âme: soul, heart, spirit in French


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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one-bedroom - needs a hyphen.

The bathtub is *only* slightly bigger than a pantoufle - works better with "only"

The word sabot comes *from* the verb saboter - you left out "from"

Neat story! It refreshed my memory about all the quirkiness of French arrangements. And don't forget that "sabotage" comes from the practice of throwing a sabot or two into the works to stop the machinery when the employees were angry!

Terri Dimon

I agree with Leslie-when reading this charming story, I kept waiting for a historical reference to the origin of "sabotage". I don't know where you could slip that in-perhaps as a preface to the actual story, or present it with the vocabulary at the end? The story of the disgruntled working "sabotaging" their machinery has always been when of my personal favorite trivial facts I had learned/present to my French students! Overall I enjoyed the story-it created wonderful visual images of your belle-mère's apartment!

Amber Hopwood

I think this story is good to go and endearing. I imagined myself in a similiar situation...if you've been to France, you've been "there" with the stairs, close quarters, strange baths and kitchens..add this one to the list!
Have a lovely day,

Kristin Espinasse

Leslie, thanks for these corrections and to Terri and Amber for the keep this one go ahead for this story!

Terri, I appreciate your note about adding sabotage somewhere in the story--if only in an Expressions section. As I have not added such a section to the other stories, I would not want to start one here. Your notes have me remembering a similar story, in the archives, about the verb saboter and throwing a shoe in the machinery. Perhaps I can find it and add it as a chapter before or after this one... 

Many thanks for your thoughts and edits!

Rebecca Q T

Nice story. I agree with the need for a hyphen with one-bedroom. Other than that, seems good to go!

Dianne Vergos

Perhaps say, "and the burners are on top." It just seems to flow better. Otherwise a good and very educational story, I think.

Dianne Vergos

Oh, and I think that the second to the last paragraph needs a semi colon instead of a colon. Usually a listing of things follows a colon.

Sharon Marchisello

Small stylistic edit: "peinture fraîche". The period should go inside the quotation marks. (Also near the end with "to walk noisily.") Same thing with a comma further down. (All other punctuation usually goes outside the quotes, unless part of the quotation.)

"to tug close the shower curtains"...do you mean "tug closed"?

Thanks for the story. Brings back memories. What do Europeans have against shower curtains?

Ray Stoddard

I had always thought that sabots were French wooden shoes, clogs of a sort, like Dutch wooden shoes, only shaped a bit differently. I can see how a tub might be shaped like a sabot... and how one can be awkward or noisy in sabots. Getting to sabotage is a big leap. I'd be curious to know how that was derived. Lovely story about how the delightful newness of a foreign culture quietly sneaks up on one after having gotten used to things.

Marilynn Gottlieb

I found the switch from all the details of entering the apartment to taking a bath too abrupt. You might add, "After depositing my bags in the bedroom, I make my way into the bathroom..."
Nice details in this story.

Vicki, San Francisco Bay area

I really enjoyed this story! As I sit here drinking my latté in a mug instead of un bol, it brought to mind some of the things I love about France, and travel in general, discovering the nuances and large distinctions between cultures. Vive les differences! I also appreciated your insight at the end where you brought in the verb "saboter," with a reminder to travel noiselessly to better discover the wonders of one's surroundings.

Just some punctuation changes: In the 5th paragraph - comma between "sabot" and "which." Also, the comma after "slipper bath" might be better as a semi-colon.
4th from last paragraph - comma between "bowl" and "just"

Nancy Zuercher

Another lovely story from the heart! Your word pictures enabled me to see the scene. I love the images of the French Stairmaster and Advent calendar--just right for this. To see more initially, I recommend replacing, in the first paragraph, "several" with "four," so the reader can climb with you. Also, your use of the : is ok in the penultimate paragraph because you are following it with a fuller explanation.

Kristin Espinasse

Marilynn, good idea! I noticed it was abrupt too, after Id gone in this morning and added to the story. A little choppy there.

Thanks Rebecca! And Dianne and Sharon, Ill have a look at these edits. Sharon, Im afraid Im used to putting the period outside the quotation marks (for quoted words), and everytime someone points out the need for an edit, I have to look it up again until Im sure that my way is okay. Now to look that up again! Funnily, I came across an example of both in my latest book--so I could  not even consult it to figure out which way was my way!

 Ray, thanks for your helpful feedback.

Vicki and Nancy--thanks for these edits--off to see about them now. Nancy, I wanted to avoid using *four* flights of stairs in the first paragraph, as I reveal the number of stairs farther down--to qualify that Stairmaster reference :-)

I may wait to incorporate certain edits, in case anyone thinks certain edits are unnecessary. Thanks again!

Bruce T. Paddock

Hey, Kristin -

The period after "peinture frâiche" needs to be inside the quotes.

In paragraph 3, you need a comma after the first set of parentheses.

I paragraph 4, you talk about things you'd forgotten and since gotten rid of. I'm guessing you got rid of them first, then forgot about them.

In paragraph 5, you need a comma after "sabot" and before "which."

