Bonjour. It's good to be back!

Near Shakespeare and Company bookshop
Last month's sabbatical began in Paris... More in today's letter. 

We will be back to the regular format of French Word-A-Day soon. Meantime, there's a letter waiting for you, just below, and a few ways to say 'hello.'

You know the word for "hi" in French. Here are some other oft-heard salutations. Have fun changing up your greetings next time you see a friend.

  • salut (hi!)
  • coucou (hey there!)

Bonjour! When last we spoke I talked about a one-month sabbatical. What I didn't tell you was how nervous I was about taking it. There was that risk of never coming back....

For decades (since young adulthood) I've lived with this belief that I am an all or nothing person. That, for example, if I dared keep this gig as a writer, I'd better keep on track--or veer off to The Land of Flake forever. (Flake--flakiness...).

But I have also secretly suspected that, deep down, I'm NOT an all or nothing person. That there is a resilient, flexible, can stop and start again soul at the helm of my personcraft, or being. Sometimes we just have to throw off our life jackets and test the waters. Thank you, dear reader, for waiting there on the raft for me! You promised to be there when I swam back. If you are reading now you can see my outstretched hand. I'm ready to get back on dry ground. Are you still ready?

One, two, three... heave

Before setting off for a new season of writing, I'd like to take a moment to thank those readers who joined me on the one week AmaWaterways Paris to Normandy cruise last month. What a warm-hearted and fascinating group you were.

Thank you Joan and Glenn, Jean-Marie and Mark, Chris and George, Celia and Martha, Julie and Brad, and last but not least, thank you Nan and Tom and Charles and Martha (these two showed up for a surprise visit when we docked outside of Paris!). Thanks also to readers Julie and John (who were on the cruise just before us, and who took the time to leave a message in my room. I was delighted to read it!). 

I would also like to thank my best friend Susan Boehnstedt (aka "Rouge-Bleu") of Critics Choice Vacations. Susan invited Jean-Marc and me to host the cruise, after highly suggesting our candidature to AMAWaterways! (Thank you Denise, at AMA, for making this possible!)

Going on this cruise was the best chance to see a beautiful part of France. And while it is hard to pinpoint a favorite endroit, or place--or a favorite thing about the cruise--I will share a comment by Jean-Marc, one that wonderfully captures the gift of cruising with AMAWaterways:

C'est bien reposant! How restful this is! (This, coming from an overworked winemaker and business man, is the best compliment one could give. So thanks to the hard workers at AMAWaterways for keeping an impeccably run boat. We enjoyed our chance to travel with you!

I leave you now with a few pictures from our cruise along the river (more photos to come). I hope these images will inspire you to travel the waterways of France. For more information, contact Susan at Critics Choice Vacations:  Phone: 480-831-9076


Les andelys

There were so many breathtaking landscapes along the waterways. We stopped in Les Andelys for a view from above.

Joan of arc rouen
In Rouen we stood where crowds witnessed the demise of Joan of Arc (flames once went up where now you see the plaque on a bed of flowers.)

  little boy in Normandy
I didn't get a picture of the irises that grown on these traditional rooftops. But I did get a snapshot of this little Norman boy as our tour bus cruised past.

3-susan honfleur
Taken with Susan's camera (that's her, left, me, right). I think Linda took this photo. Linda is Susan's longtime friend from their days in Douglas, Arizona. It was a pleasure to meet Linda and spend pre-cruise time together in Paris. I especially enjoyed our lunch together in Île Saint-Louis where we chatted about Susan (were your ears burning, Rouge-Bleu?). The picture was taken in Honfleur, where we froze. Thankfully Celia (mentioned in the Thank you section, above) had this handmade bonnet on hand. 

Linda and susan in honfleur
Here's Linda with Susan, in Honfleur.

Omaha beach France

The most touching moment of the trip was our visit to Omaha beach. I leave you with this image (more to come). This is Janet, whom I met on the cruise. I found her all alone. Lowering her umbrella, she spoke to the lost heros. Her gesture puts words to the gratitude in all our hearts.

French christmas music
Everyone loves this holiday CD! Listen to A French Christmas and "Mon Beau Sapin", "Saint Nuit", "La Marche des Rois", "Petite Ville Bethléem", "Il est né Le Divin Enfant". Order CD 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 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!
♥ $10    
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pourboire: How to say tip in French

Susan Boehnstedt aka Rouge-Bleu (c) Kristin Espinasse
Today, in the US, it's Le Jour de Merci Donnant and I'm busy giving thanks for the people in my life, including YOU and Rouge-Bleu. Read more about my high-school chum in today's story. Note: you haven't heard much about Susan, over the years--that's because I haven't had the chance to see her much. I do have a funny photo, near the end of this post, taken on one of those rare visits, in 2007...


pourboire (por-bwar)

    : tip

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following example sentence in French (note: enjoy the uncut version, in which you'll hear Jean-Marc's reaction to the mile-long example sentence I've selected. Listen closely as he teases, "oh, they're gonna like this one!... Oh, ça va leur plair celui-là! I did leave out my laughter, at the beginning of the recording, and had to beg my husband to please quit the tickling, it's time to get to work!): Download MP3 or Wav file

Le pourboire. En France, cette pratique s'est développée plus tard, au 19ème siècle, pour récompenser les cafetiers et restaurateurs d'un service de qualité. Le pourboire signifiait comme son nom l'indique un verre qu'on offrait en remerciement d'un service rendu... The tipIn France this practice was developed later, in the 19th-century, to compensate café-owners and restaurateurs for quality service. Le pourboire signifies, as its name indicates ("pour boire", or "for drink") a glass (drink) offered in thanks for a service rendered... (from, Les origines du pourboire)

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

...Continued from the previous post "Plein d'Entrain")...

When the tour bus rolled up to the dock, where our AMA cruise boat waited, I noticed my best friend and travelling companion reach for her porte-monnaie. Quickly, I mimicked Susan's gestures, as I would throughout the voyage, to ensure my behavior was in line with the other tourists', none of whom appeared nervous, awkward, or conspicuous.

Only, as I reached for my own portefeuille, I ran into an embarrassing pépin. Among all the loose change there was only one large coin. The rest were those itty-bitty yellow ones—les pièces jaunes my husband gives the gitans who instantly appear at city stop lights, brandishing water bottles and squeegees.  After they've doused our windshield with sudsy water, one feels obliged to thank them for it. But when my husband hands over the loose change from our cendrier —mostly pennies, twenty French cents worth—I want to hide inside the glove compartment. Manque d'espace! 

Back in the tourist bus, staring into my change-purse, I was tormented by visions of a tour guide throwing pennies back at me, just as some of the gitans had done, so offended were they by what was judged une insulte.

As I fingered the change, counting and recounting the coins, my best friend became aware of my fixation. "Everything alright, Rouge-Bleu*?" she inquired.

Completely absorbed by the contents of my change-purse, I was barely aware of answering. "I only have yellow coins for the second tour guide, "I murmured. "I've got a 2-euro coin for the first guide... but I can't find another two-euro coin to offer the second guide."

Like a broken record, I couldn't seem to change tracts. My thoughts were repeating and repeating, 2-euro coins... what will I do?... no two euro coins... what will I do?

"But you have enough," Susan assured me, pointing out that all the yellow coins added up to two euros.

"Yes, I know, but I can't hand over so much loose change!" The broken record in my mind continued 2-euro coins... what will I do?... no two euro coins... what will I do?

"Why not?" Susan was intrigued.

Was it fierté? I didn't want to be the tourist handing over the pennies, never mind the pennies added up to two euros! I'd be seen as one of those oursins-dans-la-poche types. A real cheapskate!

"And besides," I explained, trying to downplay the pride—by highlighting my thoughtful side—"if everyone gave the lady twenty coins (of ten centimes), that tour guide would be painfully weighed down. Just how would she and her heavy poches climb onto the metro for the ride home?"

Susan shook her head and smiled. "Rouge-Bleu, don't be silly. You have enough money—denomination doesn't matter!"

I nodded my head. Susan was right. Still, I couldn't help but stare into my purse willing a two-euro coin to appear. No matter how many times I ran my fingers through the centimes, turning them, I couldn't uncover a might-be-hidden-somewhere 2-euro coin.

Noticing the obsessive behavior, Susan put a stop to it in her usual discreet manner. "Look here, Rouge-Bleu," she said, holding up a prized 2-euro coin of her own.

I unglued my eyes from my change-purse, with it's bottomless pit of pennies, to discover my pal's proposition.

"I'll trade ya!" she said, "One of these for all of those."

It only took a thoughtful instant to be released from so much torture. Merci ma chère Rouge-Bleu.


Post note, as we walked off the bus and it came time to tip the tour guide, I did so with assurance. I was so relieved to have a big coin to give her, and not a handful of embarrassing pennies. ...Until it occured to me that Susan was about to pay for my freedom!

As she approached the tour guide, I studied my dear friend, as I would throughout the trip, mimicking her every gesture. I still had so much to learn.

How graceful she was as she thanked the guide, pausing to drop those pennies into her palm in one sincere shower of thanks.

