Secheresse: Why My Neighbor Showers in The Backyard With The Tomatoes

Seatbelt in French

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.


Replongeons-nous maintenant, si vous le voulez bien, dans le temps, à la ville historique de St. Maximin, où des visiteurs du monde entier viennent voir les prétendus reliques de Marie-Madeleine (derrière une épaisse vitrine en verre dans la basilique de la ville).

Nous sommes en 1998 et le parking bordé d'arbres devant notre maison de village centenaire est complet. Les quatorze places de parking ont toutes été prises. Je m'apprête à faire le bonheur d'un Français en libérant une place, dès que j'aurai réussi à installer mes enfants d'un et trois ans dans leurs sièges auto !

Pendant que j'attache la ceinture de sécurité de Jackie, Max fredonne, tire mes cheveux ou pointe du doigt les pigeons sur la place délabrée. Sous le campanile, qui n'a plus sonné depuis des années, Madame A répand à nouveau des miettes de baguette. Si elle continue comme ça, il y aura plus d'oiseaux que de Français en béret dans ce village ! Peut-être est-ce son plan ?

J'entends une voix familière et je lève les yeux, par-dessus le siège auto, pour voir Monsieur B, mon autre voisin, secouant la tête. "Elle est complètement dingue !" murmure-t-il en désignant notre voisine. Perché là sur le trottoir devant les pompes funèbres, Monsieur a l'air aussi vieux que Marie-Madeleine.

Monsieur B déteste quand Madame nourrit les pigeons. "C'est sale !" se plaint-il, en montrant le trottoir parsemé de crottes. J'évite les excréments de pigeon en contournant la voiture. Il est temps d'attacher Max, maintenant que sa sœur est bien installée dans son siège auto.

"Maman va mettre TA ceinture maintenant", j'explique. Max arrête de fredonner et lâche une autre mèche de mes cheveux. Ses yeux quittent les pigeons pour se concentrer sur mes lèvres toujours pincées. Ensuite, sa petite voix insiste : "SEN-teur, maman ! SEN-teur !"

Ah bon ? Il semble que je prononce encore mal. Je vois mon fils pointer mes lèvres pendant qu'il ouvre sa propre bouche pour montrer le son correct.

La voiture derrière moi commence à klaxonner. Je fais un geste à l'attention du conducteur impatient qui attend toujours notre place de parking. Me tournant à nouveau vers mon fils, je répète le mot comme mon fils de trois ans me l'a enseigné.

"SEN... SEN-teur..." Oui ! J'entends maintenant la différence : SEN - comme dans siècle, et non SAHN - comme dans sonnet.

"Voilà, maman !" confirme la petite voix.

Avec cela, Max reprend son fredonnement, je contourne la voiture en courant (passant devant l'autre conducteur qui agite les bras d'exaspération), Madame A jette encore plus de miettes de pain, Monsieur B secoue la tête, et les pigeons continuent de peupler la place du village tandis que la vie suit son cours dans la petite ville française de 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)

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I love the three year old teaching the mother! Sandra

Suzanne Dunaway

I see only a lovely, lovely story, like something magical falling past your window and your life is somehow better for seeing it.

Sushil Dawka

In the last paragraph, the comma after Mrs. A is unnecessary. Also, how would one abbreviate 'Madame' ?
And before anyone suggests restructuring the last sentence/paragraph may I say: "Stet!"
It buzzes !


Wonderful story! I didn't realize your children had started so young to "help" you with your French pronunciation. I wish I had some French toddlers to help me - that must have been so much fun. Again, I am recommending eliminating parentheses. I think the last sentence could be two sentences, like this: With that, Max resumes his humming and I run around the car, past the other driver, who flails his arms in exasperation. Mrs. A, tosses more crumbs out the window, Mr. B shakes his head, and the pigeons continue to populate the village square as life goes on in the little French village of St. Maximin. Qu'en penses-tu ?


I think would put a period after 'again':
'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!'

& remove the comma after Max:
'Time to buckle in a three-year-old Max[,] now'

I agree with Leslie on the last paragraph and am carried away reading the story, lol, once again.

Linda Williams Rorem

Maybe that's her plan.NO NEED FOR QUESTION MARK HERE.

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. She's absolutely nuts!" he mumbles, DID HE SAY IT IN FRENCH AND ENGLISH? THAT'S HOW IT APPEARS. MAYBE END QUOTE AFTER DINGUE AND PUT ENGLISH IN PARENS.

Perched DELETE THERE on the curb in front of les pompes funèbres, Monsieur looks as old as Mary Magdalene.

around the car. Time to buckle in DON"T NEED TO REPEAT HIS AGE HERE IF ADD "LITTLE" LATER Max, now that his LITTLE sister is secure in her car seat.

