"Gateaux Basques" (Summer 2008): on the west coast of France, not far from Bayonne, in the hills of Briscous.

un sourire
(soo-reer) noun, masculine
    : a smile

Rides, des sourires gravés.
Wrinkles are engraved smiles.
--Jules Renard

Hear today's word and the above quote, in French (compliments of Son Max): Download sourire.wav .  Download sourire.mp3

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Thanks to Laura Ingalls Wilder,* the kids and I are working on a new habit: le sourire.*

We began watching the televised series, "La Petite Maison dans La Prairie,"* over summer vacation--after the DVD box set was given to my daughter. Since, the whole family has benefited from the gift.

Mesmerized by the daily dramas--and the Ingall's family's habit of rolling up their sleeves in the face of adversity--we hardly noticed that some of the old-fashioned family values were rubbing off on us.

One episode in particular has changed our daily routine. In yet another tear-jerking scene, Laura is paying tribute to her mother, whose smile is the first thing she sees in the morning, and the last thing she sees before closing her eyes at night. Indeed, Laura's mother, Caroline, whether about to be scalped by the natives--or on the verge of being burned alive (while, bucket by bucket, she tries to put out the flames that threaten to destroy her family's cabin), yes "Sainte Caroline" always manages a smile before putting out the candle's light each night.

"Elle est trop parfaite!" I often lamented, in a mock complaint as we finished watching yet another happy ending. "Well, you can try to be more like Laura's maman,*" my daughter offered, of Perfect Mother Caroline. Feathers ruffled, I pointed out how Caroline's daughters, Laura and Mary, were just as good role models for a couple of other rug rats that I knew personally. The kids giggled and I looked back to the screen, lost in thought. True, something about the Ingall's façon de vivre* resonated, and soon my family and I found ourselves trying to be good, or at least better.

We started simply, with The Smile. Soon a new habitude* was instilled in our daily routine: "Le Sourire Matinal"* and "Le Sourire du Soir".* Lately, no matter what mood is coloring the moment, we freeze in our tracks in time to paint a sensational smile across our faces. And I do mean sensational, for once
the smile is "put on," we can't help but feel better.

When I slide, sourire-wise, the kids are good at reminding me of our goal.
"Mom!" they'll say, as I peck them on the cheek at night, adding "Did you brush your teeth?" and "You'll have to straighten up this room first thing tomorrow morning!" and "A wet towel? Is that a WET TOWEL on the floor? Where do wet towels belong? That's right: In the bathroom--on a hook!"

"Mom!" they'll interrupt, and I snap back to my senses--my "smile senses". Soon, a toothy smile is flashing across all of our faces, and exaggeratedly so. Life's cares fade quickly into the background as a cloud of consciousness overcomes us: We are Toothy Smile. We are Grin. We are, however fleetingly, happy again.

And no matter how ruffled my feathers get each time "Sainte Caroline" impresses my kids, I have to give her credit for keeping her hair on when those Indians came calling. That's proof right there that a smile can be disarming.


Laura Ingalls Wilder = pioneer woman, writer; le sourire (m) = smile; La Petite Maison dans La Prairie = Little House on the Prairie; la maman (f) = mom; la façon (f) de vivre = way of life; une habitude (f) = habit; le sourire (m) matinal = the morning smile; le sourire (m) du soir = the evening smile

Little House on the Prairie - The Complete Season 1

A cremerie--and a lazy employee--near Biarritz.

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I decided to teach my grand-daughter what little French I know, and began when she was six months old by greeting her with "Bon jour, baby". Now at age 14 months, she lights up when she hears that greeting, and I light up thinking about it.


I teach French at a local Montessori School. We had our back to school ice cream social, and the kids were hugging my legs and saying "Bonjour Ms. Irene." That made my day. I also love to hear when the parents tell me that their children constantly sing "Bonjour Mes Amis" (A children's song) at home. :)


One of my dogs likes to jump out of her bed in the mornin and can get her tail going 500mph-that makes my day start out with a smile. Looking out and seeing the roses and other flowers blooming right now. Hugging an elderly patient and getting them to smile (and hug back) also brightens my day.


Hi Kristin,
I love this post, I remember when I was a kid growing up in France watching this TV series!
Nowadays leaving in the PNW I get great pleasure at watching a couple of hummingbirds coming to feed in my garden flowers and feeders and dive-bombing each other when they infrige on the other's territory. They always bring "un grand sourire" to my face.
Thanks for your weekly "tranches de vie Française".
Bonne rentrée pour les enfants.


Bonjour Kristin:

I try to speak French and Danish daily with my two girls. My oldest LOVE when I sing Frere Jacques to her, whereas my youngest love the same song, but in Danish. Seeing their faces light up when Mama shows off her linguistic skills, makes my life!
By the way, "A Smile" in Danish is "Et Smil", and "To Smile" is "At Smile" -- small world linguistically, isn't it?

Evelyn Jackson

Isn't it amazing how Laura Ingalls Wilder transcends cultures? We used to read her books out loud before bed to my two pre-teen stepchildren. Sophisticated as they thought they were, they always began asking after dinner "Are we going to read about Laura tonight?"

