le mot juste (leuh moh zhoost) noun, masculine
: the exact word or expression
Audio File & Example Sentence: Listen to my son, Max, pronounce the following French words: Download Le mot juste
Help translate today's quote... or add to the "mot juste" definition, in the comments box. Merci d'avance!
A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse
We arrived in Croatia at 10:30 at night after a 14-hour drive from Ovada. This late in the evening, I could not yet make out the charming maisonnette* that was to be our rental for the next seven days.
The location* was part of a farmhouse, long since divided up like a Kit Kat wafer. If you stood facing the long building, you could easily pick out our unit, with its cheery lavender-colored façade, its little iron fence, geraniums tumbling down the sides. Above the patio a sprawling grapevine provided shade and a visual feast: clusters of sweet fruit. The bright little abode was bookended by the continuations of a grayish building in need of repair.
I looked up at the grapes each night as I sat reading in a cozy, cushioned chair. Though I had brought a stack of books (ranging from "The Life of a Simple Man" to "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress"), in the evening I took advantage of the serene setting for some scriptural study.
Around the second or the third night, my feet propped up on a chair, I settled into my cozy routine. That's when I heard the crunching of gravel. My ears tuned in to the driveway, just outside our enclosed patio, as I listened to the sound of Croatian steps approaching.
I soon sensed the presence of a stranger on the other side of the fence, just inches from where I sat.
"Hello," I said.
"What are you reading?" the stranger nodded his reply.
Caught off guard, I thought about the object of my study, and how prayer isn't something you shout from the rooftops; just like tithing -- where your left hand shouldn't know what your right hand is doing -- worship should be done in private. No need to blab about holy matters, or how much they matter to you -- when actions speak louder than words.
But with the stranger's eyes now gazing intensely right through the bars of the front fence, I had no other option but to reveal my spiritual zeal.
"I... am reading the Bible," I replied.
"Yes, but which book?"
For a moment, I was confused, for I had already told the stranger what book I was reading: the Holy Bible.
I looked up at the man, who waited for my answer. He was tall and thin, with shoulder-length locks. He looked to be about my age, forty-something.
Book... In fact, the stranger had already identified the livre* that I was reading (the gilded pages were a giveaway) and wanted to know which chapter I was reading -- only, he had correctly called the sections "books".
Distracted, I had to look down to the delicate pages to answer his question.
"Romans," I informed him.
The man nodded and there followed a moment of silence, one I was anxious to fill. Only, what to say?
"Do you read the Bible?" I inquired, feeling like a Sunday School teacher's pet. I hoped I didn't sound that way -- but I could think of nothing else to say.
"Sometimes. When I am not working," replied the stranger.
I remembered the other Croatians that I had recently met, all of whom were so busy working to make ends meet that vacation--even homebound R&R and meditation--was an unaffordable luxury.
"Do you live around here?" I asked.
"No, I live in the city."
I thought about all the HLM's* we had passed by, dingy gray façades that were peeling like sunburned giants. The dilapidated units were piled one over the other, sky-high. There were hundreds of humble abodes within one dismal block of concrete. The blocks crowded the graffitified commercial centers, where we went to buy our bread and butter. What a contrast these "homes" were to the charming vacation rentals on the coast....
"My grandmother lived there," the stranger continued, pointing to a house up the dirt lane. "She passed away three years ago. She was ninety-one."
Listening to the grown man talk about his grandmother, I was at a loss for words, but managed a all-purpose reply:
"She had a nice life," I offered, once again petting another's pride.
"Not a nice life," the man corrected, "a long life".
Having said a simple goodbye, the mysterious man walked on, leaving me with the power of words--exact words, not fluffed up, flattering ones. I made a commitment, then and there, to make an effort to practice precise speech, to slow down in time to search for les mots justes,* for exact words--and to have the confidence to deliver them. Even the overworked stranger had made the time, and had had the self-respect, to do as much.
I closed my "books," as the stranger had correctly called them, and relished the unexpected lesson (on truth) that I had learned from the other side of the fence.
Comments, corrections--and stories of your own--are always welcome and enjoyed. Please use the comments box to respond to this story.
Note: I will be joining two authors at the American Library in Paris, to talk about "fish-out-of-water experiences" living in la belle France. If, by chance, you are in Paris on Oct. 7th, we would love to see you at this meet-up.
la maisonnette = small house; la location = rental; le livre = book; HLM = (habitation à loyer modéré) = rent-controlled housing subsidized by the government; le mot juste = the precise, exact word
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In children's books: Oxford First French Words
A Croatian hummingbird Hummingbird Hawk-Moth for Newforest, who shares and teaches us so much about French language and culture, via the comments box. Newforest will be back with us in October. Bon courage and hugs. Our thoughts are with you.
Just like Newforest's comments, hummingbirds are one thing I miss already. I have yet to see a hummingbird in France, but stared at them endlessly as they drank from our bottlebrush tree back in Arizona.