Like Ray, I'd thought that sabots were wooden, clog-like things. Does "sabot" mean slipper as well?

The comma after "slipper bath" should be inside the quotes.

You "reach out to tug close the shower curtains."
1) Do you mean "close" as in "near," or "closed"?
2) Here in the States, there's usually just one shower curtain per tub.

I love "shower circus"!

If the lower drawer is a dishwasher and the middle drawer is the oven, what is the top drawer? Did you mean "the lower level" is or has a dishwasher?

You need a comma between "from a bowl" and "just as they still," given that what follows "just as" is a complete sentence.

Does "sabot" come from "saboter," or does "saboter" come from "sabot"? I'm guessing the verb came later, derived from the sound people made walking in the wooden shoes, but I could be wrong.

The period after "noisily" should be inside the quotes.

I so empathize with you in this story! One of my favorite French words is "dépaysement" — that feeling that things are a little bit different that you get when traveling abroad. It's what I love most about going to France — or anywhere else, for that matter.

Kristin Espinasse

Update... Vicki, I have changed that comma to an emdash, then added a colon after that... might this work?

Kristin Espinasse

Sharon, I am not sure whether to keep *to tug close* or to make it *to tug closed*. Does anyone know for sure?


Hi dear Kristin.
This is a warm and endearing story,one which we can all relate to--belle-mere kindly offering her apartment for a weekend getaway,even though the comforts are so different from what we're used to,and we're trying to be careful with her stuff!
A definite keeper!
Kristin, I really liked this just the way it is. Easy to read and enjoy.Descriptions are a delight!Perfect!
Love, Natalia XO
PS A bit of trivia(!)Sabot and sabotage gleaned the word saboteur.(My source?Truthfully? A Star Trek movie! The lady from Sex and the City was playing one of Spock's Vulcans and gave the speech.)(NO idea why I remembered this)

Kristin Espinasse

Thanks, Bruce! Your comments answer so many of my questions (OK, Sharon, you were right! Now to remember the rule!). Ill update the post with these correction later. Time to sign off for the day!

Ronni Lester Ebbers

Good to go. Delightfully written.


Judi Boeye Miller, Lake Balboa, CA

I love to read about the little 'French' touches that make it still France!

I think maybe, in the first paragraph, you could add 'in' before 'close.' I had a hard time reading whether you were moving the suitcases close to your body or closing the suitcase.... I read 'cloze' rather than 'close.'
was"...automatically curl our shoulders inward and pull our suitcases *in* close.

This story really makes me anxious to get back to France, to tread lightly, and see 'the differences' - the unique qualities of this beautiful country and culture!

I think in the 8th paragraph I would add *top of' here: "I make coffee on 'top of' one of those space-saving.." It was fine until I read the rest of the sentence with the description of the device, then i was confused where you were making the coffee... minor thing, though.

Judi Boeye Miller, Lake Balboa, CA

BTW: I have just been reading the Grammar Devotional - great bathroom reading - ha ha.. It's a grammar fact a day, quiz on Friday. A very clever book and very informative. It compares some of the things we do differently from how they do them in U.K. And, one of the things I just read is how in the UK, they put the punctuation outside the quotes, and in the US we put them inside! So, maybe that is where the conflict is- or how, different people see it differently, depending on their country, or education system.... I guess being born & mostly educated in America but living a French life, you can decide which way you want to go.... and then, again, UK isn't really Europe is it?? HaHa - conumdrum!

Get this book - it's excellent - all about quotation marks, commas, semi-colons, whether to use backwards (UK) or backward (US), capitol vs capital, tons of different 'always wondered' type things.

Vicki, San Francisco Bay area

Kristin ~ Yes, the emdash and colon works for me. The story is looking good!

Karen Whitcome  (Towson, Md)

Hi Kristin, I just did a quick read but stumbled through the 4th paragraph. Maybe it needs to be two sentences? And also I might suggest writing "that HAS worn off OF ...." just to slow it down a bit.

Love it!!

Faye Stampe, Gleneden Beach, OR

Kristin ---- the story is delightful, and fine as it is!

Very warm & sweet.

Be well.

Sarah LaBelle near Chicago

My mind was instantly back in the small hotels of 1970s Paris, learning how to use those showers, as I read your experience of more recent date. Different ways to do all the little things of life. I guess that means the story was just right!

"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! "

to tug the shower curtain

seems clear to me. No need for close or closed, especially as there is no curtain to tug in any direction.

Susan Carter in Westminster, CA (for Kip)

Love this story about the quirkiness of things French. I think tug closed makes more sense than tug close and agree with the other edits you've already made. I did read the suitcase as being pulled close to the body not cloze - don't thing any change necessary here. Definately keep this story as it really made me smile.

Tonya in Arkansas

I loved the story. It tossed me back to my first visit to Paris and Pigalle Street restrooms!
I have one, boring thing to mention, an error made throughout the literary world today. Something, (or someone), is different FROM something else, not than.
Than is used to show a degree of difference. She is bigger than her sister. Her style is different from her sister's style. I only saw you use this once.

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