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Entries from August 2006


Buckling up those wine barrels in Châteauneuf-du-Pape


Ceinture de sécurité


noun, feminine

seat belt

Go back in time with me now, if you will, to the historic town of St. Maximin, where visitors from all over the world come to see the purported relics of Mary Magdalene (behind a thick glass encasement in the town's basilica).

The year is 1998 and the tree-lined parking lot in front of our centuries-old village home is complet. All fourteen parking spaces have been claimed. I am about to make one Frenchman's day by freeing une place—just as soon as I can wrestle my one- and three-year-olds into their car seats!

While I fasten Jackie's seatbelt, Max hums, pulls at my hair, or points to the pigeons in the dilapidated square. Beneath the campanile, which hasn't announced the hour in years, Madame A is scattering baguette crumbs again. If she keeps this up, there will be more birds in this village than beret-sporting Frenchmen! Maybe that's her plan?

I hear a familiar voice and I look up, past the car seat, to see Monsieur B, my other neighbor, shaking his head. "Elle est complètement dingue!" he mumbles, shaking his head at our neighbor. Perched there on the curb in front of  les pompes funèbres, Monsieur looks as old as Mary Magdalene.

Monsieur B hates it when Madame feeds the pigeons. "C'est sale!" he complains, pointing to the crotte-lined curb. I sidestep the pigeon droppings on my way around the car. Time to buckle in Max, now that his sister is secure in her car seat.

"Mommy's going to put YOUR ceinture on now," I explain. Max stops humming and releases another lock of my hair. His eyes leave the pigeons to refocus on my still-pursed lips. Next, his little voice insists, "SEN-tewr, maman! SEN-tewr!"

Ah, bon? It seems I am mispronouncing again. I see my son point to my lips as he opens his own mouth to demonstrate the correct sound.

The car behind me begins to honk. I signal un instant to the impatient driver, who is still waiting for our parking spot. Turning back to my son, I repeat the word as my three-year-old has instructed.

"SEN... SEN-tewr..." Yes! I now hear the difference: SEN—like century, and not SAHN, like sonnet.

"Voilà, maman!" the little voice confirms.

With that, Max resumes his humming, I run around the car (past the other driver, who flails his arms in exasperation), Madame A tosses more breadcrumbs, Monsieur B shakes his head, and the pigeons continue to populate the village square as life goes on in the little French town of St. Maximin.

French Vocabulary

complet = full
une place = a spot (parking place)
Elle est complètement dingue! = She is absolutely nuts!
pompes funèbres (fpl) = funeral home
c'est sale = it's dirty
la crotte = droppings
la ceinture = seatbelt
Ah, bon? = Oh, really?
voilà, maman = there you have it, mommy


See any typos in this story? Any other editorial comments? Click here to comment.



Le mensonge ressemble à la ceinture : il n'attache que son propriétaire.
A lie is like a
belt. It only secures its owner. --Proverb


French Women For All Seasons by Mireille Guiliano

For the legions of fans who asked for seconds after devouring French Women Don’t Get Fat, a charming and practical guide to adding some joie to your vie and to your table, every day of the year.
Order Mireille Guiliano's book here.

French pronunciation:
Listen to my 8-year-old, Jackie, pronounce this sentence: Maman, j'ai attaché ma ceinture. Mommy, I've attached my seat belt. Download ceinture3.wav

faire ceinture = to have to go without
se serrer la ceinture = to tighten one's belt, to go without
un coup au-dessous de la ceinture = a blow below the belt

la ceinture de sauvetage = life preserver
la ceinture de parachute = parachute harness
la ceinture de sécurité = seat belt
la ceinture marron, noire = brown, black belt (karate)

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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Something useful to do during the dry season...



noun, feminine


If you were to sneak over to our backyard fence, part its curtain of faded jasmine, and look past a ditch full of wild fennel grown as tall as our older child, you'd spy our next-door voisin showering beneath the fiery heavens at daybreak, scrub-a-dub-dubbing right in the middle of his potager!