When my son was growing up, hugs lit up my day. He adored hugs and we had 'good morning hugs, lunch hugs, naptime hugs, good night hugs...you get the drift...any excuse for a hug. Alas when he turned 14, he gave them up! He's an adult now; I cherish any hug he gives me; they light up my life.

Tim S.

Dear Kristi,

What really brings a 'sourire' to my face is to read and re-read your posts. I hope this article gets transmitted to lots and lots of new readers and reminds them, also as me, of the importance of a smile.


Hello Kristi,

Your daughter is lovely!!!:)
Last night my daughter came home from a 12 hour day at school and was exhausted but she still had chores to do. So as I prepared dinner for her she started unloading the dishwasher but soon grew too hungry to finish (she said she would finish after she ate) so while she was eating I unloaded the rest of the dishes for her without her noticing and when she finished eating, she walked to an empty dishwasher and looked at me which I then said "I finished it for you" She just smiled so big at me and said that deserves a big hug momma!! That coming from a 14year old hormonal girl really made me smile and even brought a tear to my eye. I'll cherish that hug for a long time to come

R. Roll

Sourire is ngiti in Tagalog. As some of you may know, Pilipinos are quick to smile even in the face of adversity.


Chere Kristi,
I got a big sourire when I saw Jackie's tattoo!


Hello Kristi,

A few months ago we traveled to Missouri and went out of our way to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead in Mansfield. Although a bit touristy, being in the house was such a lovely experience and seeing many items from Laura's life made it worth the trip. I started smiling as we walked up to the house and still hold that smile inside of me. My 10 year old son still talks about seeing Pa's fiddle!

If you ever make it to Missouri on one of your wine tours, bring the kids, your smiles and go visit!

Thanks always for your lovely writing and sharing bits of your life with us. We're heading to a local wine shop today to buy some Dentelle...that will make us smile, too!

Julie, Portland Oregon


I grew up on Little House on the Prairie, both the books and the TV show. I still have a pavlovian reflex and get teary eyed just hearing the theme music. I was going to name my daughter Caroline after Mrs. Ingalls, but went for Olivia after Mrs. Walton instead!

What truly lifts my spirits when I am down is a tender hug from my loving husband. Such a safe place to be in, his arms are. Lets me know how truly loved I am. Lucky me!


Sorriso = smile in Italian
My 3 yr-old elicits smiles from me whenever he tries out a new word.
Today's was "actually", and he used it appropriately.

Mary Ann

"smile" in Polish: "usmiech".


Bonsoir Kristen,

I can't believe it's taken me this long to notice that you have a comments box!

Smile in Welsh is gwên. I cheated and looked it up because my Welsh mother is no longer around for me to ask.

Something that always brings a smile to my face is hearing the Minuet from Boccherini's String Quintet in E major. I heard it for the very first time at a concert in a cave (of all places) in Italy. It was the middle of summer, the cave was freezing cold, the sound was so pure -- and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. Every time I hear it, I am there all over again. For a 30-second snippet: http://www.imeem.com/beyondaphelion/music/ermMdruW/minuet/.


Hello Kristin,
Did you know that the action of smiling releases endorphins..So that smiling actually DOES make you feel better! The more you smile, the more you feel like smiling..the true win win situation! Hugs,
Cerelle in Phoenix, Arizona


Hello Kristin,
Did you know that the action of smiling releases endorphins..So that smiling actually DOES make you feel better! The more you smile, the more you feel like smiling..the true win win situation! Hugs,
Cerelle in Phoenix, Arizona

Fred Caswell

Chere Kristi,

What makes me happy? -- igniting a sourire to another person's visage, especially accompanied by tears of joy. Also, a meaningful job well done and my amazing wife's smile or little favor done for her husband. A "good" joke or cartoon plus some of the humorous yet touching stories from our cherished Kristi. A sincere hug with or without a kiss is a moment of bliss. Playing baseball when younger now gives way to watching my favorite team and players win. With new back problems, first lying down in bed at night is so great that I have to smile. Family, reunions and welcoming my first great-granddaughter have brought smiles that lasted for hours.

Writing this has caused me to grin, realising how lucky I am. Fred



Bonjour, Kristin!

I teach French at a very small private school around the corner from the house I grew up in, where my parents and younger brother still live (I am a college student and live on campus, even though I could, potentially, commute). The children I teach--last year I had nine of them between first and fifth grade, ranging in age from six to eleven--have so much joy in learning French. It always brings a smile to my face when I walk in the room and get mobbed by excited children.

My mother is a preschool teacher, and her little preschoolers never fail to make me smile as well. Especially smile-worthy is listening to their logic sometimes. My mother, their teacher, is Mrs. Sciance; the kindergarten through second grade teacher is Mrs. Casenova; the third through fifth grade teacher-cum-principal-cum-owner is Mrs. Hart. The after-school teacher is Miss Dotti because her last name is tricky for them. Since Mrs. Casenova's husband is Mr. Casenova and Mrs. Sciance's husband is Mr. Sciance, it stands to reason that Miss Dotti's husband must be--Mr. Dotti! The littlest ones call me Mrs. Bronwyn, which makes us all laugh.