Turning back to my toddler, I repeat the word as HE -- AGAIN NO NEED TO REPEAT NUMBER has instructed.

With that, Max resumes his humming.PERIOD HERE
I run around the car (past the other driver,COMMA who flails his arms in exasperation).PERIOD
Mrs. A, tosses more crumbs out the window, (Mr. B shakes his head), and the pigeons continue to populate the village square as life goes on in the little French village of St. Maximin.I WOULD NOT REPEAT VILLAGE IN SENTENCE. COULD YOU CHANGE THE SECOND PHRASE TO SOMETHING LIKE, "IN THE OTHERWISE-SLEEPY HAMLET OF ST. MAXIM."


I would remove these two commas: after Mrs. A (,) tosses more crumbs out the window (,)

Bill in St. Paul

Hmm, I disagree with Linda's first comment: I'd leave the question mark in. It says to me that you don't know what her plan is. I agree with Linda's second comment, but I'm not sure if it wouldn't just be easier to move the whole translation of the phrase to the French vocabulary section. In Linda's third comment I could go either way as I probably use more words than necessary. I agree with Linda's comments on repeating Max's age but I do like the phrase "as my three-year-old has instructed" which shows that even a three year old knows how to pronounce "ceinture".

My main change would be as follows: "Mrs. A (REMOVE THE COMMA) tosses more crumbs out the window (REMOVE THE COMMA, a parenthetical phase can't stand alone between two commas) (Mr. B shakes his head), and the pigeons...."

It a great little snippet of life in a French village.


I wonder about using M. and Mme rather than Mrs. and Mr. in your last reference to them. Maybe the French form add a little something.

Olga Brown

One more good story.


Bettye Dew

1. There's an errant (single) parenthesis after "sonnet."
2. Previously you put periods after Mrs. A. and Mr. B, but in last paragraph,periods are missing.
3. I would remove the parenthesis around "Mr. B. shakes his head." You have both parenthesis and commas, and you need only one set of punctuation.

Good story.

Betty Gleason

Agree with Bettye above.
To be really consistent it should be Madame A.(no comma) & Mr. B. (no parentheses) in the last line.


You say Madame A and Monsieur B, then Mrs A and Mr B. I'd be consistent; use one or the other, not both. Also, I'm sure that your pronunciation of ceinture is correct (in standard French). Max's pronunciation is (naturally) that which is spoken in the south of France (Provence, Marseille, etc).


I love this story for its parent-child conversation that reverses the usual parent-to-child teaching. No typos that I noticed, due to my engagement in the text after the first 2 paragraphs. I found paragraph 2 made me wonder how its location related to information in paragraph 1. Connecting it by adding the name of the village to the lst sentence in paragraph 2 would help the flow.

Bruce T. Paddock

Hey, Kristin –

Oh, dear. We assistant editors are starting to turn on each other. Good thing this will all be over in a few days.

“Encasement” only appears in one of my dictionaries, and there it’s defined as “case” or “covering.” Is that the word you mean?

You need a comma after “1998” because what follows “and” is a complete sentence.

Technically, you need a comma after “familiar voice” for the same reason, but I think it works better as is.

Other have mentioned the problem with having the French and English versions of M. B’s sentence together within the quotes. There are a couple of different ways to fix it, but I’m going to stay out of it.

You should delete the “a” before “three-year-old Max.”

In the next paragraph, you refer to Max’s humming, his hand, and his eyes. So when you say “a” little voice, I assumed it was Jackie’s (having momentarily forgotten she was probably preverbal at this point).

Having “toddler” and “three-year-old” in the same sentence is awkward. I’d suggest going with “…I repeat the word as he has instructed.” Don’t worry, the reader will remember who “he” is.

In the final sentence in the third-to-last paragraph, “SEN” and “SAHN” should probably have the same punctuation mark after them.

I love the last paragraph as a single sentence, but agree that you can drop the parens around Mr. B.

Also, you have a comma instead of a period after “Mrs. A”

judith dunn

Kristin... do you think we Americans ( English speaking) transposed the word 'dingue' for nuts in French, to 'dingy' for nutty in English?

I love your story.. 'from the mouth of babes'... etc..
Cheers, Judi Dunn


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

Delete the commas after "Mrs. A," and "window,"

Sweet story!

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you very much for these helpful edits! 

Working under the gun now to get these stories into the manuscript. Wish me luck! (I need it!!)

Marianne Rankin

I think you should definitely include this story, along with "Noeud."

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