But you wouldn't see a steel nozzle above his head or an anti-skid mat beneath his feet. Only a sturdy kitchen stool separates him from the muddy ground below, with its neatly trellised vines—vines which are, oddly, bursting with fruit during this, The Year of the Drought....

There, amongst ripe red tomates, stands my eco-conscious neighbor, garden hose held high above his head. I see no shelves on which to set his shampoo (is that a vinegar rinse he is using?... they say old wine is good for both hair and plants!), and no modesty's-sake shower curtain protects him from this housewife-voyeur (hence those bright blue swim trunks). On closer look, there is a serene expression on the showerer's face, as water from the tuyau trickles over it, splashing and quenching the thirsty légumes beneath.

In this period of sécheresse, the municipal Powers That Be forbid us to water our gardens... but no one said you couldn't wash yourself! I watch as the shower water rains down over the would-be parched vegetables, and I am impressed with my neighbor's clever solution to irrigating his garden.

"You ought to try it sometime!" the man in the blue swim trunks calls out. I freeze, as would any nosy neighbor who has been found out.

My cheeks turn as red as those well-watered tomatoes and I quickly release the jasmine, letting the floral curtain fall to a close.

French Vocabulary
le voisin, la voisine = neighbor
le potager = vegetable garden
la tomate = tomato
le tuyau (d'arrosage) = garden hose
un légume = vegetable
la sécheresse = drought
Please help me edit this story for clarity and for typos. Click here to point out any formatting problems, as well. Thank you!

French definition of sécheresse by Petit Larousse: "état de ce qui est sec."

L'amitié est une plante qui doit résister à la sécheresse.
Friendship is a plant that must resist drought.
 --Joseph Joubert
Words_1"Words in a French Life" -- Real Simple Magazine calls it "a memorable travel book".

                 *   *   *
FRANCE The most informative, comprehensive and beautiful English-language magazine covering France is truly "the next best thing to being there. Order it here.
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French Pronunciation:
Listen to Jean-Marc's sentence:
C'est une année de sécheresse. It is year of drought. Download secheresse.wav

Terms & French Expressions:
la sécheresse cutanée/oculaire = dry skin/eyes
dire quelque chose avec sécheresse = to say something curtly
The French word sécheresse is referenced in these books:
The Song of the Earth  
The Song of the Earth by Hugh Nissenson
"The French call Evian water le Champagne de la Sécheresse--'drought Champagne'." (p. 11)
Jacques-Felix Lelievre's New Louisiana Gardener  
Jacques-Felix Lelievre's New Louisiana Gardener by Jacques-Felix Lelievre and Sally Kittredge Reeves
"In 1903 drought (secheresse in French) devastated livestock farming in Mauritania." (p. 127)

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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Chiens Bavards (c) Kristin Espinasse
Be warned: "chiens bavards," or chatty dogs, at this neighbor's address.

Boss_dog"The Boss Dog" by M. F. K. Fisher, where the adventures of a proud if scruffy mongrel, the Boss Dog, serve as a pretext for an informal, fictionalized portrait of the southern French city and its denizens. Order it here.

braise (brez) noun, feminine
  1. ember  2. cash, dough, bread

Ce qu'est le charbon à la braise et le bois au feu, l'homme colère l'est pour allumer des disputes. Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife. --Proverbs

A Day in a French Life...
In France, when a dog is "de race,"* its name usually begins with a certain alphabetical letter. The initial, determined by the rules of the national canine authorities, is based on the dog's birth year and therefore changes from one année* to the next. For our golden retriever puppy (born in 2006) we were required to find a name beginning with this year's letter, "B".

Jean-Marc's suggestion to name our puppy "Braise" puzzled me considering the term's English equivalent, "Ember". Her fur is not a golden red (she is light-coated) and her spirit is not fiery but melts-your-heart humble. No, "Braise" did not seem fitting, but forthcoming it became, as would be the fire-walking...