My friends not only make me "sourire", but also "rire"! We spend as much time together as we can after classes, and even when we're having serious conversations things slip in that make us laugh. I don't know what I'd do without them.

By the way, the German word for smile is "lächeln".

travel savings

Thanks for the 'word a day' widget.


I love that this prompted so many responses.

Sorriso, Italian, and sonrisa, Spanish, do seem to be etymological sisters to sourire, but what intrigues me is that sonrisa also implies "sun rise" in Spanish, and maybe the base for a laugh in French? This is the deep joy of studying language, that we can see the plasticity and breadth of this wonderful tool, and how language can describe experience, as well as shape it, at the same time!

Steven Gowin

We have an ongoing dispute at our house.

First, I have to say that my wife LOVES the LHOTP books.

I don't think she puts much stock in the series, but that's beside the point.

My wife thinks Pa exemplifies the American spirit, and acted as the best dad ever, but think about it...

Pa settled his family in malarial swamps, put them in danger from unfriendly natives, and moved them time and time again all over the prairie always at their great peril.

Now what kind of father is that? More like the mad father in Mosquito Coast, that's what kind of father! If you look at it all coldly, you have to admit that Pa was a lunatic.

I suppose he IS an example of the American spirit, but realizing that our country was pioneered by a lot desperate nut cases is a bit unsettling no? :)

Well, that's my two centime worth on Little House on the Prarie and Mr. Pa.

mark haynes

Dear Kristin.. thanks again for your wonderful writing. I thought to be a wise guy and put the pig latin for smile here but i am not sure of the proper translation. I call on your linguistic abilities to answer the question: is it mile-say or ile-smay?


What brings you "joie de vivre": a smile, the sunset, a new pair of shoes?
A smile on someone's face is like a breath of fresh air, like the unexpected sunshine. It opens a window for communication and incites you to smile back. A smile will then bring a smile to somebody else's face.... and so on... the game is catching. With a smile on your face, people will feel in the right mood to listen to you and follow you, whatever you are trying to achieve.
Smiles from others are like lovely gifts that keep me in a friendly and open mood, but can I say that a smile brings me “la joie de vivre”?

As far as I am concerned, I need more than just a smile from other people to bring me “la joie de vivre”. I need a sense of purpose, I need strength & enthusiasm within myself in order to go and enjoy whatever I do, at all levels.

When my “joie de vivre” is at its strongest, I believe there must be a subtle smile coming naturally on my lips, reflecting my inner feelings... (whether I am on my own or surrounded by people)


PS - The sort of smile mentioned in my last sentence is not "le sourire Colgate" type of smile!... So many nuances!

Paula Hogan

Twenty years ago I read aloud the entire "Little House" series to my then young daughter. These beautifully written books (actually penned by her journalist daughter, Rose Wilder Lane) are one of my daughter's fondest childhood memories--and far superior to the treacle that passes for a TV series.


In Hindi( the language most of Indians speak), 'un sourire' is 'hunsi'. Every human values the smile...I got one of most valued smiles of my life when we managed to get our house-help's little girl to school....The gift this little angel gave me while boarding the bus on her first day was a beautiful 'sourire' and that picture just stays with me ...


But I LOVED La Petite Maison dans la Prairie series when I was growing up in France. It was one the few shows that I got to watch. It was playing on Wednesday afternoon, which is a day when we did not have school when we were in primary school (so that children could pursue religious education associated with their faith - if any). It came on around 4:00 pm, and it was such a treat.

I never could get in the books the same way. But I loved the series.

Quelle bonne idee de pratiquer le sourire de famille!


I have always wondered what a "souris" has to do with a "sourire", since I never smile when I see one!


My "joie de vivre" is to look at the faces of our five grandkids. And when they smile, I really think that I'm in heaven.

The word smile in Spanish is "sonrisa", and in both Portuguese and Italian, it is "sorriso".
Congratulations on your work and best of luck with your wines.


I so enjoy your blog! It is the first thing I check every morning, and I have told many friends to come take a look as well.
I especially love this entry, and am trying to adopt a similar "habitude" chez moi, aussi.
P.S. I have been looking everywhere for a wooden wine bottle rack as shown in the background of the picture with your lovely daughter.Could you help me with my search? Milles mercis!

kristin wohlust

Bonjour Kristin,

My name is Kristin too so excuse the redundancy. I just love this and will place an "un sourire" on my face today. Thank you for the reminder! I love your blog! How can I learn more about your wine? Can I purchase it in the U.S.?


Hi Kristin,

Thanks for asking about where to find our wines. Yes, you can purchase it in the US. Here's a list of importers: http://buy-rouge-bleu.notlong.com

Vivienne Mackie

Hi Kristin,
In Afrikaans (the language some people speak in South Africa) the word is "glimlag".
When my kids grew up in SA we also read the Laura Ingels books---the are obviously universal, as is their message.

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