Next month:
September 2004

Entries from August 2004

un jeton

un jeton (zhuh-toh) noun, masculine
1. a token; counter; chip
2. a dent (i.e.: la voiture a pris un jeton/the car was dented)

un faux jeton = a hypocrite
toucher ses jetons = to draw one's fees
avoir les jetons = to have the jitters

un jeton de caddie = a token for a shopping cart

Citation du Jour:

Un conquérant est un joueur déterminé qui prend un million
d'hommes pour jetons et le monde entier pour tapis.

A conqueror is a determined player who takes a million men for chips
and the whole world for baize.*
--Comte de Ségur

(*baize is the green felt fabric used to cover gaming tables)

A Day in a French Life...

Outside the Super U grocery store I returned the supermarket caddie* to the "caddieshack" (I guess you could call it)--that covered storage area where all of the grocery carts are empilé, or crammed into one another.

In France you have to rent shopping carts. To release a metal cart, you insert a one euro coin into the horizontal slot on the caddie's handlebar. Lacking a one euro coin, you can use a jeton* provided by most supermarkets. Organized shoppers have the nifty jetons hanging from their keyrings. I am not one of those people, but someone who tends to lose jetons, so it was no surprise that the last time I entered the supermarket with a "J'ai besoin d'un jeton"* request the manager flashed a "Not vous again!" look.

Back at le parking,* after having unloaded all of my courses* into the trunk, I was gathering up momentum to push the caddie into a line of carts when a young woman approached me, smiled and held out a one euro coin.

"Non," I said pointing to the coin slot, "Il y a un jeton dedans."

When she stood there smiling and pushing the euro coin toward me, I realized she hadn't understood. After repeating "No, there is a token in there!" it was déjà vu all over again, with the woman standing there grinning and offering me the same two-toned coin.

I am used to shoppers offering a coin at the caddieshack entrance, saving you the trouble of reinstalling the carte, wrestling the coin from the caddie, only for them to insert a coin and wrestle the caddy back out. But this time I had inserted a jeton instead of real money. The thought of the kind lady discovering the fake coin at the end of her shopping errand horrified me.

Or almost.... It did cross my mind to accept her one euro coin. In each of us lives "un petit diable," n'est-ce pas? But I didn't succumb to monsieur le diable, not this time at least.

Instead, the Supermarket Gods were smiling down on us and there would be one less Good-Samaritan-come-Faux Jeton* in this world (or at least in the little Super U parking lot.)

*References: un caddie (m) = a grocery shopping cart (also called "un chariot" [shar-ee-oh]); j'ai besoin d'un jeton = I need a token; le parking (m) = the parking lot; les courses (fpl) = provisions; un petit diable (m) = a little devil; un faux jeton = a hypocrite

un forain

un forain (fo-reh) noun, masculine
1. a fairground entertainer
2. a stallkeeper
3. (adj) fairground, carnival

(the feminine is "une foraine" fo-rehn)

une fête foraine = a fair, (US) a state fair
les forains = fairground people, carnies
un spectacle forain = a travelling show

Citation du Jour:

Chercher la confirmation de son moi dans les yeux d'autrui revient à se regarder dans les miroirs déformants d'une fête foraine.

To look for confirmation of one's "me" in the eyes of another is like looking at oneself in the fun house mirrors of a carnival. --Alain de Botton

A Day in a French Life...

(Do not miss the story that originally appeared here, along with the vocabulary below. Order the book "Words in a French Life" (see book column!)

*References: avec moi = with me; la farine (f) = flour; voilà = there you have it (that's it!); très sage = very well behaved; un hameau (m) = a hamlet (tiny village); à pied = on foot; un peu délicat = a little delicate; un panini (m) = a grilled (Italian) sandwich; bon appétit = enjoy your meal; un manège = a fairground attraction, a merry-go-round; auto tamponneuse (f) = bumper cars; une chenille = caterpillar; tout et rien = everything and nothing; barbe à papa (f) = cotton candy (literally: "papa's beard"); 5th largest city (US) = Phoenix; compliqué = complicated; un(e) mendiant(e) (m/f) = beggar

une blague

une blague (blag) noun, feminine
1. a joke; a practical joke, a trick
2. a tall story
3. a blunder, a silly mistake
4. a tobacco pouch

blaguer (verb) = to joke
un blagueur / une blagueuse
1. (adj) ironical, teasing (look)
2. (noun, m/f) = a joker

sans blague? = really? you're kidding?
sans blague / blague à part = seriously, all kidding aside
faire une blague à quelqu'un = to play a trick or joke on someone
une sale blague = a dirty trick
raconter des blagues = to lie
faire des blagues = to tell jokes; to do silly or stupid things
faire une blague = to make a mistake, a blunder

Citation du Jour:
Tout n'est peut-être qu'une immense blague, j'en ai peur, et quand nous serons de l'autre côté de la page, nous serons peut-être fort étonnés d'apprendre que le mot du rébus était si simple.