Lately, I am learning to promener* Braise. I knew dogs needed to be trained to sit, shake, and roll over--but to walk? Just as soon as I attach her laisse* the tug-of-war begins. With her back legs braced and all her weight behind them, Braise becomes a four-legged plow. I ignore the growing pile of earth, now separating her from me, and blaze a trail through the empty lot next door. By the time we've reached the forest, the earth piled between us, high as the arch of a French woman's brow, she's eased up--only to advance in a figure eight fashion, trotting in and out of my scissoring legs, causing the ropey heel of my espadrille to land on its side and me to falter and rise up again with each step.

Were you a nosy neighbor pausing to stare out the kitchen window, just beyond the neatly trimmed cypress hedge, you'd see the top half of what looked to be a traveling circus, a one-woman show advancing in an erratic, jumpy fashion--as if the woman were walking on burning Embers! But you'd be mistaken, deceived by the cypress screen. I was walking around Braise, and acrobatically so. Come to think of it, "Braise" is a fitting name after all.

References: de race = pure-bred; promener = to walk; une laisse (f) = lead, leash

In Gifts for Francophiles:  The Café Rouge Clock

More cool clock designs here.

French Pronunciation
Listen to my son, Max, pronounce the following sentence:
Notre golden s'appelle Braise. Our golden is named Ember. Download braise2.wav

French Expressions:
les braises = the (glowing) embers; live charcoal
être sur la braise = to be on tenterhooks
les yeux de braise = fiery eyes, eyes like coals
   -from the Robert Collins Senior dictionary

More dogs in France:

Spotted in France: A Dog's Life...On the Road. Order it here.

A Dog's Life by Peter Mayle. More info 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 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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Photo: My 8-year-old and her new chiot.



noun, masculine


I once knew a French woman who, every time her husband asked, "Chérie, where are my keys?" (or sunglasses or clopes or...) would answer deviously, "Dans les chiottes!"

Chiottes? My mind conjured up the image of a toilet. I imagined the poor husband's belongings floating inside the bowl... until I realized that the wife had only made a smart-alecky remark. Fed up with racking her brain about the location of another misplaced object, she solved the "Where's My Stuff?" issue in three curt words: In the crapper!

Up until a week ago I could not so much as mumble the word chiot without blushing; the problem being its resemblance to the word chiotte. I had this vague notion that one of the words was associated with a certain four-letter word (rhymes with spit) and, like most students of French, I was afraid to mispronounce either word and end up saying something illicit, or just plain icky. Had I simply looked up the two words in the dictionary and noted the difference in sense and spelling (dog/crapper or chiot/chiotte), not to mention pronunciation (shee-oh/shee-oht), my own issue with the word would have been resolved. Instead I avoided the words—especially when my children brought up a certain one (chiot), as they frequently did over the past five years....

Last Tuesday, I gave in to my children's pleas and one of the "shee" words materialized into a slavering suitemate. "What a sweet puppy you have!" friends now say, followed by a spot of advice. "Ah, a golden retriever! She'll be retrieving alright," they tease. "Don't forget to hide your slippers and that television remote!"

Picturing the chewed up and misplaced objects that were soon to be part of our quotidien, it occurred to me that the next time my own husband absent-mindedly sets down his stuff only to bug me about it with a "Chérie, where are my keys?" I may very well answer as the French woman did (only with a slightly devious twist): Dans le chiot!

French Vocabulary

une clope = a cig (cigarette)
Dans les chiottes! = In the crapper!
les chiottes (f) = "can," "john," "crapper" (la chiotte, singular, is also a slang term for car: "jalopy")
le chiot = puppy
le quotidien = everyday life (routine)
Dans le chiot! = Inside the puppy!

