui-là!"  La Voisine points out. I look up to admire another ancient doorway, grateful for the friend who has awakened this dreamer to another detail that might have gone unnoticed. How much more we take in when we walk with a pal! What might have been little more than a lazy stroll, is now a study on all things historical.

We continue our balade, weaving through a maze of tiny ruelles, walking where sewage once flowed as freely as village gossip, when families emptied their chamber pots into the narrow canal running down the center of the now-cobbled streets.

We steal around another bend where gray rock walls give way to a slew of multicolored facades in pistachio green, custard yellow and rum raisin red—village homes crammed together like so many colorful candies in a pack. The cobblestone path is littered with lipstick-red fruit—les arbouses—which reminds me that I could just kiss the French ground beneath my feet for all that I have seen over the course of our promenade.

"Take another path today," my mom always says. If you are reading, chère maman, please know that I am.



YOUR EDITS PLEASE! To correct any text or grammar -- or to add feedback about this story, please use the comments box located at the end of this post. Thank you very much!

French Vocabulary

Massif des Maures = local mountain range

On essaie un autre chemin aujourd'hui?
Shall we try another path today?

Pourquoi pas?
Why not? 

la voisine, le voisin

le voisinage

la feuille

le chemin de terre
dirt track

Treizième, celui-là!
Thirteenth century, that one!

la balade

la ruelle
narrow street

une arbouse
arbutus-berry [from the wild strawberry tree]

chère maman
dear Mom 

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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