It is all perhaps one big joke, I'm afraid, and when we are on the other side of the page, we will be perhaps very surprised to learn that the puzzling word was so simple. --Gustave Flaubert

Letter From a Young Frenchman
(9-year-old Max reports...)

This column is on hold today as its 9-year-old author announced:

"Je démissionne!" (I quit!)
"Sans blague?"* said I.
"Well, isn't it still vacation?" Max countered.

Yes, indeed it is... (the kids go back to school on September 2nd). Let's hope Monsieur Nonchalant Journalist gets some rest, so he can deliver a story or two in the coming weeks! To view Max's (bilingual!) story archives, click here

*References: sans blague = you're kidding?

un fouinard

un(e) fouinard(e) (fwee-nar, fwee-nard) noun, masculine
1. a snoop
2. (adj.) inquisitive, prying, nosey
3. a computer hacker

Also: un fouineur, une fouineuse = a snooper

fouiner = to snoop, to nose about

fouiner dans les affaires d'autrui = to poke one's nose into other people's business

Citation du Jour:
On doit continuer à chercher pour trouver. Quand le soleil se perd dans la nuit, l'espoir guette un reflet.

We must continue to seek in order to find. When the sun loses itself in the night, hope watches out for a reflection. --Louise Gélinas

A Day in a French Life...

Our curious guest stood no taller than the door knob on our porte d'entrée* where I greeted him with a kiss on both cheeks. He had noisette-colored* eyes like his Corsican mother's and dark cropped hair like his two older brothers (his mother explains that with four enfants,* she's taken to shaving the boys heads with a tondeuse* "Ça coûte moins cher!").*

I will not tell you the little guy's name, except that back home in Arizona we would call him "Eddie." Eddie spoke with a decidedly Parisian accent which is normal for one raised in the capital's banlieue.*

Eddie's parents chased him through the house until I said, "Ne vous inquiétez pas," assuring them that nothing could harm their three-year-old. "That isn't the problem," the mother explained,
"C'est un fouinard!* He is a snoop! He will go through all of your things."

A French Curious George!

We solved the dilemma by closing off the la cuisine,* le salon,* and la salle de bains,* leaving Eddie to roam free through the children's rooms. By the end of the visit, Max and Jackie were pleased to rediscover toys that had disappeared long ago. Le fouinard* presented one object after another with a bright smile on his freshly painted face (in his digging, he had unearthed 6-year-old Jackie's make-up trousse).*

His mouth was painted deep strawberry, his cheeks bright pink, and his eyes were now set off with glittery blue powder... Some people snoop and get caught red-handed, while others fouinent* and get caught red-lipped.

*References: la porte d'entrée = the front door; noisette = hazelnut; un enfant (m/f) a child; une ceinture (f) = a belt; une tondeuse (f) = electric clippers; ça coute moins cher = it's less expensive; une banlieue (f) = a suburb, outskirt; fouinard; la cuisine (f) = the kitchen; le salon (m) = the living room; la salle de bains (f) = the bathroom; une trousse (f) = a case; (les autres) fouinent = snoop


essuyer (es-wee-yay) verb
1. to wipe, to dry
2. to mop
3. to clean; to dust
4. to wipe up; to mop up

s'essuyer ses pieds = to wipe one's feet (before entering)
essuyer la vaisselle = to dry the dishes
essuyer une perte = to suffer a loss
essuyer un refus = to meet with a refusal
essuyer les plâtres = (lit: to wipe the plasters) to be the guinea pig

un essuie-glace = a windshield wiper
un essuie-tout = a paper towel
un essuie-mains = a hand towel

Citation du Jour:
Le rire, comme les essuie-glaces, permet d'avancer même s'il
n'arrête pas la pluie.

Laughter, like windshield wipers, permits us to advance even if it
doesn't stop the rain.
--Gérard Jugnot

A Day in a French Life...

At a busy intersection near St. Tropez a woman runs up to the Peugeot 307 two cars behind us, shakes sudsy water from a plastic Evian bottle onto the windshield and lunges forward to wipe the glass with one of those hand-held rubber-bladed window wipers. When the car's occupants remain motionless, the woman gives an exaggerated shrug before advancing to the quatre-quatre* just behind us. The driver automatically reacts by activating the car's windshield wipers. A clever way to ward off unwanted washer services!

Next, the woman navigates through traffic to another car, this time to the cherry red Mini Cooper in the lane to our left and splashes water on it while its driver wags a manicured fingernail back and forth in

Off to the side of the road, under a majestic parasol pine tree which throws shade on the parched wheat-colored grass below, two more Gitans* lay sideways atop a blanket, bottles of sudsy water between them. Une pause sieste?*

It is a sweltering day on the Côte d'Azur,* and I sympathize with the women who are trying to make ends meet via this suds-slinging enterprise--that is, until I glance into the rearview mirror and see the woman heading toward our just washed car. Heureusement,* we didn't have to wag glossy fingernails or flip on the essuie-glace* to escape the deluge. It was the feu vert* that saved us.