Celui qui dit que le bonheur ne s'achète pas a oublié qu'il y a les petits chiots. / Whoever said you can't buy happiness forgot about little puppies. --Gene Hill

French Pronunciation:
Listen to Max's sentence (he struggles a bit over the English words at the end of the sentence...): On a un petit chiot. C'est un golden retriever. / We have a little puppy. It's a golden retriever.: Download chiot.wav

Children's bi-lingual book: Puppy Finds a Friend: Le Petit Chien Se Trouve Un Ami

In children's books:
Suzette and the Puppy: A Story About Mary Cassatt. The time and place of this gentle story is Paris in the 1870s, when many fine artists were creating the exciting approach to painting called Impressionism. More about this picture book for young children, here.

More examples for the word "chiottes" (slang for toilet) are found in these books:

  1. The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs & Corso in Paris, 1957-1963 by Barry Miles. "Each landing had a Turkish chiotte: a traditional hole-in-the-floor toilet with a raised footprint-shaped platform on either side upon which to position your feet while you squatted. Torn sheets of newspaper hung on a nail in lieu of toilet tissue." Order the book, here.
  2. Travels with a Tangerine: From Morocco to Turkey in the Footsteps of Islam's Greatest Traveler by Tim Mackintosh-Smith (for the term "la nostalgie des chiottes")... more here.
  3. Marianne in Chains: Daily Life in the Heart of France During the German Occupation by Robert Gildea "... thirty of them were insulted by a man shouting, "Aux chiottes, Bucard!' (Dump Bucard!)." More 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 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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Mussels (c) Kristin Espinasse
Our son, Max, collecting mussels on the Island of Groix (Brittany).

"The Oysters of Locmariaquer," by Eleanor Clark, is a vivid account of the cultivation of Belon oysters and an excursion into the myths, legends, and rich, vibrant history of Brittany and its extraordinary people. Order it here.

la moule (mool) noun, feminine
  1. mussel  2. a lethargic, clumsy person; an imbecile

The masculine of "moule" has a different meaning.:
  1. mould  2. tin, pan (cake)
Tous nous sommes faits d'une même argile, mais ce n'est pas le même moule.
We are all made of the same clay, but not the same mould. --Mexican proverb

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

Every since I was a freckle-faced gosse* and my Dad broke the news that nothing in life is free, I've secretly relished each and every exception to the money rule. Now that I'm grown up, and as I go about managing my own porte-monnaie,* I realize such exceptions eventually come at a price. Still, the child within me can't help but éclater* with joy each time she encounters a freebie.

By day ten in Brittany, and after so much slopping through the mud, Jean-Marc's skin shined from his own "vaz* therapy" and I must say that the inner child in me beamed as well, imagining just how much something like this would have cost in some 5-star spa. But unblemished skin--or appearance--ranks low on a child's list of Cool Freebees; appetite is everything. Discovering that we could eat for free and to our heart's content on the French island of Groix was akin to watching a trio of sevens line up at the casino in Monte Carlo.

At the port of Locmaria, Jean-Marc, Max, and Jackie hopped from rock to rocher* on their way out to hunt for moules,* the petrol-blue shells of which clung to a bed of rocks at low tide. While I admired the hard-shelled bouquets that lay across the ocean floor, the child within me shouted victory at another free meal for the taking; add those mussels to a steaming bath of olive oil and wild rosemary (pushing up like thorny weeds across the island, free as a prick in the finger) and we'd soon dine like gluttonous rois.* I slung a red net sack over my shoulder and followed my hungry clan out to sea.

With a child's conviction and a woman's caution, I searched for the biggest mussels, twisting them free one by one from their mother rock, before adding them to the growing stash in the red sack.

Back at our rental we sat around the table, pinching the salmon-colored meat from the shell, the latter steamed over the burner or fired open on the barbeque. Jean-Marc showed us the pinching technique whereby a newly-emptied mussel becomes the pincer-utensil (in place of a fork). The child in me rejoiced--not only was the food free, but so was the tableware! (Dad, are you reading this?!)

After four or five meals (lunch/dinner/lunch/dinner--and again lunch!) with the mussels en vedette* I must admit to breaking down and begging the child within to let me spring for a pricey island pizza -- you know, one with the works! After all, everyone knows that nothing is gained without "works".