French Vocabulary

la porte-monnaie = coin-purse
le portefeuille = wallet
pépin = snag, hitch (pépin has another meaning. Read the story here)
les pièces jaunes = pennies
le gitan = gypsy 
le cendrier = ashtray
manque d'espace! = but for the lack of room!
la fierté = pride
avoir les oursins dans la poche = to have sea urchins in one's pockets (making it hard to reach for one's money...), ie, to be a cheapskate, skinflint, pinchpenny
une poche = pocket
merci ma chère Rouge-Bleu = thank you my dear Rouge-Bleu 

*Rouge-Bleu is the name my best friend and I call each other, after coming up with the moniker back in highschool. Susan had an after-school job in cosmetics (Lancome) and we enjoyed trying on all the make-up! When we discovered a lipstick called Rouge-Bleu, we couldn't pronounce the French word without dissolving into laughter. I still have trouble pronouncing it.

You may also recognize the name from our wine labels... Jean-Marc liked it so much he borrowed it! But the original Rouge-Bleu is my dear friend of 30 years. 


Rouge-bleu kristi susan

Susan, aka Rouge-Bleu, came to visit after our first harvest, in 2007. Though the harvest was over, Jean-Marc managed to find another field to glean. I'm wearing red--trying to stand out like a beacon lest the hunters (with whom we shared the field) mistake the harvesters, or vendengers, for venison! To comment on any item in this post, click here.

Now to tempt you to come to France... if you need assistance with airline tickets or hotel reservations, please contact Susan. She is the most devoted travel agent. 

You can email her at or call her at 480-831-9076.

Fall in Avignong (c) Kristin Espinasse
Meantime, keep thinking of your next visit... and you will be here soon! (photo taken in Avignon)


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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.

To Spill Your Guts in French

The original Rouge-Bleu (a.k.a. "Susan") in Orange, France.

boyaux (bwa-yo) masculine noun (plural)
   guts, entrails

La voix de la conscience et de l'honneur est bien faible quand les boyaux crient. The voice of conscience and honor are really feeble when one's guts are crying out. --Denis Diderot

When one's heart is stuffed with dusty parcels, packages that should have been untied and emptied long ago, then it's time to unpack. The French have a term for this: "déballer son coeur" (to pour out one's heart). More than the poetic French expression, I prefer a nitty-gritty idiom from my American
childhood: to spill one's guts.

While gut-spilling is cathartic, I promised to zip my lip when my best friend* came to visit last week. I vowed not to vent, promised not to prattle on about how life has gone from ho-hum tranquil to high tribulation since Jean-Marc, the kids and I left our quiet home in Les Arcs and moved to a shrilly shon-tee-ay.*

While the hectic harvest is past us, the construction work--with its shrills, spills and ills (the drilling, dust, and unsealed windows which let in the cold autumn air) has resumed. Come November we'll attack month eight of the renovation. While the electricity comes and goes, as does the water, returning sometimes cold, we continue to work and shower and try to go with the flow.

                                        *     *     *
At the Marignane airport I wait at the arrival gate, searching for familiar auburn locks. I spot my friend, Susan, whose hair is the color of a freshly minted centime.

"Nice bangs!" I say, admiring the rich copper highlights that are naturally hers. "Don't you have even one gray strand on your head?"
"Oh, they're there!" Susan insists, reaching over for a hug. "How are you, Rouge-Bleu?"*
"My lips are zipped!" I chuckle, remembering my good intentions: to spend five and a half upbeat days with one of my favorite people.

                                    *     *     *

"Did you know that when mama elephants lose a baby they mourn their loss?" Susan questions me as we enter the highway, exiting the airport. "They even shed tears. And if you listen carefully, you can hear them crying."

I think about big elephant tears, heavy as my dusty parcels of frustration. When next Susan tells me that a mother elephant is never left alone, but that the other female elephants gather around her like great gray shock absorbers... well then it doesn't take long for my lip to unzip and for so many dusty parcels to come crashing down as I mourn the loss of privacy, personal space and predictable plumbing. While such lost privileges are peanuts in comparison to the elephant's tristesse,* another mama's support is soothing all the same.

References: best friend = (see Susan's bio here); shon-tee-ay = pronunciation for "chantier" (construction site); Rouge-Bleu = nickname for my friend (also the name of our vineyard); la tristesse (f) = sadness

:: Audio File ::
Listen to my son, Max, pronounce today's word and quote:
Boyaux. La voix de la conscience et de l'honneur est bien faible quand les boyaux crient.
  MP3 file: Download boyaux.mp3
  Wave file: Download boyaux.wav

More French language tools:
Pronounce French words correctly with speech recognition and analysis tools
SmartFrench: Learn French from Real French People
...and music is a great language tool! Check out Marc Lavoine

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!
♥ $10    
♥ $25    
♥ Or click here to send the amount of your choice

You can also support this journal by purchasing our book-in-progress, click here.