*References: un quatre-quatre (m) = a four wheel drive vehicle; un(e) gitan(e) = a gypsy; une pause sieste (f) = a nap break; la Côte d'Azur ("the Blue Coast") = the French Riviera; heureusement = fortunately, happily; un essuie-glace (m) = a windshield wiper; un feu vert = a green light

un escalier

escalier (es-ka-lyay) noun, masculine
1. stairs; staircase

un escalier roulant, mécanique = an escalator
un escalier de secours = a fire escape
un escalier en colimaçon = a spiral staircase

esprit de l'escalier = staircase wit (when something that you should have or (could have said) occurs to you much later (as when a thought/good comeback line occurs to you upon descending the stairs after leaving a party)
(for a fascinating look at this expression, click here)

Citation du Jour:
Les escaliers montent ou descendent selon le sens où on les prend.
The stairs go up or down according to the direction we take.
--Jean Ferrat

A Day in a French Life...

Don't miss the story that originally appeared here--now a chapter in this book!

*References: laurier-rose (f) = oleander; un escalier (m) = a stairway; une serviette de bain (f) = a towel; une plage (f) = a beach; un rocher (m) = a rock, a boulder

un fouet

My Life in France / Julia Child. Click to order un fouet (foo-ay) noun, masculine
1. a whip, a whisk

fouetté,e = whipped
la crème fouettée = whipped cream
fouetter (verb) = to whip; to prepare something quickly; to enliven
un fouetté = (in ballet) a step in which the dancer stands on
one foot while making a whip-like movement with the opposite leg.

Click to order My Life in France by Julia Child

avoir d'autres chats à fouetter = (lit) to have other cats to whip (fig) to have other fish to fry
donner le fouet à quelqu'un = to give someone a whipping
coup de fouet = (lit) a lash (fig) a boost
un coup de plein fouet = a direct hit (artillery)
un coup de fouet à l'économie = to stimulate the economy

La vie n'est que de l'ennui ou de la crème fouettée.
Life is only boredom or whipped cream.

A Day in a French Life...

I was not prepared for the effect that the death of Julia Child would have on me. Casually enough, I began reading the adieus* to the French food ambassadrice* in various online newspapers.

What inspires me most about Julia Child is that she didn't seem to find her way (or as the French say, "trouver sa voie") until relatively late--in career-life years anyway. It wasn't until she was 37 years old that she enrolled in the famous Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris.

She did not compromise her beliefs to please others, or as my husband said, "Elle a gardé son âme" (she kept her soul). She was not swayed by trends such as nouvelle cuisine or low-fat recipes and, perhaps most importantly, she remained her own goofy, awkward, intelligent, graceful, warbly-voiced-self while successfully demystifying the art of French cooking.

As I sit at my kitchen table putting together a quiche, Julia is on my mind. I am reminded to not be so impatient when assembling the ingredients. Indeed, Julia encouraged us to enjoy the process.

I am cheered to know that I have one thing in common with the culinary diva: a one-temperature oven. My oven's temperature valve broke somewhere down the line (before we moved into our house, where we inherited the still-functioning appliance). The temperature seems to remain somewhere between 350-450°--while Julia's famous La Cornue oven, well, I can't explain why it seemed to have only one temperature, you'll have to ask its new owner, the food writer Patricia Wells.*

I crack four brown-shelled eggs and whip them with une fourchette* (I do not yet own the fouet* that Julia made famous in the U.S.). Realizing the kids have snatched my kitchen scissors, I borrow a pair of shears from the bathroom. As I clip mint from our garden directly into the bowl of fork-whipped eggs, I marvel at how hair shears are an ideal, if accidental, herb cutting tool. Scissors in hand I reach for a slice of leftover jambon de parme* and clip that up as well. It probably looks odd to clip meat with hair shears (or to clip meat for that matter), but as Julia reportedly used to say, "Remember, you are alone in the kitchen and nobody can see you."

I add roasted pine nuts and fresh goat's cheese to the mix and stir the sloppy soup before pouring it into a store-bought unrolled pastry shell (a buttery "pâte feuilletée" to be exact). Though the instructions tell me to leave the quiche to cook for 30 minutes, I set the timer for twenty "just in case" and miraculously remember to check the tarte* 18 minutes later, only to find its surface charbroiled. I do not sigh, but whisk the quiche out of the oven and place it on the table, offering an enthusiastic "Bon appétit!" I imagine Julia would have done the same.

*References: un adieu (m) = a farewell; un(e) ambassador/drice (m,f) = ambassador; une fourchette (f) = a fork; un fouet (m) = whip; un jambon de parme = parma ham; une tarte (f) = pie, tart

In books: My Life in France is "the captivating story of Julia Child’s years in France, where she fell in love with French food and found ‘her true calling.’ " --from the publisher.