References: un/une gosse (mf) = kid; le porte-monnaie (m) = change purse; éclater = to burst; vaz (pronunciation for "la vase" = silt, mud, sludge); le rocher (m) = rock; la moule (f) = mussel; le roi (m) = king; en vedette = starring (the mussels)

French Pronunciation:
Hear my son Max's sentence: On a peché des moules sur l'ile de Groix. We hunted for mussels on the Island of Groix. Download moule.wav
Terms & Expressions:
la moule d'étang = swamp mussel
la moule de rivière (also known as "une mulette") = river mussel
le moule à gaufres = waffle iron
le moule à tarte = quiche/pie plate, flan dish
casser le moule = to break the mould

In books: bi- and multi-lingual VISUAL dictionaries!

French English Bilingual Visual Dictionary.

The Firefly Five Language Visual Dictionary: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian.

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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Fisherman's cottage
A Fisherman's bungalow on the Isle of Groix.

News: The 2007 edition of le Petit Larousse has just been released! If you don't have a copy of this French language dictionary for your desk (or even for your coffee table...) you might order one here (note: all definitions are in French).

moulinette (moo-lee-net) noun, feminine
   little mill

French definition of "la moulinette" from le Petit Larousse:
"Petit moulin manuel ou électrique pour broyer les aliments."
  (A small mill, manual or electric, for crushing food.)

A Day in a French Life...
Back from vacation and lots to tchache* about but first--an impromptu renaming of this column (if only for a day):

"Eight objects that would have one guessing (without even setting foot outside) that one was in France--and in a French holiday rental--and not, say, in a holiday rental in Cave Creek, Arizona":

1. fondue spears alongside the forks, knives and spoons in the silverware drawer
2. a complimentary brique* of long-conservation milk left by the owner...
3. well as two small bottles of Kronenbourg
4. a collapsible étendoir*
5. the oh-so-French traversin* at the head of each bed
6. an original vegetable moulinette (the hand-crankable kind of yesteryear!)
7. a recycling diagram pinned to the wall above the push pedal poubelle*
8. (not sure if this counts but...) enough insecticide, distributed by the owner just before our arrival, to send a desert rat packing.

The desert rat in question did not scurry off, but threw open the French doors, aired out the tiny rental, and stayed another two weeks (in time to watch her French colocataire* drink a Kro* or two and even give the little moulinette a spin for a traditional soupe de poisson*). More about Jean-Marc's fish soup, and the "little rock" we visited over summer break, in the coming week.

References: tchatche (tchatcher) = to chat; la brique (f) = carton; un étendoir (m) = clotheshorse; le traversin (m) = bolster, pillow that runs the width of bed; la poubelle (f) = garbage; le/la colocataire (mf) = fellow tenant; Kro (or how the French sometimes call Kronenbourg); la soupe de poisson (f) = fish soup

French Pronunciation:
Listen to my 8-year-old daughter pronounce the word moulinette: Download moulinette2.wav

Hear Jackie's sentence: Je vais tourner la moulinette. (I'm going to turn the
vegetable mill.): Download moulinette3.wav

Terms & Expressions:
passer quelqu'un à la moulinette = to put someone through a tough questioning (exam, interoggation)
passer quelque chose à la moulinette = to put something through the vegetable mill, to process (also: to scrutinize something).

(In French) Lettres De Mon Moulin by Alphonse Daudet
(In English) Letters from My Mill by Alphonse Daudet

More examples of "moulinette" in these books:

The Cuisine of the Sun: Classical French Cooking from Nice and Provence (Fireside Cookbook Classics)
The Cuisine of the Sun: Classical French Cooking from Nice and Provence (Fireside Cookbook Classics) by Mireille Johnston

Cooking in the French Fashion
Cooking in the French Fashion by Stephanie Ovide and Maurita Magner
Webster's New World Concise French Dictionary (Webster's New World)
Webster's New World Concise French Dictionary (Webster's New World) by Chambers Harrap Ltd

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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