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)

A Message from KristiFor twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.

Ways to contribute:
1. Send a check (to this new address)
2. Paypal or credit card
3. A bank transfer via Zelle, a great way to send your donation as there are no transaction fees.

Or purchase my book for a friend, and so help spread the French word.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety